Why make sustainability part of your business?
As a business leader or owner, you aspire to make your mark as an innovator while making a big impact on the market. But that doesn't mean you have to make a negative social or environmental impact at the same time. In fact, becoming a leader in sustainability and a responsible corporate citizen creates social benefits, helps the environment and places you ahead of your competitors in many ways.
What does sustainability mean for your business?
Focussing on sustainability helps your business achieve its growth and profitability objectives in several ways.
- Enhance your corporate reputation and brand. A sincere, company-wide commitment to sustainability shows your customers, employees, peers and competition that you earn or merit their respect, confidence and loyalty. The key here is a genuine dedication to sustainable practices across the board; putting a green spin on your business without making real change, known as "greenwashing", will have the opposite effect on your company's reputation.
- Promote innovation of new products and services. Finding ways to make your business more sustainable encourages innovation from your staff while challenging your competitors to keep up with you. Whether it's finding better ways to produce your products, reducing your carbon footprint or developing new services, there are multiple ways you can reduce your businesses' negative impact and take advantage of emerging opportunities.
- Recruit, motivate and retain quality staff. People want to work for good corporate citizens, and you likewise want good people to work for you. When your practices align with staff values, you'll be more successful at attracting, motivating and retaining the best and brightest in your industry.
- Stay ahead of increased government regulation. With more and more environmental policies and regulations coming from the government, it helps to be ahead of the game rather than scrambling to catch up.
- Improve your risk management. Think about all of the risks you undertake as a business owner: theft, financial loss, economic downturns, etc. Climate change is having an impact, too, and unless you're thinking about and planning for emerging risks, the consequences can be costly. An effective sustainability policy and strategy can help you mitigate the negatives by enabling you to effectively monitor and manage risk throughout your organization.
- Save costs and improve efficiencies. There's a misconception that being more sustainable is always more expensive. Running a more efficient business that uses less and produces less waste, for example, is more productive. Building social value by meeting community needs builds lasting value.
Develop your sustainability strategy
Depending on the size of your company, establish a committee responsible for defining your strategy, identifying opportunities to promote social sustainability and establishing business processes in line with your goals.
Use the methods outlined in The Natural Step Framework, brainstorm strategies and solutions on your own, or consult with other businesses in your industry to determine what works best for your company.
The (triple) bottom line: with challenge comes opportunity
These days, it's impossible to name a single business that has a zero environmental footprint, whether it's a multinational corporation or a one-person shop. As part of a global network of business owners and community leaders, you thrive not only with a healthy economy, but also within strong and healthy communities. It may seem like an enormous task to address the environmental and social impacts of your business and to make impactful changes, but it's doable with a plan in place. And the payoff? A cleaner environment, a steady economy and a stronger society.
In our next instalment, we'll suggest a game plan for implementing your own sustainability policy and strategy and making it an essential part of your corporate culture.
Develop sustainable products and services
Whatever product you manufacture or service you provide, find more sustainable ways to deliver them. Can you use eco-friendly design and materials? Can you outsource goods or services to community-based organizations that support your local economy? When you incorporate sustainability into your product offerings, you encourage the sustainable behaviour of your customers.