5 Ways Your Business can Actually Walk the Sustainability Talk

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Sustainability is a big deal these days. Consumers as well as investors demand it, and both are using it as a determinant for where they put their money. Even employees are motivated to work for companies that embrace sustainability.

The degree of a company’s commitment to practices that protect natural resources can make or break it. That commitment must be a major one. Merely swapping the break room’s supply of bottled water for a refillable water cooler won’t cut it.

Coloring a company green doesn’t just happen. The journey requires intentional steps in the right direction. Here are five ways your business can actually walk the talk of sustainability.

1. Act Locally

There are many reasons to shop local when possible. Supporting local businesses helps ensure their viability and keeps profits in the community. From a sustainability standpoint, it also cuts transportation miles for suppliers and customers, which reduces carbon emissions.

Some companies build their business models on supporting small, local enterprises. Case in point is wholesale apparel marketplace Faire, which provides a platform for vendors to sell and retailers to buy. Boutique retailers can buy unique inventory from small brands and designers who produce eco-friendly, handmade, or socially conscious products.

Shopping locally applies to businesses as well as consumers. Businesses can focus on adding vendors from nearby geographic areas into their supply chain. Doing so not only means cutting transportation emissions, but may lead to fewer supply chain disruptions as well.

Doing what you can close to home builds thriving, sustainable communities. What about that increased tax revenue that stays in the area? It might just buy a few electric buses for the local school district.

2. Add Sustainability to Your Operations

If you aren’t at least peppering your company’s operations with sustainable practices yet, get started. Every initiative discussed should be viewed through a sustainability lens. Once you make sustainability intentional, you may be surprised by the number of ways you can help save the planet.

If you plan to renovate the office restrooms, do it with low-flow toilets and faucets and LED lights with motion sensors. But don’t stop there. Change your toilet paper to recycled or bamboo and eliminate paper towel waste with jet air dryers.

Replacing your delivery van fleet over the next five years? Invest in electric, hybrid, or biofuel vehicles. Devise strategies that will increase delivery efficiencies while decreasing the number of miles those vehicles will need to travel.

The sustainability factor will add some upfront costs to strategic investments and operational procedures. However, over time, you will see a return on your investments via lower utility and fuel bills. That’s good for your business and the planet.

3. Make Sustainability Nonnegotiable

Companies have many ways to promote sustainability internally, but they have a lot of muscle externally as well. Few businesses operate in a vacuum. You can use the power of the vendor contract to encourage sustainable practices at other companies.

When a vendor bids on a contract, insist they disclose their practices so you can factor those into your assessment. A cleaning service that uses all eco-friendly products may come in with a higher bid than one that doesn’t. Make sure the value of that commitment is part of the selection equation.

If you see an opportunity to help a vendor embrace sustainability, take it. An RFP can include the requirement that a vendor hold a certification for responsibly sourced materials, for example. You could support the vendor by offering them a reasonable amount of time to achieve certification.

At the end of the day, all companies make their own decisions regarding sustainability. Your company can’t force individual members of your supply chain into submission. Still, since you choose the links in that chain, you can make sustainability a nonnegotiable part of your contracts.

4. Engage All Stakeholders

Practicing sustainability throughout a company is unquestionably easier if buy-in permeates the internal and external workings of the organization. Although it’s important to engage all stakeholders, you should start at the top. Shareholders and those in the C-suite need to put their profits and their budgets where their mouths are.

Gone are the days when a company’s sole focus should be on paying lucrative dividends to shareholders. Taking the least expensive routes possible to increase profit margins will have customers jumping ship. They want businesses to be more sustainable, and they’re willing to pay a premium for it.

Employees at all levels should not just recognize the value of their employer’s sustainable practices. They should actively seek ways to make their jobs more environmentally friendly. Plus, they should have communications structures for making recommendations that can lead to change and the power to effect it.

Don’t leave any stakeholders out. Investors, executives, workers, vendors, consumers, governmental organizations, even the lawn service needs to embrace the concept. It takes all inhabitants to paint the town green.

5. Be Transparent

Like sustainability, stakeholders are demanding greater and greater transparency from companies. Being open about your sustainability efforts comes with significant responsibility. If you’re less than truthful about them, you will get caught, and your business will suffer.

Remember that transparency is not a PR tactic. Transparency offers businesses the opportunity to not only showcase positives, but also communicate what they’re doing to correct negatives. The balance makes your company more believable.

Sustainability efforts must be authentic, a lesson demonstrated by the Volkswagen diesel scandal. You can’t brag about an engine emitting fewer pollutants when in fact it produces markedly more. If you aren’t truly concerned about the environment, don’t pretend you are.

Stakeholders respond positively to transparency. They want to buy from, work for, and sell to companies that don’t just claim to be concerned about their carbon footprint. They want to interact with companies that are open and honest about their successes and their failures.

Pilfering natural resources and destroying the planet have historically been cheap and easy things for companies to do. The global bill for that environmental waste is now coming due. Incorporating sustainable practices at all levels of your business is neither cheap nor easy. It is, however, the right thing to do.

Businesses that do the right thing have a lot to gain, especially as more and more stakeholders demand it. Respond to that demand, and the investments you make in sustainable practices will reap dividends.

Your business doesn’t have to halt climate change all by itself or all in one go. Taking measured steps incrementally and intentionally will give your company the cred to walk the sustainability walk. That will give everyone something to talk about.

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