By Alex Evans, National Business Awards

Sustainability is a culture of improvement that focuses on every area of commercial impact and measures it against a triple bottom line of people, profit and planet.

From energy management to supply chain risk and talent development to reputational risk, the organisations most committed to sustainability are motivated by corporate longevity. They have looked into the future and worked back to prepare themselves for the worst so they can be the ones that adapt best.

With ten new finalists identified for the ICAEW Sustainability Award in 2012, we will be inviting them to illustrate the approaches that businesses should be adopting to ensure they survive and prosper over coming months.

While each of these finalist organisations are unique, and trade in a variety of industries, there are some common elements in their approach to sustainability that any firm can learn from. Below are five observations about what set these organisations apart and why their commitment to sustainability is exemplary for the wider business community:

1. Sustainability is about looking beyond your business – pioneering organisations want to transform their industries by setting ambitious but achievable targets that not only impact staff and suppliers but customers and society in general.

2. Sustainability is about looking beyond the next year – ten, fifteen and twenty year visions are common amongst those fully committed to sustainability, whether they have just embarked on the journey or tracking milestones along it

3. Sustainability is a shared objective – organisation-wide behavioural change is required to truly embed its principles into everyday business practice, ensuring that every decision at every level is a sustainable decision

4. Sustainability is about profitable growth - whether it’s increasing efficiency to reduce cost, engaging future leaders in community projects, or mitigating environmental impacts, it should all track back to the bottom line

5. Sustainability is more than Corporate Social Responsibility – aligning societal and commercial interests is good for people and planet but profit protects employees, shareholders and economies

While many impacts of sustainable practice can be measured and tracked to improve commercial performance, less tangible ones are no less impactful. An inclusive culture, where values are defined collectively, creates corporate pride – which in turn helps to retain and attract the talent. Complex pro-bono work for local, national or global charities can give promising employees a chance to shine and gain skills that will help to win new clients – all while generating goodwill within and outside the business.

A truly sustainable business is one that will be around for a long time and every business decision should support corporate longevity. Congratulations to this year’s finalists for the ICAEW Sustainability Award and all those in our Alumni from the last decade still committed to a culture of improvement.