What is sustainability?
Business sustainability is the practice of running business operations in a way that does not deplete or negatively affect the Earth's natural resources. In other words, we are keeping the planet in mind when making company decisions.
Businesses are essential to the economy, but they shouldn't exist at the environment's cost. No one's business can thrive on a dead planet.
You may think sustainability is an issue only larger corporations can afford to tackle — but don't think so small.
Small businesses can make a significant impact by implementing sustainable practices. Being a community leader will encourage others to follow suit and help build your brand.
Why become sustainable?
Aside from the obvious environmental implications, being a sustainable business has many benefits.
Improve Brand Image
Consumers naturally look to businesses as leaders in the community. In a global survey conducted by Nielsen, 81% of people strongly feel that companies should help improve the environment.
Doing good in public shows your company is about more than just turning a profit. It shows you want to make a positive impact in the world. Sustainability shouldn't just be a marketing tactic, but it can be another excellent reason for consumers to trust in your brand.
The fact is, consumers are more likely to buy from sustainable companies. According to a social responsibility study, 87% of customers will purchase a product because a company advocated for an issue they cared about.
With "green consumerism" on the rise, being sustainable is becoming less trendy and more standard operating procedure. Don't get left behind in the market. Adopting even small changes can have a significant impact and increase business.
While developing sustainable practices can sometimes come with an upfront cost, it can reduce operating costs over time. Businesses that invest in renewable energy such as solar power see a 75% drop in their monthly utility bill.
Small businesses can also see savings of 10-30% monthly by making strategic changes to their energy consumption. Auditing your energy use can help determine where you can start saving money.
Businesses "going green" can also qualify for tax credits and deductions. There is a lot of money to be saved when you decide to adopt sustainable practices.
Boost Company Morale
When you do good, you feel good! Creating a positive work environment is essential to productivity. Implementing sustainable practices will help employees feel safer.
When employees feel cared for, they are more likely to stay with a company. According to a study by Northern Illinois University, companies with low turnover rates bring in an average of 4x higher profits.
Word of mouth is a priceless form of advertising, and it doesn't cost a cent. Give your employees another reason to boast about you!
Who is responsible for developing a sustainability plan?
It's everyone's responsibility to contribute to a business's sustainability.
Owners and stakeholders should form a plan to determine which issues to address. Managers can enforce these issues by implementing easy ways for employees to take part.
Encourage employees to be sustainable by holding weekly meetings, creating signage, and providing the necessary training and tools to be successful.
You can even start a "Green Team" that helps implement your new sustainability efforts within the company.
How can you take steps to become sustainable?
When first approaching a sustainability plan, many companies get overwhelmed by the number of issues at hand. To become a sustainable business, you do not need to address multiple problems at once.
Start small. Think of your business goals and which topics align with your business the most. How can your company make the most significant impact? What issues are important to your customers?
Three Pillars of Sustainability
We can break sustainability issues into three pillars - environmental, social, and economic. Let's take a look at how you can quickly implement strategies in each category.
The environmental pillar is the most obvious and where most businesses place their focus. Here are five simple steps you can take right now to make your business more environmentally sustainable.
Allowing your employees to work from home can have several positive impacts on the environment.
- Reduces CO2 emissions by not commuting
- Reduces the use of fossil fuels
- Reduce paper use
- Reduce plastic waste
- Reduce the need to expand our roads and highways
- Reduce the energy consumption of office electronics
Switch to energy-saving LED bulbs
Switching from incandescent bulbs to LED bulbs can reduce energy consumption by 70-75%. Replacing 100 bulbs, turned on for eight hours a day, could save more than $1,000 per year!
Pulp and paper is the third-largest industrial polluter to air, water, and land in both Canada and the United States, and releases well over 100 million kg of toxic pollution each year.
If we consume paper at our current rate, all of our rainforests will vanish in less than 100 years. In a digital age, the need for paper is almost non-existent. Here are some examples of how your company can go paperless:
- Convert paper records to digital
- Email receipts, invoices, and newsletters
- Recycle your fax machine or printer with an R2 certified recycler
- Email internal documents
- Replace paper forms, agreements, and sign-in sheets with digital documents (and e-signatures)
- Use a note-taking app in meetings
- Send notes and ideas with an instant messaging app
Going paperless not only helps the environment but also saves money and time.
Did you know there is a garbage patch twice the size of Texas floating in the Pacific Ocean? Guess what it's made of? Yep! Plastic. Plastic waste continues to grow each year. Here are a few simple ways you can do your part to prevent plastic from ending up in our oceans.
- Skip the single-use plastic cutlery and straws
- Encourage your employees to bring reusable cutlery, food containers, and refillable water bottles
- Ditch the k-cups and go for the traditional coffee machine
- Get rid of bottled water and provide a water cooler for guests and employees
Taking the steps toward sustainability doesn't have to be difficult, but it does take commitment.
Recycle and Reuse Electronics
E-waste is a big problem. Electronics that end up in landfills accounts for 70% of overall toxic waste every year. Discarding electronics is not only detrimental to the environment, but it could be harmful to your business.
Computers, laptops, tablets, cell phones, and even copy machines contain sensitive data. In the wrong hands, this sensitive data could be exposed or exploited. Ensure your company's security and recycle your electronics with a certified R2 electronics recycler.
Every business needs new computers and electronics at some point. Upgrading your office equipment doesn't have to mean buying new. Buying refurbished electronics will not only save you money but will prevent more natural resources from being used in manufacturing.
The social pillar is about the companies employees, its community, and stakeholders. A socially sustainable company should have the support of all three. Let's take a look at how your company can be more socially sustainable.
Offer Employee Perks and Incentives
While many companies offer standard benefits packages, offering additional perks can attract potential employees and keep existing employees happier. Here are a few ideas on creative bonuses and incentives your company could offer.
- Offer gym memberships
- Provide healthy snacks or lunches
- Provide a creative or fun break space at work
- Offer childcare services
- Allow employees to work from home
- Offer pet insurance
- Pay for training and education
- Skip the dress code
Your employees are not robots. They are humans, each with their own unique story. Team building exercises and events can help your employees get to know each other and build camaraderie.
Engaged employees feel more connected to their work and team. A recent study by the Kenexa Research Institute found that companies with highly engaged employees achieve twice the net annual income.
Here are some ideas on how you can get employees more engaged.
- Encourage employee ideas and feedback
- Organize a sports team
- Volunteer for a local cause as a company
- Hold company-wide brainstorming ideas and exercises
- Reward and recognize employees for their work
- Create team-building activities with different department
Contributing to the community is another excellent way to be socially sustainable. Donating money and resources to local charities can have a significant impact on others' lives.
Encourage employees to volunteer and get involved with community events. You can even sponsor a sustainability event. Join forces and collaborate with other local businesses to strengthen the community together.
A business must be profitable to sustain success, but the economic pillar should not be more important than environmental or social.
The economic pillar ultimately determines which environmental and social issues to implement while staying profitable. Examine multiple options when tackling a sustainability issue to ensure the best chance of success.
Sustainability is the only way forward. Both large and small businesses are recognizing the numerous benefits of implementing sustainable practices. Increase your business's profit while improving the environment. It's a win-win situation!
When determining which issues to tackle, you can start by asking simple questions such as these.
- What issues align with your company's mission statement?
- What areas can you make the most significant impact?
- Are your customers passionate about specific topics?
- How can you create a healthier, more positive work environment?
- What does your community need?
- How can you reduce your energy usage?
Once you know what issues are most important to you, start breaking them down into small actionable steps. Get your employees involved, and don't forget to let your customers you are doing your part to become more sustainable!