Sustainability is a broad concept. Unlike its environmental counterpart, green business, which refers to products and services that directly reduce their impact on the planet, a sustainable business comprises a plan that sees purpose and action equally grounded in environmental, social, and financial (yes, financial) concerns. Basically, contrary to popular belief, it is an environmentally friendly business that can turn a profit.
It is 2021, and the undeniable fact is that sustainability is no longer an option. It is part of the business bottom line. Consumers and investors around the world are placing increasing pressure on brands and businesses to show active developments in their business plans that aim towards becoming more sustainable. An overwhelming number of studies show the majority of consumers leaning more towards companies who advocate for an issue they care about. A good product is no longer enough to win their favour.
A sustainable business is critical to the success of the business, and the planet.
It’s a win-win all the way.
Whether you are starting up, or want to decrease your existing business’s negative impact by adopting a new (and improved) sustainability business plan, here are some steps to get you going…
1. Identify the need and educate yourself
The beginning, as we know, is a very good place to start. And identifying the need for sustainability is the first step to making real, lasting changes in your business structure. Sustainability should be at the core of your business mission, and not just a marketing or PR move to gain traction. Authenticity and effectiveness go hand in hand here so, if need be, go to great lengths to educate yourself, and others, about global issues such as climate change, energy and fuel crises, poverty, ecosystem decline, and more. Prioritise areas that you either want to focus on (as a start-up) or improve (as an existing business). Some important ethical concerns to consider could be: using renewable energy; limiting waste and recycling; addressing environmental problems; prioritising consumers’ health by using organic ingredients/materials; and ethically sourcing products.
2. Set long-term holistic goals
Once you have prioritised your needs and areas in which you can improve, it is time to set sustainability goals. Ask yourself the question: am I setting myself up to last? Tackling too much change in a short period of time can put immense pressure on your business. Statistics indicate that businesses who prioritise long-term sustainability not only have the ever-growing business advantage, but also an overall vision that benefits people and the planet in the long run. A little goes a long way, and steady wins the race. Clichés? For good reason. Think of it this way: if each and every business on the planet started to take baby steps towards making lasting contributions that put environmental responsibility first, the impact on Mother Nature would inevitably be immense. So, play your part.
3. Be transparent
Sustainability simply doesn’t work without transparency. And the rise of greenwashing – making unsubstantiated or misleading claims about the environmental benefits of a business’s product – is making it even more important. Clever claims and green labels are no longer enough. Transparency breeds accountability, which is a huge part of progress, and driving improved results. This, again, is a win-win for both the business, and the planet. Transparency also breeds trust, and creates open channels of communication between employees, investors, suppliers and consumers. By being transparent, a sustainable business openly, and accurately, reports on impacts like greenhouse gas emissions, waste and water usage, and a product’s impact on the environment throughout its lifecycle.
4. Have your finger on the pulse
Staying true to its namesake, innovation is… innovating. Constantly. And thank the gods for that. The quest for sustainability has transformed the competitive landscape and has forced businesses to change the way they think about innovation. From tech, to products, marketing and business models, staying relevant is not an option. It is a necessity. Sustainability is the new frontier of innovation, and traditional methods of understanding what consumers want, and how best to solve the world’s most complex problems are being constantly reinvented. This is the era of the generation who grew up with social media, crowdsourcing ideas, incubating start-ups, and looking to STEM (Science, Tech, Engineering, Maths) to tackle the planet’s pressing and complex problems. Be creative, connect with your consumers, innovate, and stay relevant. The time for constant reinvention is now!
5. Accept imperfection
Perfection is not possible. And once you accept that, you will feel less discouraged by inevitable shortcomings that come with change. As much as you can try to incorporate sustainability in every single level of your business, sometimes it is just not possible. Try to think more along the lines of: progress, not perfection. Unless you are operating entirely off the grid, and creating zero waste, no business is existing in the perfect bubble. Eco-shaming is not going to get us anywhere. What’s important is that we all start taking steps in the right direction. Trying out new sustainable techniques where we can, and supporting one another by celebrating these small changes in the right direction.