Is Sustainability Applicable to Your Business?

September 22, 2023 - 11 minutes read

Answers to the 3 Most Common Questions Business Owners Ask:

By now, you’re likely familiar with the idea of sustainability. Or at a minimum, you’ve heard it mentioned in passing. But you may wonder if and how it applies to your business. Why should you care about sustainability in your business?

Many people associate the idea of sustainability with recycling, lowering emissions, using renewable energy, and reducing our carbon footprint. But sustainability is also a way of operating that encompasses everything you do in your business, from your staffing and procurement procedures to your impact on the environment.

Sustainability is not just a budget add-on or a box to check off at the end of each quarter. Instead, it can have a real, tangible impact on your company culture, your relationships as a business, and even your bottom line.

But is sustainability actually worth pursuing as part of your business structure and company culture? Let’s unpack three of the most common questions business leaders ask about sustainability.

  1. “We’re only one business. How can we possibly make any difference with global climate change? Is it our responsibility?”
  2. “Will sustainability slow us down and limit our growth potential?”
  3. Saving the big one for last: “Is sustainability an expensive endeavor?”

“We’re only one business. How can we possibly make any difference with global climate change? Is it our responsibility?”

I get it. Running a business is hard. Juggling the demands of revenue, overhead, supply chain management, insurance, staffing, equipment, and more on top of ever-evolving customer demands, buying trends, material costs, legal or political changes – it can feel like we’re already in a vice grip. And yet, we have to do more; we must.

According to the World Wildlife Fund, “The impact of one small business appears minimal compared to the global climate challenge, especially next to the activity of the largest corporations and heaviest polluters. But together, small and medium-sized businesses (SMEs) make up 90% of businesses worldwide, affect the livelihoods of over two billion people, and drive innovation that reaches the biggest business leaders. That’s a force to be reckoned with.”

Did you catch that? Small and medium-sized businesses make up 90% of businesses worldwide. And 60-70% of employment worldwide. Are you beginning to see why we all must do our part? We business owners must take a step forward and proactively decide to become part of the solution, rather than delaying further or continuing to play an active or passive role in the problem.

“Will embracing sustainability limit our growth potential?”

It’s understandable to be concerned about your growth potential. Running your business through a sustainability sieve can feel limiting. There are, however, several growth opportunities that embracing sustainability can actually unlock; we will explore three of them.

For starters, what about your existing customer base? Do you worry that they may not want to buy or use sustainable products or materials? What if they don’t want to do business with a company that embraces sustainability as a strategy? Will they go elsewhere?

When it comes to consumer buying trends, there’s encouraging news. According to a McKinsey study conducted in 2020, more than 60% of consumers said they were willing to pay more for products that were packaged sustainably. Essentially, McKinsey’s data confirmed that buyers are increasingly likely to purchase sustainable products.

With the evolving shift in consumer trends and a growing need for businesses to emphasize sustainability long-term, chances are that embracing more environmentally sound practices will pay off in the long run.

Another area that can be expanded is your workforce. People across the board are becoming more aware of the human effects on the climate, and many are choosing their employment opportunities accordingly. In fact, this TIME article states, “70% of employees and job seekers say a sustainability program makes an employer more appealing.”

To best position your business and make sure your HR efforts are sustainable, we suggest integrating an Employee Engagement System into your organization. This can help turn your team into the strongest component of your company.

Growing your human capital capacity can help you enter new markets as well as improve customer satisfaction and retention. When team members are happy with the work they do and feel aligned with the values of their employer, they are more engaged. Their engagement can boost productivity by over 20%.

Finally, consider the current waste streams that your product or deliverable produces. Maybe you’re a luxury home renovation company and each client project includes several dumpsters of appliances and other materials that are still in good working condition. Rather than disposing of them, perhaps you can identify an opportunity to turn that resource into value.

Another example is in the food industry. The Dutch company, PeelPioneers has discovered a way to redirect citrus peels from the incinerator to process them to be used in manufacturing other products.

“Is sustainability an expensive endeavor?”

Concerns about the possible expenses associated with sustainability are often what hold business leaders back from embracing it. In reality, however, sustainability offers many benefits that outweigh any upfront costs.

Let’s look at some of the ways sustainability can impact your bottom line for the better.

  1. Cost reduction over time. Adopting sustainable practices can actually mean reducing your costs over time. For one thing, improved efficiencies mean less waste. Time is money, after all. Other factors to consider include your hiring, team building, and employee engagement practices. Hiring without a sustainable mindset can lead to shortcutting and a “revolving door” environment with high turnover. Or, perhaps worse, an unengaged workforce – which is expensive.
  2. Renewable energy. According to the United Nations, renewable energy is the most affordable form of energy available today. Pursuing ways to utilize renewable energy in your business can yield long-term cost savings.
  3. Waste reduction. Reducing the amount of waste you produce as a business will naturally lower your removal and disposal costs. At the same time, waste reduction will also reduce your negative impact on the environment.
  4. Resource allocation. When you’re allocating your resources in a sustainable way, you’ll have a greater chance of saving money – sometimes in unexpected places. For instance, you can save money by maximizing your fuel usage. Being more deliberate about planning for travel, whether it’s to visit a client or for your team members’ commute, can help you perform better with the same or even fewer resources.
  5. Energy-efficient machines, tools, and appliances. There may be upfront costs associated with being more selective, discerning, and responsible about the equipment you use in your business. However, this could reduce your long-term costs. Sustainable machines, tools, and appliances might not require frequent replacement, for instance. On the other hand, maintaining the value of an object or resource can translate to long-term cost savings, too.

Now that you know a few of the ways sustainability can benefit not only the environment but your business, it’s time to get started. You’re likely wondering how and where you should begin – and that’s okay. There are many moving parts when it comes to sustainability.

The good news is, that there are many ways for you to get started with making your business more sustainable in the long term. The key here lies within that five-letter word: START. No matter what is happening in your business, now is a great time to simply get started. This can mean educating yourself and engaging your team; in fact, this is how we suggest you begin.

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