Sustainability is no longer a choice; it's a necessity.
Social developments have flourished over the last 100 years, but the planet's health has constantly declined. Global temperatures have risen dramatically, and there's a need for action to avoid the worst impacts of climate change.
Companies are now making a concerted effort to implement environmental engineering and sustainable business practices to reduce their carbon footprint. The fight against climate change starts with small steps that can make a huge impact. Let's look at what your business can do to make a difference.
What are sustainable business practices?
Sustainable business practices refer to the strategies and processes that businesses use to reduce environmental impact, increase positive social impact, and create long-term value for their stakeholders. These practices seek to minimize waste, conserve resources, and reduce emissions.
Sustainable businesses focus on creating value for all stakeholders, including customers, employees, suppliers, communities, and the environment.
IBM describes sustainability as a company's strategy for reducing the environmental impact in its industry. A clear and concise plan for your brand's eco-friendly endeavors keeps your team striving toward a common goal.
But how can your company contribute? Whether you're an SME, start-up, or enterprise, following best practices in social, environmental, and economic areas can be the beginning of a greener tomorrow. You can ditch plastic packaging, encourage cycling to work, or even nurture a positive atmosphere in the office – start with what works for you and your team.
An issue for some is figuring out where to start. It's easy to look at the pollution caused by big corporations and feel helpless. But, if you create an environment that makes people see sustainability as possible, they'll demand it from their favorite brands. If larger companies see consumers making more eco-friendly purchases, they will optimize their processes keeping environmental and social impact in mind.
Environmental, social, and governance (ESG) investing
Conscious investors consider environmental, social, and governance (ESG) standards to evaluate if a brand is worth putting their money behind. Think Shark Tank for sustainable businesses.
When you think of sustainable business practices, the first thought that comes to mind is that changes cost money – and with good reason. Those fighting climate change or creating a more eco-friendly brand aren't always concerned about the bottom line.
But applying your business acumen to carbon-fighting concepts is a recipe for success. Engagement, teamwork, commitment, clarity, and strategy are all transferable skills for sustainable practices.
Environmental considers how a business protects the environment. Social looks at how a company treats its team, customers, suppliers, and communities. Governance is related to leadership and shareholder rights. Investors can set their own standards, but these three areas sway the decision of where exchange-traded funds (ETFs) will go.
As a famous comic book hero’s uncle once said, "With great power comes great responsibility." A new wave of investors is more willing to put their money where their mouth is and back their values – supporting a business following its ESG criteria funds initiatives that can have a lasting impact. According to Morningstar, $142 billion was invested into sustainable funds globally in the final quarter of 2021, a 12% increase over Q3.
With SMEs making up the majority of businesses around the globe, they must take advantage of ESGs as soon as possible. By leveraging sustainable business practices from the outset, an indie business can position itself for ESG investment.
EY's Global Private Equity Survey showed that two-thirds of investors consider ESG factors when considering companies to back. Investors coming from more prominent firms may already have to comply with environmentally friendly practices or adhere to a green policy. SMEs they invest in should share similar values and sustainable strategies.
It's more than the bottom line
The real value of ESG criteria is striving toward a better planet. Yes, SMEs can benefit from outside investment, but encouraging companies to make a real and lasting change will outweigh any profit.
How you operate in and outside of your business affects who you are as a brand. Being perceived as a sustainable company to attract your target audience can help your bottom line, but the environment's health should be at the heart of your efforts. Getting caught up in producing reports that would entice ESG investors isn't going to stop global warming, but the procedures inside can help make a positive impact.
Ninety percent of the world's largest companies now produce corporate social responsibility (CSR) reports. On paper, that sounds great – what's not to love about conscious reporting? The issue is only a tiny amount are validated by third parties.
By self-reporting data that isn't verified, some figures may be stretched and not make the necessary impact to reduce CO2 emissions. ESG investment may come knocking, but are you really operating a sustainable model?
You don't have to be an eco-friendly or green business to be sustainable – every company, large or small, has a role to play.
Small steps lead to big changes
Reaching for Net Zero is something that businesses around the globe are striving for, but what is it? According to EPA, Net Zero requires using only as much energy as produced, maintaining a sustainable balance between water availability and demand, and getting rid of waste sent to landfills. The United Nations hopes to achieve Net Zero by 2050; every effort by your business helps to make that happen.
Ambitious goals can seem impossible when you're at the beginning. How larger companies operate needs a sustainable overhaul, but Rome wasn't built in a day. One small business can't change how every multinational company behaves, but collectively demanding more can. By insisting on sustainable products from supply chains, larger companies will eventually have to change.
The same goes for your own business. A small used car salesperson doesn’t have to suddenly restructure their model to sell electric vehicles. Implementing small changes has a ripple effect that leads to significant results.
Something as simple as moving to a paperless online calendar system can be a tiny step to becoming a more sustainable business. Removing unnecessary in-person meetings or providing a work-from-home environment can eliminate harmful CO2 emissions caused by commuting.
