How to Make a Business More Sustainable
Making a profit whilst making a positive impact.
Here’s a post to celebrate Earth Day 2019 — a day when citizens of Earth have, apparently, around 12 years before causing catastrophic climate change that can’t be recovered from in any relevant human timeframe. Yep, lots to look forward to here.
And what’s causing this climactic imbalance? Well, to a great degree it’s the activities that corporations and the groups of people who act for them do to create a buck: deforestation, pollution, nonrenewable fuels, broad scale agriculture —i.e. the sort of business as usual activities that civilisations around the world have relied upon for hundreds if not thousands of years. It’s time for humanity to change, so our climate doesn’t have to.
How can we get the same result, or maybe a greater result, whilst also creating a sustainable living Earth?
I believe that business can create the same result for people — technological progress, prosperity and abundance — whilst also creating a sustainable living Earth, and so this article goes through the process how to do it.
Take a moment and consider this question:
Where do you want yourself, your business, and the Earth to be in terms of sustainability in 5 years, 10 years, and even at the end of your lifetime?
And, just for kicks, what do you want for the Earth in 100, 500, 1000, or 10,000 years from now? (Thinking like this may cause a headache and loss of balance, so make sure you’re in a comfy chair!)
Whatever answer you gave, it is worth pursuing — and that answer is how we achieve an ever greater result, whilst creating a sustainable living Earth.
In business as usual, the bottom line of our PNL is the driving force. Yet what about making sure that our businesses actions are beneficial for everyone and sustainable now and into the future? — A net benefit for us, for society, and the environment? — What is known in progressive business as the “triple bottom line”.
Here’s some basic changes we can make in the day to day running of our business that mean we maximise our impact in a business sense whilst still minimising our impact on the environment — or even make our net impact beneficial. Let’s check them out.
You’ve probably heard of customer experience mapping. I do that at strategygoto.com. In a similar vein, resource journeys are maps of the resources your business uses and consumes before they come to you, and where they go after once purchased by the consumer or disposed of by your business.
Are there inefficiencies in this process? Loss? Waste? Where there is waste, there is probably friction that you are pushing onto your consumer. You are forcing the consumer to do your dirty work, and it’s probably annoying them. It is certainly not making them happy. Taking the rubbish to the bin is a chore, not a joy, and you may well be adding to their rubbish load.
Find ways for things you produce to come back to you for recycling and reuse, and your customer will feel more satisfied and as if less burden has been put on them. Or find ways to make your packaging beautiful enough to be kept and cherished in the home and put to good use (with your brand logo tastefully shown).
Here are some questions to ask when doing your resource journey maps.
Before they come to you: Where are resources that we bring into our business coming from and what impact does that make on where they were taken from? Were they from sustainable resources? Are they recycled? Was their manufacturing process toxic? How far did they travel to get to us?
If your answers speak positively for sustainability, assign a green colour or happy face. If the journey was toxic or unsustainable, red or a sad face. If you don’t know, put yellow or a flat mouth face.
Do the same for the resources post production and purchase: After they have been used by the consumer, will they go to landfill? Was there packaging that they travelled in that will go to landfill? Can the consumer return them or the packaging to us for reuse? If they can’t, can we substitute materials that have multiple uses or a longer lifespan?
Some countries have lost 90% or more of their old growth forests, and that loss of habitat necessarily corresponds to a loss of life — The planet has lost 65% of its animals in the last thirty years, and in similar time frame, the single state of NSW in Australia lost around 10 million animals due to logging alone. The UN now says 1 million species are on the verge of extinction if humans don’t reverse the oncoming impacts of climate change brought about by our energy consumption and way of life.
Some things that we definitely can make sure are recycled before adding them to our office shopping list:
- Recycled printing paper
- Recycled hand towels
- Recycled toilet paper
- Recycled batteries
The energy your office consumes also comes into this equation. Subscribe to renewal energy from your energy provider, or install solar panels or even wind energy at your workplace. If you maintain a car fleet, transform your car fleets to being electric and energy efficient.
Don’t let your environmentally sensitive changes go unnoticed — let your clients and customers know all the steps you take in newsletters and social media updates, or even a press release.
Brands that have a triple bottom line are more appealing especially to millennial consumers, so post on Instagram and do a blog! It’s great PR and gives meaning to your brand. (Don’t know how? Talk to me at strategygoto.com for a content marketing strategy refresh.)
