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The Secret Side of Business Sustainability

From Triple Pundit, Published 23 December 2014

When it comes to making your business sustainable, there are a few different definitions. It could refer to long-term financial sustainability, or even cultural and social sustainability. But here, we refer to a business’s sustainability as its ability to operate in an environmentally friendly manner.

The key to sustainability, of any kind, is being mindful of ill effects in the future while still achieving what is required in the present. In environmental terms, this means a business being able to grow, profit and thrive as it should, while minimizing its footprint and the negative effect it has on the environment.

Now the concept of ‘greening’ a business is not a new one — there are plenty of environmentally friendly companies out there that engage in green practices every day, and have sustainability at the core of their business and work ethics. And it’s not difficult to come across all the usual advice for areas you can address to green your own business: energy saving technology, waste management and recycling, supporting sustainable technologies — the list goes on.

But, there are certain elements of virtually every business that can have a negative impact on the company’s sustainability, which many business owners often overlook. If you’re looking to improve your business’s sustainability, and reduce the effect it has on the environment, then you may want to consider investigating the following areas:

Risk management

If your risk management is outdated or un-optimized, then it could actually be decreasing the environmental sustainability of your business. Business risk management is about preparing for things going wrong, and being able to cope if and when they do. If your risk management plans, methods, techniques, etc, aren’t 100% accurate, then there’s a chance that they are not as efficient as they could be. This could affect your business’s sustainability.

For example, if you over-plan for the event of a given crisis, you could end up wasting resources unnecessarily. If you under-compensate, then you may have to source additional support last minute, from less sustainable causes than you would otherwise.

It’s surprising how many business owners conduct a business risk assessment once, and then expect this to always be accurate and adequate. Your business’s risk management – whether it’s for insurance or investment – should be an on-going process that changes and develops with your business. Keeping on top of it and constantly reviewing and updating it can help to keep your business’s environmental footprint to a minimum, and could also save you money, too.

Financial planning

Similarly to risk management, your financial planning should always accurately reflect your business and its structure. As your business grows and develops, your financial planning needs to be thoroughly scrutinised in order to maintain optimum efficiency. Both waste and excess are detrimental to environmental sustainability. To minimize your business’s impact on the environment, you need to spend the time to put proper thought and effort into accurately representing your business, its capabilities and its requirements.

Your supply chain

Try and investigate your supply chain, as far back as you possibly can. Try and source everything that your business needs from other sustainable businesses. This may take a little legwork, but it can be achieved. Making phone calls and enquiries to find out about the ethics of other businesses that you are thinking of buying from can give you peace of mind that you are not inadvertently cancelling out all the good green work that you do. By supporting non-sustainable businesses, your own automatically becomes less green.

For example, let’s consider a shop. The shop’s building is fully retro-fitted for maximum energy efficiency, electricity is sourced from renewable technologies, the products sold are all recycle-ably packaged, and the business only invests in sustainable marketing techniques. But, the supplier that the shop sources its products from is completely non-sustainable. By supporting this supplier, most of the shop’s green efforts are overshadowed by the enormous footprint of the supplier.

Your staff

Believe it or not, your staff could be increasing the size of your business’s footprint without you knowing it. Business owners often don’t consider the habits of their staff when they think of ways in which they can green their businesses, but addressing your workforce, and encouraging them to make small changes to their work ethic can really help your eco-friendly efforts.

How do your staff get to work? If you find that many or most of them drive their own individual cars, consider setting up a carpooling scheme and highlight the rewards of lift sharing. You could even offer rewards to those that regularly do carpool. Make sure that your staff are mindful of usage and consumption while in the work place, e.g. of using too much paper, leaving lights on when not in a room, etc.

Actively encouraging and promoting a sustainable culture in the workplace, and making eco-friendliness a habit, has the potential to seriously reduce your business’s overall effect on the environment.

When you have taken the steps that you deem to be necessary in increasing your business’s environmental sustainability, there is one more thing left to do: shout about it. If you are actively trying to reduce your waste and consumption, increase efficiency and reduce your business’s footprint — let people know about it. You can gain valuable market leverage and really boost your business’s reputation among your target audience.

Be sure that you detail exactly the ways in which your business is sustainable, and let people in on the steps you take to green your business. You need to be careful that your business does not get branded as a ‘greenwasher’, which is someone who markets and brands themselves as eco-friendly, but in fact is not. Telling the facts, and giving your audience specific examples of your sustainability efforts should be sufficient to avoid this, though. If you’ve put the effort in, make sure people know about it, so they can appreciate it.

So, even if you think you have exhausted all the options for maximising your business’s sustainability factor — there is always something that can be tweaked or optimised. After taking the more basic steps to green your business, you should start to explore more covert, operational elements of your business’s every day operation. You can take some of the above points as a starting point, or find your own. Either way, there is always something more that you can do to green your business, and boost your sustainability.

For more information regarding sustainable businesses, please refer to the following links:

Sustainability Trends Impacting Firms Across Industries
Sustainability at Work: ESG Actions Make for Profitable Business
Benchmarking Climate Change Performance Across Supply Chains