Most people think the primary goal of sustainability is protecting the environment. However, organisations should also consider their social responsibility and their impacts on the wider economy. Simply put, being sustainable meets our needs without putting future resources at risk. Sustainable organisations find ways to make a profit while protecting people and the planet. Sustainable practice is excellent for business.
Studies claim that organizations with sustainable practices experience a 16% increase in employee productivity. Therefore, organizations should be engaging employees on long term sustainability program that makes the workplace more environmentally responsible. In the modern business world, most companies understand the importance of redesigning and implementing suitable sustainability strategies. On top of that, organisations that don’t encourage sustainability risk falling behind.
Two gaps to be aware of
Corporate behaviour and sustainability don’t exactly go well together. ‘Greenwashing’ is a marketing practice that sees companies make deceptive claims about sustainability and efficiency. Thus, accusations of such behaviour toward corporate entities are common. In order to ensure that a firm isn’t greenwashing, environmental policies should be appropriately researched and balanced, and all marketing around them should be accurate and honest.
Nowadays, many organisations find difficulty in implementing genuinely sustainable policies and initiatives in their business. That is because what they believe to be ethical or environmentally friendly isn’t as clean-cut as predicted. For example, tree planting is considered to be a good demonstration of carbon offset. It can actually bring disruption to natural environments if not carried out appropriately and adequately.
Some practical recommendations
Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) is the policy area that usually forms sustainability practice in business. For many years, what was considered ‘nice to have for a company is now very much a ‘must’. Therefore, assigning a member of staff to google relevant initiatives is not sufficient. Instead, involve experts and allow for a thorough audit of sustainability opportunities and start from there.
While perhaps researching and enacting comprehensive policies and procedures may be thought of as the most appropriate way to incorporate sustainability into business, there are many simpler ‘quick wins’ that can be gained by taking small steps into efficient everyday operations. For example, installing energy-saving lightbulbs into an office or selecting an alternative hand-drying option for WC facilities are both helpful choices.
Sustainable supply chains
The supply chain businesses are often perplexed. In fact, the most challenging part of any company to encourage sustainability is by no means feat. However, businesses must tackle this to commit to a sustainable future with their operations wholly. On top of that, any parties a company deals with should present their sustainability and ethics statement before any strategic relationship begins.
It is now fairly common for businesses to require set sustainability standards to be met before suppliers are appointed, and such policies can be set at the pitch stage. In some industries, ethical and modern slavery statements may also need to be provided. For example, fast fashion retailers usually prove their fair wages and safe working conditions for garment makers.
Gaining sustainability ‘buy in’ from staff
In order for sustainability to be embedded throughout a company, employees at all levels must feel empowered and incentivised to include it in their professional lives. More and more companies are installing car-sharing schemes for commuters, offering heavily subsidised bicycles for employees and/or rewarding environmentally friendly behaviour. Why not offer discounted vegan food in the canteen or provide reusable water bottles?
A growing push for ethical businesses
The last two years have had a significant impact on businesses of all types, shapes and sizes. However, these topsy-turvy times have also resulted in shifting consumer behaviour. Business analysts Deloitte found in 2020 that 50% of customers are now willing to pay more to buy from or work with environmentally friendly and ethical brands. Building this consumer perception is critical.
Changing customer appetites
Generation Z (the demographic group most likely to have a disposable income at present) have long been lauded as the ‘woke generation’ – not smoking, not drinking alcohol and shopping more ethically than anyone before. As this group of people continue to form more of the consumer market, businesses will need to work with this continued appetite to do more and do better.
In some industries, sustainability will form less of a clear perception than others. For companies such as FMCGs, it may be that offering a more environmentally-friendly option alongside their standard product is the best policy. For example, Cadbury sells a whole range of chocolate bars but have now introduced their first-ever vegan products that are lactose-free and have a less environmental impact.
Where to start with improving business sustainability?
There is no one-size-fits-all for incorporating sustainability into any business. Instead, approach the task realistically and practically. Taking small steps toward a more environmentally friendly and energy-efficient business is the easiest way to move forward. As momentum grows with improved CSR within the organisation, further and larger operational changes can be made. The world’s the oyster… and it’s being slowly but surely saved!