We’ve all been in an office kitchen and seen co-workers put what is clearly recycling in the rubbish bin, or put the dishwasher on with one cup and spoon in it!
Have incentives in place to make sure that colleagues see sustainability as a value of the business that they need to uphold, to reuse materials and not create unnecessary waste.
Lead by example when you have an office party or cater for the team by having a waste free policy and make a show of recycling. Just like you expect your employees to embody other company values in their work in order to represent the brand consistently, you will need to communicate that sustainability is now one of the core values of the company that they will need to embody at least when at work.
Have a useful kitchen area where people can bring in food from home and reheat it and clean up afterwards in reusable containers, and discourage packaging heavy “Uber Eats” style deliveries to the office when you are working late nights. Find a favourite local restaurant that you can rely on instead, who may even deliver a platter to you on short notice.
If your business creates waste that schools or community sheds could re-use, create a relationship where you can send it to them or ask them to collect — this will save on rubbish fees.
Whatever waste your business generates, there is probably a potential charity partner who needs just that item — scrap materials can go to animal shelters; scrap wood and building materials can go to “Men’s Sheds” or programs for educating youth; and large empty tubs are useful for feeding livestock at animal rescue centres.
Designate a member of the team to coordinate what goes where and then generate kudos for your efforts by putting the charities your serve on your website as partners, so that it’s clear to potential customers and other businesses that you have a “triple bottom line”.
We live in the digital age, and it’s practical now for many of our workers to work remotely as digital nomads or at home.
Letting employees work remote means that they need to consume less fossil fuels getting to the office, and also will reduce their consumption of fancy threads — discarded clothing is massive waste problem — as well as give them more time for doing the things that need to be done for themselves without outsourcing, like growing or cooking food, cleaning up or fixing things. Relaxed, happier people who feel more fulfilled and productive in their personal life are simply more productive and proactive in your business.
Whether you have chemicals to clean the office, or use chemicals in your business, you can ask what impact they have on plants, animals, and wild life.
There’s a pretty basic principle and that is “if it kills bugs, it kills full stop”. I did amphibian studies as a post graduate, and the chemicals just to clean even our houses and driveways and maintain our gardens have an insidious impact that destroys life all around us. There’s literally tens of thousands of man-made chemicals let loose in the environment, and these chemicals can now interact in infinite and unknown ways. So less is definitely more. Look at what toxins your company is using, and investigate if there are healthier alternatives.
A hairdressing salon can choose non toxic alternatives for example for their hair dyes and shampoos. Cleaners and landscapers also have less toxic alternatives. Do a bit of research and your health will thank you. Do your marketing right, and your customers will support your new efforts and new supportive customers will find you too.
Even with Zoom and Calendly, there is going to be a need to travel in business, for face to face trust and to go to conferences for build new connections and opportunities.
See if you can create company policy to balance business trips with encouraging staff to donate a portion of time to environmental or social causes. Volunteering together at a local tree planting, clean up day, or even a food for homeless shelter, will be a great way to bond as a team and give back.
So, for staff to get an all expenses trip reimbursement, they donate a certain proportion of that time away when they get back to a social or environmental cause. It’s not rocket science.
If you are needing ways to advertise your business, and still support sustainability principles, ditch the flyers. They get crushed in a handbag or pocket, and ditched in the bin first opportunity.
Perhaps instead at your trade stand have a QR code that can be scanned to access a website or app, and in return your potential customer gets some kind of boon that encourages them to find out more about you online — like a discount, free download or competition.
If you need swag, avoid the plastic and go for items with class that can be reused again and again — plastic might be cheap for us to buy, but if the true cost of producing it were factored in — millions and millions of years of Earth time brewing in its underground belly — few could afford it. And the reality is that the Earth can’t afford it.
I’m hoping that the suggestions in this article ten years from now are just considered common sense and ubiquitous across business. They really are the least we can do. Sometimes the simple things are enough to tip the balance in the right direction and set the path for greater things to come.
What are some of the things you are doing to make your business sustainable? Share in the comments! Or tag me in a tweet twitter.strategygoto.com — I will make sure I retweet your efforts!
If you want your business to have customer experience mapping or even resource mapping come and talk to me. strategygoto.com. Connect with me on Linkedin — akasha.me
Akasha Rose Indream is founder of WIBI.io an online group for women in blockchain leaders; consults on brand, content marketing and customer experience managing for startups; she provides startup mentoring via superherostartup.com. She looks after membership for Business in Heels the global network of business women. Join us at http://bit.ly/2IEF5kW