In the digitalized and globalized world, companies are basically required to act pragmatically. New technologies, shorter production cycles and individual customer requirements are already presenting them with major challenges – additional effort and extra costs do not fit in well at all. In the short term, investing in sustainable processes could also entail additional costs. However, sustainability in business is not a short-term trend. Sustainability has long been a purchasing criterion for customers, a long-term investment and, last but not least, a decisive quality feature.

Often, the same terms are used in the discourse on sustainability: climate change, environmental pollution, globalization, resource management. For companies, these buzzwords are associated in practice with effort and a great deal of rethinking. However, the positive effect for companies and consumers is often the good quality of the company processes and the resulting products. From the customer’s point of view, sustainable processes and fair trade now even play a key role in purchasing decisions and have long been perceived as important indicators of good quality. The fact that this demand for sustainability as a quality feature is having an impact on companies is becoming clear in the automotive industry, among others: here, manufacturers are almost forced by pressure from politicians, interest groups, investors and, not least, consumers to develop a comprehensive sustainability strategy. (To the article of Automobilwoche)

Companies are increasingly under pressure from various requirements. Sustainable processes are needed. But they also recognize that these processes can have positive long-term effects – not only for their own profitability, but also for customer loyalty. So is sustainability a win-win-win situation for companies, the environment and consumers? Are companies doing well to address the issue of sustainability for these – ultimately economic – reasons alone?

Companies Have a Responsibility

Recent years have shown that there are factors that increasingly influence companies in their strategic actions. With foresight and high-quality products instead of “as fast and cheap as possible”: our world is changing – and so are companies. Sustainability is increasingly becoming a stakeholder requirement. In their own interest, companies should therefore move with the times and give sustainability the status it deserves. On the one hand, as a response to the demands of our markets, but also out of a sense of ethical responsibility. After all, a pure showcase policy (“greenwashing”) may conceal the fact in the short term that outdated processes have not been rejected; ultimately, however, it makes much more sense to firmly anchor sustainability in the corporate values. This is the only way to convince business partners, customers and, above all, your own employees. It’s all or nothing.

Responsibility for economic development, which focuses primarily on the company’s own organization and its direct suppliers, also gives rise to ecological responsibility. Are the production or services that have brought the company economic success in recent years at all compatible with the social and natural environment? A change of perspective is needed: rethinking within one’s own company in order to achieve economically as well as ecologically sustainable success.

Sustainability Through Standards?

A brief digression: to ensure that not everything depends on the voluntariness of companies, ISO (International Organization for Standardization) is actively working to achieve the UN’s 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) – as part of the 2030 Agenda. On their website, the United Nations emphasize the importance of the goals and the role of each and every individual. According to the UN, the Sustainable Development Goals are important, world-changing goals that governments, international organizations and decision-makers around the world are working together to achieve. (More on the topic) But what exactly do the SDGs say? A brief overview:

An overview of the17 UN Sustainable Development Goals on one table
  1. No Poverty
  2. Zero Hunger
  3. Good Health and Well-Being
  4. Quality Education
  5. Gender Equality
  6. Clean Water and Sanitation
  7. Affordable and Clean Energy
  8. Decent Work and Economic Growth
  9. Industry, Innovation and Infrastructure
  10. Reduced Inequalities
  11. Sustainable Cities and Communities
  12. Sustainable Consumption and Production
  13. Climate Action
  14. Life below Water
  15. Life on Land
  16. Peace, Justice and Institutions
  17. Partnerships for the Goals

As mentioned, ISO aims to help achieve these goals with the help of international standards. “By supporting our members to maximize the benefits of international standardization and ensure the uptake of ISO standards, we’re helping to meet the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Economic, environmental and societal dimensions are all directly addressed by ISO standards. Organizations and companies looking to contribute to the SDGs will find that International Standards provide effective tools to help them rise to the challenge”, the website states. Hundreds of ISO standards can therefore be directly assigned to one or more of the 17 UN goals.

Quality Management for Sustainable Success

Key ISO standards that are directly relevant to quality management in companies also support the SDGs. ISO 9001:2015, for example, can be assigned to the goals “No poverty,” “Industry, Innovation and Infrastructure,” “Sustainable Consumption and Production,” and “Life Below Water. (More Info) ISO 9004:2018 (“Quality of an organization – Guidance for achieving sustainable success”), on the other hand, covers the SDGs “Decent Work and Economic Growth,” “Industry, Innovation and Infrastructure,” and “Reduced Inequalities.” (More Info) Conversely, this means that companies that apply ISO standards are already making an initial contribution to the UN’s 17 Sustainable Development Goals.

Companies will continue to focus on their own economic advantage in the future; but measures such as those of ISO are already leading to a greater emphasis on social and environmental sustainability. However, it would be better if organizations themselves recognized the long-term benefits and firmly embedded sustainability in their strategic decisions. Sustainable processes are geared towards sustainable success – and not just economically, but also, and above all, in terms of the environment and product quality.


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