Sustainability in business can benefit your profits as well as your people and the planet. Here are some steps companies can take to enact change.
Sustainability in business holds the promise of positively impacting the three Ps: people, planet and profits. Sustainable practices reduce your use of energy, so they can save you money and help save the plant’s resources at the same time. Even more importantly, your customers and employees (including potential employees) will appreciate your efforts to be sustainable and will perceive you as a values-driven organization worth doing business with and working for. Your sustainability efforts can engage your people around your values.
What Is Sustainability?
The concept of sustainability has multiple definitions, but most revolve around the idea that we should use our resources in a way that meets today’s needs without sacrificing the needs of tomorrow. One definition of “sustainability” speaks of “a future in which a healthy environment, economic prosperity and social justice are pursued simultaneously to ensure the well-being and quality of life of present and future generations.”
In your business dealings, sustainability isn’t just about how you use your available resources, but also about the values you want to represent. There isn’t only one way to practice sustainability in business, of course. You might, for example, invest in solar energy to power your operations. You could also select lighting options in your factory that use less electricity. You could even buy or rent uniforms made from recyclable materials that are also easier to launder and don’t require cleaning chemicals. In whatever way you pursue it, sustainability benefits you in multiple ways — but here are four of the most important.
Benefits of Sustainability in Business
1. Sustainability as Differentiation
When you conduct business in a more sustainable way — whether by using less chemicals, less energy or recyclable materials — you can gain a competitive market advantage. Your sustainability can become a key part of your branding and value proposition, making you stand out in the market for customers and potential employees alike. When you stand for something important, the chances are that you’ll find customers and employees who will stand beside you. San Francisco-based Equator Coffee and Teas, for instance, buys fair trade coffee from growers around the world, promoting sustainable practices in the preservation of soil and the fair treatment of farm workers. This focus on sustainability makes Equator Coffees and Teas stand out in a crowded market and helps them engage customers and employees around their core values.
2. Sustainability Attracts Top Talent
Younger workers want more than just money. They want to work for organizations that pursue more than bottom line profitability alone. When you’re sustainable, your message can help attract top talent, especially millennials. You can also use your sustainability efforts to engage your current employees. When you’re careful about how you use resources like energy and materials like paper, your people will take heed and follow suit. Many of them, especially younger workers, probably follow sustainable practices in their personal lives already.
3. Sustainability Is Cost Effective
When you use less energy or re-use/recycle materials, you can reduce your costs along with your carbon footprint. Generating less waste means you don’t have to invest money in managing that same waste. Small changes like installing office lights that turn off when people leave the room may cost you more in the short-term, but will result in big energy savings in the long-term. You’ll find that sustainable practices and long-term cost reduction often go hand-in-hand.
4. Ready for Anything
Being sustainable may keep you ahead of the curve as regulatory changes are coming down the pipeline. As more awareness grows around issues like global warming, local, state, federal and international agencies have begun to respond by issuing more regulations to compel companies to practice sustainability. When you do it voluntarily, you gain an advantage over your more slow-footed, reactive competitors.
Communicate Your Sustainability Initiatives
While it’s clear that sustainability efforts can be used to drive engagement for your customers and employees, you’ll need to begin a dialogue about those efforts. Discuss your values and how a particular sustainability initiative fits in with them. Talk about your responsibility to your people and to the planet, as well as for making profits: the triple Ps.
Discuss options with your employees about how they might participate in sustainable initiative; many will be eager to help. Communicate in order to make sustainability a part of your workplace culture, as a value that engages your people.