The first step is devising and implementing a sustainable business plan, strategy, and practice for your company. By identifying and integrating ESG practices, your business can help fight climate change and improve its brand image at the same time.
Improving where you can is the first step
The $142 billion-dollar question is, where do you start? With sustainability at the forefront of many business strategies, finding what works for you can take substantial time and effort.
You'll find a barrage of products, tips, goals, and don'ts from leading publications and companies.
But where do you being?
By identifying what is achievable – just getting started is half the battle. You don't need to know it all or even get it right initially. Implement sustainable business practices that your team can follow, and you can adapt them as needed. Find out what works for you through trial and error – aim for what motivates you.
Factors that drive sustainable business practices
Going green can have many motivating factors. There are obvious positives, like reducing your carbon footprint and ethically sourcing supplies, but it has a lasting impact both internally and externally. Here are some driving factors you may have yet to consider.
- Organizational benefits: You could see improved working conditions, safety, and efficiency.
- Financial benefits: Although helping the planet is the primary goal, you get tax incentives, government grants, and the previously mentioned ESG investors.
- People benefits: Your team can take inspiration from the initiatives at work and apply them to their personal lives. By creating a sustainable environment, you're more likely to see improved ethical behavior from employees.
- Commercial benefits: Going green can also help you market yourself as such and appeal to consumers who care about sustainability.
- Environmental benefits: The UN has targeted Net Zero. You can reduce your carbon emissions, help the planet, and provide a more sustainable future for the next generation.
- Communications benefits: Your eco-friendly image can make a lasting impression on potential customers and suppliers.
The pushback on creating a more sustainable business model usually comes down to cost. Companies fear that ethically sourcing supplies, adopting greener energy, or managing waste correctly could infer higher expenditure. But as access to all these factors has evolved, it has never been easier or more beneficial for an SME to go green.
Why are customers choosing green brands?
First Insight report that 62% of Generation Z and Millenials prefer to buy from sustainable brands. They’re also more likely to spend and purchase based on company values.
A new generation of consumers has arrived and is more conscious of what they buy and who the seller is. In today's climate, positioning your brand as eco-friendly and highlighting your values is an effective way of connecting with modern customers.
Consumers want to help the environment. They care about the working conditions of those who manufacture their favorite products. Being seen to make a difference has taken center stage. People are fearless in calling out brands online and on social media that need to make an effort to be more sustainable and save the environment.
Customers want to highlight that they’re shopping ethically in the online sphere. Those conscious of sustainability or the environment can form tribes and purchase similar brands.
Brands with similar values can open doors to different audiences. For example, Casetify partnered with The Earth Day network to design the first 100% compostable and biodegradable phone case. Marketing themselves as a greener company brought in a more eco-friendly consumer base for Earth Day.
Shoppers are naturally more conscious these days. But some sustainable have also played a part in spreading the word about conscious business and environmental protection.
Businesses need consumers to make a purchase that justifies their product. For example, a dishwasher tablet that reduces water usage in dishwashers by 20% requires the user to set their machine to 'eco-mode'
Sourcing supplies from Fair Trade vendors means they need socially conscious customers willing to spend on their sustainable product. Consumers may be more mindful, but businesses must provide them with that platform to shop ethically.
Defining your brand is the first step. What is your mission; why do you want to be more sustainable? By having clear intent and achievable goals, you can lay out a strategy that your whole team can follow. You don't have to become a green brand overnight, but you can always work toward it. Sustainability doesn't define your business but implementing the practices certainly makes a difference.
5 sustainable business practices to get started
The changes you make in your business now will impact the future. Although instilling eco-friendly practices may prove challenging initially, you will reap the rewards faster than you think.
Let's look at five thoughtful and impactful sustainable business practices that are a good starting point to transform your company.
1. Operate from a work-from-home/hybrid model
Working from home has become a more viable option for employees in the past few years. With online migration, Green Journal reports that working from your home office four days a week can reduce nitrogen dioxide emissions by around 10%.
Travel has become far less commonplace with growing technologies in the online office. Giving your team the option to work from home or even a hybrid model benefits them and the planet.
Companies can easily adopt a virtual approach that helps their team stay connected while building their customer base. For example, webinars are an excellent tool for reaching a global audience. In addition to collaborating with your team, you can use them to give a platform to industry leaders and connect with new leads.
Naturally, in-person meetings, office days, and gatherings are still crucial for people socially. The key is to suit your model to your business – what works for an online marketing firm may not suit those operating a medical practice.
Tips for a home office
Working from home has benefits, but it comes with unique challenges. Creating the right environment in your home can help separate your work and leisure life.
Here are some tips to help:
- Communicate with your team regularly.
- Layout boundaries with anyone at home with you during office hours.
- Have a separate space. It doesn't have to be a different room, but once work is finished, it's out of sight and mind.
- Take breaks and make sure to move.
- Interact with other people (outside!).
- Prepare your lunch the night before.
- Clearly define your finish time.
- Talk to your employer.
Working from home can positively impact the environment without negatively impacting the person.
2. Go paperless
Going paperless is a simple practice to cut down on unnecessary waste. A quick win can boost morale and motivate your team to pursue larger environmentally friendly endeavors.
