What springs to mind when you think of sustainability?
Maybe it’s consuming less, recycling, planting trees, solar panels, growing your own vegetables… wearing clothing made from hemp.
How about people?
While many associate sustainability with the environment, that’s only part of it.
So what does sustainability mean exactly?
The UN defines sustainability as “meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.”
It’s all about people and securing our continued survival on this planet!
The UN sustainable development goals cover everything from conservation to education to job creation to clean energy to protecting basic human rights.
Truth is, environmental sustainability cannot be achieved—or even worked towards—without social sustainability. Societies cannot develop properly without peace and prosperity.
So now we’ve got that out of the way, what does all this have to do with business? And why should you care?
- Businesses have a crucial role to play in building our sustainable future
- Becoming more sustainable is good for business.
On the one hand we can help solve issues by creating jobs, greening our operations or even developing new technologies.
On the other hand, organizations worldwide exploit people, communities, and the environment (our collective home)—all in the pursuit of an easy buck.
A lot of businesses forget that they couldn’t exist at all without the support of social and environmental services. By protecting these, you’re protecting your future.
Now you’re probably thinking “Yes, I know all this, but I’m not the CEO of a fossil fuel company or multinational clothing brand. What difference can I make?”.
The thing is that sustainability comes in many different shapes and sizes. It’s a mindset that affects how you treat your employees, suppliers, local communities and, yes, the environment.
Here I’ll take you through why being sustainable is good for your business and provide some ideas on how you can start being more sustainable today.
How is being sustainable good for your business?
As we’ve covered, sustainability is centred around our continued survival on this planet, so there is that.
From a business perspective, adopting a sustainable mindset will help you to:
Be more efficient.
That’s the bottom line. A lot of companies baulk at sustainable initiatives because they see them as costs. But really they’re investments.
Our recent podcast guest, Andy Alsop, runs what I’d call a sustainable business model. He calls it Employee Supremacy, but we won’t split hairs.
A quote from the podcast:
"We’re in the long game. This is about making decisions that aren’t just going to impact this quarter, they’re going to impact the next year, or the next decade… leaders are focused on the needs of the employee and community that surrounds us."
He gives an example of finding an error in one of his salespeople’s commission checks. Upon finding it, they immediately called the employee to apologize and corrected the discrepancy. No trying to hide or wriggle out of it.
You can bet the salesperson was motivated to keep performing in subsequent quarters, and told their friends.
Andy’s company’s voluntary turnover rate in the last 7 years?
Recruitment is expensive. Efficiency realized.
Related to efficiency, there are numerous examples that demonstrate how becoming more sustainable can foster innovation, make you less susceptible to risk, and win customer loyalty.
How to start building a sustainable company
Sustainability is, in its very nature, a long game. So what can you do today to start your sustainability journey?
Make sustainability a core value
Your company values are important, or at least they should be. They guide decision-making across all aspects of the business.
So, by making sustainability a core value, you’re putting it in everyone’s minds and weaving it into your company culture.
Do a sustainability audit
You’ve decided to make sustainability a core value. Nice!
The next step is taking a sustainability audit to find ways you can make your business more sustainable (and therefore more efficient, durable, etc).
If your business is more than a handful of people this will require a dedicated team, and the “how” is beyond the scope of this article. It’s likely you’ll need to bring in external consultants to help get the project off the ground.
If you do go it alone, then assessments such as B Corp are a good starting point. Even companies as large as Danone have used it.
While a full audit will help you turn a new microscope on your operations, here are a couple of easy wins that benefit team members and the planet:
- Cycle to work, public transport or carpooling schemes
- Help your employees be more sustainable when working from home e.g. incentivise a switch to a renewable energy supplier
- Provide healthy, vegetarian or vegan meals and snack choices
- Encourage employees to volunteer in local communities or take time to connect with nature à la Patagonia.
Tell everyone about it
You’ve done the hard work to become more sustainable and hopefully had some fun along the way.
Now spread the message! This will:
- Help with your marketing and employer branding
- Inspire others to follow suit
- Make you and your team members feel good.
Publish your new values, any environmental accreditations you achieve, your ESG indicators e.g. carbon emissions, and work your employees may have undertaken in the community on your website, LinkedIn and other social channels.
As long as you’re authentic, you can’t go wrong.
Now is the time
Now is the time to think about how you, as a business person and global citizen, can be more sustainable.
In doing so you’ll create a better workplace and look after your future.