Sustainability is a hot topic these days (no pun intended.) Global warming and environmental responsibility dominate headlines and are topics of concern for more and more people. And it isn’t just scientists and individuals who are taking note. Business sustainability is a pressing issue for companies these days, too.
A shift in how businesses relate to customers and the community has brought sustainability to the forefront of company priorities. Where companies traditionally kept the focus on revenue decades ago, many are now looking at environmental and social impact as they set company goals.
Whether you’re already considering ways to be sustainable or just starting to think about it, it can be difficult to know where to start.
In this article, we’ll talk about what sustainability for businesses means and why it matters. We’ll also share ways you can build a sustainability strategy that drives real change.
What is corporate sustainability? Beyond CSR statements
Sustainability for business is more complicated than just organizing a “clean the neighborhood” event once a year or advertising that the company cares about the environment. It’s a change in mindset and an ongoing effort.
And it requires your whole company’s involvement.
Corporate sustainability involves a long-term strategy that supports economic growth and eco-friendly practices. It means making sure today’s decisions ensure resources are there in the future.
The key here is the word “future.” The world has been changing (it’s getting clearer if we take a look at climate change), and companies that want to succeed in the long run should see the full picture. Business success is not just about making profits today. It’s also about investing in the future.
Why businesses should care about sustainability
Diverting any attention from driving revenue and growing your business may seem counterintuitive to your business goals.
The truth is, though, that building an eco-friendly business will help you create better relationships with the community and your customers. It will also impact your bottom line.
Here are some of the reasons sustainability is a good idea for your organization:
Consumers care what a brand stands for
Globally, 82% of consumers said they buy from brands that reflect their personal values. In another study, over 50% of respondents said they’d spend more for a product from a company that prioritized sustainability.
What does this mean? You’ll attract and keep more brand-loyal customers as you make environmental concerns a priority.
Better efficiency reduces your operating costs
Finding ways to decrease your impact on the environment can also help your company run more efficiently. Streamlining your processes and resource use puts less strain on the environment.
It also reduces your operating costs, which, according to McKinsey, can improve operating profits by as much as 60%.
A sustainability strategy helps you recruit and retain top talent
Employees are just as concerned about a company’s values as consumers. People like to know their work supports a greater cause than just revenue.
When you publicly share your sustainability values (in words and actions), you’ll attract candidates who are looking for an ethical side to their work. And when they feel like part of a movement they care about, they’re going to be happier in their jobs and more likely to stick around.
This is especially important in today’s competitive hiring environment.
What you can do to build a sustainable business
So what does it mean to be an eco-friendly business? Here are four tips on ways to be sustainable in your organization.
1. Use eco-friendly materials
The use of plastics and other non-recyclable or non-reusable materials may seem small if we consider a household. But when it comes to businesses, the numbers are significant and have a large impact on the environment.
Find out how your source materials are made. Where possible, use materials that are easier on the environment and that don’t contain harmful chemicals.
Packaging and shipping can be another big drain on natural resources. Incorporate recycled or biodegradable material in your packaging. And source locally where you can to cut down on the environmental impact of transportation.
2. Reduce waste
See if you can adjust your processes to cut down on resource waste. This can include small efforts like creating a policy that says you combine orders where possible. Use fewer shipping materials instead of sending out half-empty boxes with individual orders.
Opt for eco-friendly swag when you’re offering promotional gifts to employees or customers. Instead of a branded paperweight that may just end up in a landfill, pass out reusable metal water bottles with your logo. They’re more likely to be used for a long time, and they’ll also help support employees’ and customers’ personal sustainability.
3. Do more virtual work
Making the decision to virtually attend meetings or training can be a simple way to have a big environmental impact. Cutting out travel for in-person meetings and events will reduce your company’s carbon footprint.
And, as a bonus, less travel time will put less strain on employee schedules.
4. Make your office environment greener
You can make changes around your office to offset environmental concerns. These changes will also demonstrate your sustainability commitment to employees. A few ideas for small but impactful changes include:
- Consider LED bulbs instead of less energy-efficient lighting.
- Get rid of disposable dishware in the kitchen. Instead, supply washable dishes and coffee mugs, or encourage employees to bring their favorite mugs from home.
- Use an eco-friendly cleaning service.
- Subscribe to a recycling service and put bins in convenient locations around the office to make it easy for people to help keep waste out of the landfill.
How to make best practices stick
Once you’ve made the commitment to sustainability, make it more than just a token announcement. Take steps to get employees on board and support their efforts to reach your goals.
Here are some tips for where to start:
Lead by example
If you want to make sustainability a permanent part of your culture, you need to “walk the talk.” Live the values you’re encouraging. If you say reducing waste is important, give leaders and board members room to make changes to do so.
For example, support efforts to implement recycling programs or cut back on employee commutes with regular work from home days.
Encourage personal sustainability habits
Motivate employees to go green with incentives for eco-friendly working habits. Promote things like biking to work or carpooling. Offer occasional or regular work from home days. Sponsor “zero-waste” day.
You can also get people’s buy-in when you involve them in the decision-making process. Ask for employee suggestions on ways to make your company more sustainable. Listen to their feedback, and implement ideas that sustain your values.
Support environmental causes outside of work
Show your company’s dedication to being green by using charitable giving to help reduce environmental impact.
You can offer direct donations by setting aside a certain percentage of your income for organizations making a difference. Or, you can offer less direct support by doing a fundraiser or raising awareness for a specific cause.
Make your commitment a part of your company culture
As you work to make your organization more sustainable, build awareness and understanding among employees and customers. Make your values a daily part of work and conversation.
For example, train employees on new best practices and encourage them to support sustainability processes. If it makes sense, include the changes in their performance reviews so they understand that they really are a priority and you value their efforts.
Business sustainability is a long-term goal
The kinds of changes you need to make to become an eco-friendly business won’t happen overnight and the desired outcomes won’t be immediately visible. But as you make your efforts a part of your work culture, you will see results.
For real, lasting success, you must realize that true sustainability isn’t independent of your other business goals and processes. When you integrate it into your company culture and every aspect of your work, you’ll build a sustainable business that serves your values and your customers in the long term.