The topic of sustainability is no stranger to headlines. There has been a lot of hype around sustainability in recent years but most of that emphasis has been on an introduction and explanation of what the concept really means to the people living on this planet. There is evidence that humanity is living unsustainably and the facts and figures that have surfaced in the past decade have started to convert even the harshest of critics to believing in this idea. The idea of sustainability is to incorporate practices into our daily lives that ensure the continued viability of resources well into the future. In other words, protecting what we have today so that it is here tomorrow.

There is no question that most companies of the world, let alone America, do not disagree with this idea and have jumped on the environmentally friendly bandwagon. And now that most are familiar with the concept, the focus of the conversation has moved on to the development of action plans for the future. But in an article published in Trends Magazine last month, editors were urging companies to stop talking about it, and start doing it.

In a recent study published in the Harvard Business Review, C.K. Prahalad outlines five stages of development which companies typically go through as they seek “sustainability”. The first stage that a company goes through is an attempt to comply with external regulations. There are new rules and mandates being developed every year that are regulating companies and their impact on the environment. Each company has a different approach to adhering to these regulations. Some would prefer to be the leader of the pack and submit to parameters before other companies in their industry while others will wait until it is absolutely necessary to conform to regulations.

The second stage that companies go through is using sustainable practices to make their operations more efficient. While there may be ulterior motives behind doing this, most companies will find these sustainable practices bring with them a variety of perks such as cost savings and even new business. The third stage is designing sustainable products and services. A company cannot enter this stage until they have come to the realization that “green sells” and they must fully believe this before developing these sustainable products.

The fourth stage is developing new business models that capture new revenue streams. This is the point in which companies will model their practices around being sustainable and by doing so will develop new business opportunities. And the fifth and final stage that companies go through during their pursuit of sustainability is changing the paradigm. This involves what Prahalad calls “questioning the status quo” which means doing what others have yet to do and starting your own sustainable revolution within your industry.

We all understand the importance of sustainability and the need to incorporate it into our business plans. Instead of waiting for the regulations to force you to do it, start integrating sustainability into your business practices today.