Over time there’s been an increased awareness concerning the impact of businesses on the environment, society and the economy. As such, it’s common for organisations to focus on sustainability as part of their overall strategy.
However, being sustainable doesn’t have to come at the expense of profitability. It may actually be the case that businesses which adopt sustainable practices are more likely to be profitable in the long run.
Here we’ll explore how businesses can maintain a healthy bottom line while still being sustainable.
- First of all, procedures promoting sustainability should be implemented. These include developing a sustainable business strategy, setting SMART goals, and getting buy-in from employees and stakeholders.
- Practical steps to becoming more sustainable can include reducing energy usage and switching to renewables, selling materials no longer in use, and creating social value.
- While some benefits are likely to be intangible, you should still be able to measure success in terms of cost savings, increased revenue, positive brand image and staff retention.
What is sustainability?
Sustainability means you’re able to meet the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. It’s about balancing social, environmental and economic factors in order to create long-term value for all stakeholders. Or – to put it another way – nurturing the “triple bottom line” of people, planet and profit.
One of the key ways that businesses can be sustainable is by reducing their environmental impact. This can be done by adopting green practices such as reducing energy consumption, minimising waste and using eco-friendly materials. It also requires organisations to be socially conscious, and ultimately profitable.
We’ll look at how to achieve this in practice below.
What top-level steps can I take to make my business more sustainable?
At a procedural level, these are some of the most worthwhile systems to put in place.
#1. Develop a sustainable business model
The first step to being both profitable and sustainable is to develop a business strategy or model that takes environmental and social factors into account. So this means looking at the entire supply chain, from sourcing raw materials to manufacturing to delivery and disposal, and identifying areas where sustainability can be improved.
For example, a company that manufactures clothing could choose to use organic cotton instead of conventionally grown cotton, reduce water usage during manufacturing and use eco-friendly, biodegradable packaging materials.
In this field, Patagonia is a company that promotes its sustainability well. For instance, its Worn Wear initiative aims to keep its clothing in use for as long as possible, reducing the need to buy a product for a second time.
In addition to your own products and practices, sustainability can extend to choosing conscientious partners. Look for suppliers that have good eco-friendly credentials, which can provide you with products and services that align with your values.
#2. Set sustainability development goals
For example, you could set a goal to reduce your carbon footprint by 20% within the next year, or to achieve zero waste by 2025.
By setting realistic sustainability goals, you can track your progress and make adjustments as needed.
#3. Engage your employees
Your employees are your most valuable asset when it comes to sustainability. You can help engage them in your green initiatives by providing proving clear communication, environmental training and education on sustainable practices.
For example, you could look into our IEMA courses, which offer training for a variety of employment levels and experience.
You can also encourage staff to come up with ideas for reducing your environmental impact and improving your social responsibility. And it may be a good idea to promote activities such as cycle-to-work schemes.
Ultimately, greater engagement with your staff will get them more invested, and create an upward spiral of positivity and sustainability.
What practical steps can I take to make my business more sustainable?
There are numerous practical steps that you can take to make your business more sustainable, without breaking the bank. Here are some hands-on ways in which you can boost your green credentials and reduce your carbon footprint.
#1. Reduce energy usage
One of the most significant ways a business can reduce its environmental impact and cut costs is by reducing energy usage. Heating is the big offender here, accounting for up to 40% of energy use in non-domestic buildings. With this in mind, it’s worth making sure your business premises are properly insulated, and steps are taken to block draughts.
You can also reduce usage by implementing energy-efficient technologies, such as LED lighting. Also be sure to turn off electrical equipment when not in use.
For more suggestions, read the Energy Saving Trust’s guide to energy efficiency in the workplace.
#2. Switch to renewables
Switching to an energy supplier or tariff which generates its power from renewable sources is another step towards your business going green. There’s often an assumption that these tariffs are more expensive, but you might be surprised. This is especially the case if your business hasn’t switched in recent memory, and is languishing on an old tariff.
With this in mind, it’s well worth using a comparison site to see if you can switch to a cheaper, greener tariff. You could even look into investing in solar panels to generate your own electricity, especially if you have a good deal of roof space. Producing your own power can lead to cost savings in the long run, not least because you’re sidestepping the volatility of prices in the energy market.
#3. Resell materials no longer being used
This one’s a no-brainer. A lot of materials that you don’t want anymore can be sold, which boosts the piggy bank while reducing waste. Make an inventory of unwanted materials, and seek out local businesses willing to buy them.
Equipment such as older model phones could be used by software firms for testing, for instance. And metal is always in demand, so look to see who will buy your scrap metal locally. In fact, recycling metal emits 80% less carbon than its equivalent production from raw materials.
Schnitzer Steel is something of a champion in this regard, pioneering sustainability in an industry which is traditionally carbon-intensive. For example, much of the metal it produces is recycled from scrap, and melted in furnaces which function on hydropower.
#4. Create social value
It’s worth remembering that sustainability is about more than lessening environmental impact. Businesses can also be sustainable by creating social value. In other words, as a business, you should take into account the impact of your operations on society, while striving to make a positive contribution.
Ensuring fair labour practices is a good place to start, such as paying staff a living wage, promoting diversity and inclusion, and providing safe working conditions.
Investing in the local community is another positive step towards creating social value. Hiring local talent over bringing people in from further afield is a good way to achieve this. You might also consider supporting local charities or sponsoring community events.
Listen to our training experts discuss how your business can become more sustainable, in our green skills podcast
How do I measure success and prove ROI for sustainability?
Proving return on investment (ROI) for sustainability isn’t necessarily straightforward, as it often involves considering both tangible and intangible benefits. However, there are a few ways to approach this for you to convince stakeholders that it’s a critical investment for your business.
#1. Cost savings
One of the most straightforward ways to prove ROI for sustainability initiatives is to calculate the cost savings that result from implementing them. For example, by implementing some of the energy usage recommendations above, the savings should be reflected in your energy bills.
#2. Increased revenue
Sustainability initiatives might also result in increased revenue for your business. Consumers are increasingly choosing sustainable products and services, for instance, so companies that offer them can differentiate themselves from competitors.
#3. Positive brand image
In the same regard, consumers are likely to think more positively about your brand if you’re open about being environmentally responsible and socially conscious. This can be measured by tracking positive mentions on social media, for instance, or conducting customer surveys.
#4. Employee satisfaction and retention
If employees feel you’re making a positive impact, and are moreover engaged in the process, then they’re more likely to feel job satisfaction. They may also be less inclined to leave. As such, satisfaction and retention could be used as measures to prove your sustainability initiative is working.
While being a good in itself, becoming more sustainable as a business should ultimately add to the bottom line, and these measures should help to prove this – making a stronger case for investing in them.
If you’re looking to upskill yourself or your staff in sustainability, check out our IEMA Courses in environmental management and sustainability today.