Sustainability is quickly becoming a hot buzzword in business today. The concept is quickly transitioning from a “perk” or “delight” to an absolute “must” for businesses. Companies face scrutiny from all sides – suppliers, customers, social media, government entities – all deciding whether a business is fit to work with or not based on their sustainable practices. Businesses today are quickly being driven to decide if they would rather operate sustainably or go out of business. No serious company wants to go out of business, but many feel forced or pressured into sustainability. However, if they could see why operating sustainably is really in their own best interest and that how they could achieve sustainability is simpler than they thought, it would relieve the pressure of their decision and make the transition simple.
First things first; companies should understand why operating sustainably is in their best interest. According the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), there are three main reasons to transition to sustainable business practices:
Each business may look at these reasons individually and rank their importance, but together, they can prove beneficial to nearly every company.
One of the top driving factors for sustainability is the bottom line growth potential. These practices are centered on conservation of resources, recycling, and making products as efficiently as possible. Each of these add up to saving money for the business. Being as efficient as possible can help companies save money manufacturing and bringing products to market. It can cut energy costs, reduce waste, and save time. Whenever time or money can be saved, profit potential grows.
Companies acting sustainably can often avoid costly environmental regulation fees and penalties. Operating beyond compliance is a good way to ensure they are within regulation and not liable for fines or other charges. This can save companies money. Also, the US government offers tax incentives for implementing sustainable measures like wind and solar energy. Companies can take advantage of energy cost savings while simultaneously receiving tax benefits. Both endeavors strengthen and grow the bottom line.
Lastly, technology has progressed enough that high-efficiency, sustainable products and machines are cheaper and easier to procure than ever before. These could be energy-related like solar or wind energy receivers, indoor climate control like efficient lighting, air conditioning, or water, or energy efficient equipment. These often cost the same as existing technology but can help companies save more money in the long run. Companies can easily retrofit existing buildings or build more sustainable sites from the ground up. Either way, the technology currently available is good for the environment and better for the pocketbook.
In the modern world of social media and the internet, it is difficult to keep secrets. There are enough leakers, activists, critics, and whistleblowers in every organization that the public is often well aware of what is happening behind closed doors. So, when it comes to sustainable practices, it is wiser to be transparent and let the public see what companies are doing. What they are doing should be positive. Word of mouth is one of the strongest forms of advertising, and acting responsibly and sustainably is a high priority for consumers today. If companies are doing the right thing, people will notice and want to be involved. People, typically, want to buy products from companies that care about the environment and many companies want to work with sustainability-conscious partners as well. Sustainability bodes favorably in the court of public opinion and it shows a company’s commitment to look beyond itself at the world around it. It is a win-win.
Sustainability is a key defense for the environment as well. Companies and private organizations often have the most direct impact on the environment. They find, harvest, and process resources so that people can enjoy modern society. It is important for companies to remember that while they have the right to these resources, they also have the responsibility to make sure the resources are used responsibly. They should be good stewards of the natural resources and ensure that future generations will also be able to utilize the resources as well.
Once companies commit to operating sustainably, they should identify sustainable measures and develop a system of how to adopt them. Each individual company will have its own methods – there is no “one size fits all” solution. However, several leading companies have given their go-to sustainable strategies that can help any business keep performing sustainably.
For identifying sustainable measures, companies can follow the 5 Level Framework developed by scientist Karl-Henrik Robert.
1. Scope of the System – discover and measure what the company is currently doing and highlight areas of potential improvement. Also, this would highlight who is involved, where, when, why, and how they currently perform.
2. What Constitutes Success – this is a goal setting method. It will let researchers and implementers know what they need to do to be successful.
3. Set Strategies – After identifying what success is, implementers should find several methods to reach the end goal and achieve success.
4. Select Strategies – Decide which method will most closely align with the corporate goals.
5. Tools for Success – These are helpful measures or guides companies can use to follow their sustainability path. One such tool is the ISO 14000 standard.
Once sustainable practices are in place, to produce a strong ROI, companies will need to keep them going. Keeping the company committed to these practices requires alignment with corporate goals and buy-in at each stage of the business.
• Make sure sustainability measures align with the corporate strategy – Sustainable practices should not contradict the goals of the corporation (e.g. prevent the company from making money, expanding, etc.) or else they will not be implemented. It is key to find goals that help the company perform better, while also acting responsibly and efficiently.
• Make sure the corporate management team is on board –The management team guides the company and has the power to affect most change in an organization. They approve budgets, develop strategies, and know the overall scope and direction of the business So, if they choose a sustainable future for the company, the rest of the company will follow and begin implementing those strategies.
• Make sure the rest of the company is involved – Even with complete C-suite buy-in, it is still essential that the rest of the company understand and engage with the sustainable changes. The employees will be the ones who deal with the changes on a day-to-day basis and if they cannot get involved or see the value, they will not make the transition.
Many companies today are beginning to feel the pressure of either operating sustainably, or not at all. Instead of resisting, these companies can see that transitioning to sustainability is in their best interest and that doing it is not so difficult. Sustainability can offer stronger bottom lines by creating efficiency, promote a solid social standing by operating in a responsible way, and signify a desire to be good stewards of the environment. Each of these will help bolster the business and keep it viable. How companies make the transition is not as difficult as they may imagine either. Companies can follow the 5 Level Framework for creating sustainable solutions and get buy-in from the entire company to keep the solutions a workable priority. Following these guidelines, companies can easily transition to sustainability.