Everyone should be trying to do their bit to reduce their impact on the environment. For businesses, this is especially important as their spheres of influence extend way beyond just the people working for them.
Environmental impact is measured not only in how sustainable their offering is, but also in their supply chains, third-party contractors, trade partners and of course, the individual actions of employees. Businesses must therefore make a strategic and concerted effort to embed sustainability within their operations.
Whatever a company’s size, its connections and activities have the potential to instigate significant positive change, and there is no better time to make the effort than World Earth Day. But where to begin? Here, five sustainability experts and business leaders give their top tips for ingraining sustainability within any business.
Base business on value to customers, not growth
The traditional global economy tells businesses to pursue growth and profit above all else. However, David Ko and Richard Busellato, co-authors of “The Unsustainable Truth” challenge this idea, encouraging people to consider their business in terms of the value it brings to their clients and customers instead.
“Understand why people choose you over another,” recommends David. “If the world keeps warming, there may be no volume growth and money will be tight. Knowing why people choose you will let you focus on what’s necessary and save resources for everyone.”
In doing this, companies prioritise minimising their environmental impact and resource use over generating excess profit.
“You cannot have a business model based on volume sales growth. Every activity will use up a fraction of our carbon budget,” says Richard “No process is ever purely ‘clean’, and it is paramount we do not fall into thinking that we can continue as we are because we have added in solar panels or recycling, for example.”
“Figure out what you need your profits for – it ultimately serves someone,” David continues. “Understanding this will help you know how busy you need to be so you can save resources, whether that is time, money, or materials.”
Craft a flexible ESG strategy
For Matt Spry, strategy consultant and Founder of Emergent, every business should have a deep understanding of its wider ESG impact and obligations, and a plan to design positive impact into every layer of its operation. We’re still transitioning towards mission-led businesses being the norm; it can be tricky to know where to start.
“ESG goals will look different for every organisation, so leaders should choose what’s most important to them, and embed appropriate measures and systems to track progress. Whatever the goal - for example, B-Corp certification, minimising plastic use, social impact or striving towards net-zero - no progress will be made without a conscious decision to change and robust systems to drive the right behaviours,” says Matt.
Wherever you decide to place your focus, Matt notes that an agile approach is required to understand what approaches work best as we learn more about the role business can play in a sustainable future. “Your strategy should evolve as your context and priorities change, and ESG is a critical part of that. Strategies are not static, nor is ESG a bolt-on activity. Business contexts are constantly changing so remain flexible and keep reviewing progress to ensure your strategy is having the desired impact,” he says.
Conduct an energy audit
As energy costs continue to spiral, reflecting on how and when businesses are using energy will be essential to try and retain control of expenditure. This is also a critical element of being a more sustainable business, installing renewable energy and moving towards net-zero.
Andrew Grover, CEO of Advantage Utilities, says the process of exploring the viability of on-site renewable energy starts with a simple desktop audit, that may then lead to an actual site audit, to ascertain what products and services businesses may be able to explore, such as EV charging, Combined Heat & Power, battery storage, voltage optimisation and load shifting amongst others. Within their most recent energy report, Grover notes solar solutions are proving popular and many businesses are successfully implementing their own renewable energy on-site.
“Often, these products and services can be implemented at little or no cost, or for larger projects it can be achieved capex free,” he says.
Grover also notes that the cost of technology, materials and energy-saving measures typically reduces over time. So, an audit or assessment that perhaps did not have a pay-back period that was attractive last time around, may now produce different and more appealing results.
Regular energy audits are crucial for minimising commercial energy costs and placing sustainability at the heart of energy usage.
Minimise plastic usage
As more teams return to the office, either permanently or hybrid, so does the need for on-the-go food solutions. Around 11 billion pieces of packaging waste are produced every year from food-on-the-go; something that businesses could minimise by investing in sustainable solutions.
“So often we see employees venture to on-site catering, purchase their lunch and then throw away considerable amounts of single-use packaging every day. This can be minimised if employers proactively invest in making their catering options more sustainable, such as through reusable containers,” says Jo Liang, Co-founder of CauliBox, Their reusable food-packaging scheme has recently been used by large financial and healthcare institutions in London.
“Employees want more fulfilment from their work than just the 9-5. Employers need to be proactive in their sustainability efforts, going beyond the carbon targets, and introduce solutions that employees can easily implement, increase engagement and make a real difference,” she says.
Prioritising listening to your employees
It is easy to start plans to be more environmentally friendly from the top, relying on those in management, and although this is appropriate in some instances, to be truly sustainable, all employees need to be invested and participate in new strategies.
Teresa Boughey, diversity and inclusion specialist and founder of Jungle HR and Inclusion 247 explains that for any major change that an organisation undertakes, getting employees on board and factoring in their ideas is paramount to its success.
“It’s essential for people to feel like their employers are listening to their concerns and considering their ideas,” she says. “Organisations must make reducing environmental impact part of their broader purpose, and it is the alignment on purpose and mutual values between an organisation and its employees that’s the key to unlocking the change.
“People are really concerned about the environment and the future of our planet; workplaces need to respect and act upon this,” Teresa emphasises.
“No sustainability initiative will truly work without everyone’s commitment,” she continues, “so make sure you prioritise listening to your employees when trying new things. It will be the key to success.”