With warnings about environmental damage becoming increasingly pressing and consumers demanding greater accountability, every business should now include sustainability in their business plan.
But care must be taken to not use this purely as an opportunity to boost the business’s reputation through empty gestures – staff, stakeholders and customers have all become wise to the prevalence of greenwashing techniques.
- Employee engagement is vital to the success of sustainability initiatives
- A business’s workforce is its greatest source of intel, data and ideas for improvement
- High levels of engagement – as well as enhanced reputation – will help make sustainability a priority among senior managers
Why should businesses embrace sustainability?
There are many reasons for businesses to adopt sustainability initiatives. Climate change is already bringing severe weather conditions, natural disasters and threatening resources. This is no longer only happening in far-flung countries, but close to home, making it harder to ignore. Businesses need to respond to issues affecting raw materials, transport, energy and workers, which can all be impacted by global warming.
And with pollution of our air, land and waterways being traced back to business activities, every business must recognise its responsibility to review its processes and cut down on their carbon footprint and pollutants.
Businesses must also become more resourceful, limiting the amount of waste it creates, seek alternatives and introduce a reuse or recycle policy where possible. Customers now want to see evidence of such policies, while stakeholders will want to know targets are being met.
With the UK government intent on meeting its net zero target by introducing environmental legislation, businesses are under increasing pressure to play their part.
Listen to our training experts discuss how your business can become more sustainable, in our green skills podcast
How can businesses achieve sustainability objectives?
#1. Employee engagement
The most important way to set the right sustainability goals and achieve them is through employee engagement. A business’s greatest weapon in protecting the environment is its own workforce. A wealth of information is at every sustainability manager’s fingertips in the form of knowledge, data and ideas.
#2. Good communication
Internal communication is key to getting employees on board when it comes to sustainability. Businesses must encourage staff in all departments and at all levels to work together to achieve a common goal of helping to save the environment.
#3. Set achievable targets
In addition to common goals as a company, each individual employee should be encouraged to meet their own personal goals. For example, the business could set challenges regarding recycling or community clean-up operations with rewards for the highest achievers.
#4. Keep staff informed
Sharing the company’s findings and being transparent is crucial in achieving staff buy-in. It’s no good getting staff revved up, only to waste their goodwill by failing to provide follow-ups.
An environmental audit is a great way to begin a company-wide sustainability campaign, as it will uncover where the company’s weaknesses are and opportunities for improvement. These findings should be shared with the whole company where possible, encouraging the business as a whole, and every individual member of staff, to do better to help the environment.
Another effective way to garner support is to offer training, which could become part of personal objectives and KPIs. At TSW, we have a wide range of IEMA courses for staff at all levels that give your business and its teams resilience and expertise as they work towards net-zero and green transition..
#6. Prove ROI for stakeholders
By encouraging the gathering of data and instilling both company-wide and individual targets, any spending made on achieving sustainability policies can be justified by showing return on investment (ROI).
For example, staff surveys could prove levels of staff engagement and achievement, while an environmental audit and regular follow-ups would show evidence of wider progress throughout the company.
Such evidence of ROI is of course most pertinent for stakeholders and budget holders. While environmental issues are important, every business is still run to make a profit and any decisions affecting the bottom line must be justified.
If changes are made throughout the company that take a longer time to reap rewards, it might be good to begin by sharing levels of employee engagement and happiness, as well as gathering any consumer response to action being taken. Reputation is equally important to senior managers and stakeholders, as this ultimately has an impact on profit and the future of the business.
Getting all staff behind your sustainability initiatives will ultimately encourage senior management to take environmental issues more seriously. While it should be a priority for every business, many still choose to ignore it or to make pledges which result in very little action.
In order to make sustainability meaningful within a business, there must be power in numbers when it comes to support, as well as maintaining regular progress reports containing reliable data and examples of success.
When sustainability becomes a priority at all levels of the business, there is a much higher chance that being taken more seriously will lead to initiatives having greater impact on the environment.