U.S. offices use 12.1 trillion sheets of paper annually. The average office worker uses 10,000 sheets per year. Nowadays, you can switch most uses for paper in an office to online; it's waste that you can easily cut out.
Trees are a vital part of our ecosystem. They store carbon dioxide through photosynthesis, helping reduce the gas emitted into our atmosphere. An excessive amount of CO2 causes the planet's temperature to rise, causing global warming.
These are only a few examples of the endless possibilities of paperless migration. If you want to take it a step further, there are charities like One Tree Planted that you can donate to or partner with. Speaking of which…
To mitigate the use of paper in your office, you can:
- Switch to an online calendar system
- Use a cloud storage system
- Remove printers
- Scan and email documents
- Digitally sign documents
- Email invoices and receipts
- Adopt digital business cards
- Use digital notes
- Invest in paperless marketing
- Provide reusable coffee cups
3. Partner with nonprofit organizations and charities
Companies interested in adopting sustainable practices often need to figure out where to start. The intent and desire are there, but an organization can lose steam without a clear plan. It needs to be efficient and balanced with action.
Building an eco-friendly model from scratch can be both time-consuming and expensive. An option is to create a new team to handle sustainable initiatives with designated employees, but this can lead to stagnation without direction. This doesn't mean you should stray from this option; you just need to connect with the right people.
Partnering with a nonprofit organization or charity that aligns with your sustainability goals can aid in defining your own path. Several organizations have the resources and knowledge to assist you in the initial phases of your sustainable journey. They're not there to do the job for you or outline your mission but can offer a supporting hand in getting started.
It's a two-way street. Donating or using your platform to promote your company can highlight how your brand fights climate change. By offering a percentage of your profits to fund their efforts, you'll be aligned with their mission, and consumers will know of your eco-friendly efforts.
of customers would choose brands that have environmentally sustainable practices
Partnering with non-governmental organizations or nonprofits has a lasting impact on your brand and the planet. For example, Patagonia and Dr. Bronner's partnered with the Rodale Institute to form Regenerative Organic Alliance, which aims to fight climate change by reabsorbing carbon into the soil.
Washing brand Ariel teamed up with WWF to reduceCO2 footprint. When Ariel hit 1 million pledges through their social media campaign #WashColdChallenge, they donated £100,000 to support WWF's climate work. Ariel benefitted from green marketing, while WWF received funding for their cause.
Who should you reach out to?
That depends on what your goals are. For SMEs, finding local initiatives that impact your community might be best. If you're looking on a much larger scale, partnering with organizations that reflect your mission and what your sustainable journey means to you is vital.
4. Educate your team on best practices
Give a person a fish, and you feed them for a day; teach a person to fish, and you feed them for a lifetime. Devising and implementing a sustainable strategy will only work if your team is appropriately educated and trained.
How could you expect your plan to be followed if you read from different sheets? By educating your staff, you're ensuring that they execute your sustainable business practices flawlessly.
Set up and delegate initiatives to different team members. If they feel heavily involved and hold responsibility, they’re more likely to abide by your strategy daily. Have workshops and seminars on how to separate recycling properly or what to look for when buying sustainable supplies.
You could also bring in a guest speaker to highlight how carbon footprint is measured and what you can do to lower it. That way, your team will be up-to-date on the latest procedures and how to implement and follow them.
You can also set up green practice panels to give team members autonomy and construct their own sustainable ideals. Extend it company-wide through webinars. Team members can bring their practices home, and the spread of sustainability will far exceed your business walls.
5. Become energy efficient
Providing energy to an office space can be costly, especially in the current climate. Thirty percent of energy is wasted in commercial, manufacturing, and educational buildings. Businesses can lower their expenses and emissions by reducing energy usage and becoming more efficient. It's a straightforward win for you and the planet.
By using alternative methods, SMEs can save 18 to 25% on energy bills. Designating a team to monitor heating, lighting, and equipment can ensure your space runs optimally. You could partner with an external organization to implement a more sustainable and optimized energy model in your workplace.
Simple fixes could be changing all lights to LEDs, turning off heating in empty rooms, using daylight, and switching off unnecessary equipment. Alternatively, you could try out office sharing and reduce emissions by using co-working spaces.
Act now to fight climate change
Regardless of your business type, you have a role to play in fighting climate change. With a more significant push for Net Zero, you have a unique challenge to care for the planet for future generations.
Adopting more sustainable business practices are simple ways to make a lasting impact. By transforming your organization, you could see outside investment, better brand recognition, and even become a leader in your community for fighting climate change. Small steps can lead to tremendous results.
There is no one size fits all approach, and the outlined practices are recommendations for what you could do. Get started, share ideas, include your team in the strategy and see what works for you. Through trial and error, you can customize and set goals in striving for a better planet. Companies are in it together and working toward fighting climate change.
The future begins now; what you put in place now will benefit you now and in the future. Soon those small steps will become commonplace, and you’ll give the next generation something to build on. That first action can lead to a more sustainable future.
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