What is sustainability?
Sustainability is the concept of ensuring that a person or business can consistently provide for themselves using limited resources. Although the idea of sustainability in business is often brought up in a financial context to discuss whether a business can support its operations based on its income, it’s most commonly associated with an environmental and social impact.
Environmental sustainability involves actively trying to protect natural resources, reduce pollution and care for the planet so that it can continue to support existing ecosystems. This includes being mindful of how business operations impact factors like:
- Water quality
- Air quality
- Chemical waste
- Plant life
- Native biodiversity
Sustainable business behaviors involve avoiding polluting the environment and actively contributing to improving the health of the global ecosystem. When businesses assume responsibility for their environmental sustainability, they show that they’re committed to being a positive influence and protecting their community.
Benefits of sustainability in a business
Many places have environmental protection laws in place that require businesses to meet certain standards to legally operate, but putting in additional effort to be more sustainable is increasingly important. Sustainability has an obvious environmental benefit, plus several key business benefits for companies that fully commit to sustainable operations. The top benefits of implementing sustainable policies at your business include:
Businesses can use their sustainable practices as a differentiator that sets them apart from competitors. Environmental sustainability is a serious issue for many consumers, influencing their buying habits and who they do business with.
Committing to sustainable practices demonstrates to customers that your brand shares their ideals about protecting the environment. Once you have sustainable behaviors in place, you can capitalize upon the social good that those actions generate.
Similarly, talented professionals are attracted to employers who reflect their personal values. Some people may feel uncomfortable working with a company that knowingly harms the environment. Showing employees that your business holds itself accountable for its environmental impact may increase their loyalty and encourage them to stay with your business as they develop their career.
Offices that recycle and arrange opportunities for employees to make a positive impact on the environment through their work offer a strong cultural benefit over those that don’t.
Aligning actions with missions
Increasing sustainability at your business is a direct way to carry out company missions. Many businesses mention having a positive impact on the world as part of their mission in some form. Being environmentally sensitive is a great start for directly implementing that mission. It shows that the business is authentic about its purpose and uses its financial goals to effect positive change.
Building community relationships
Implementing sustainable policies can be the first step to building or joining a community coalition that promotes sustainability. Businesses and organizations that care about the environment naturally gravitate towards one another due to their shared goals and commitment to using a sustainable supply chain to do business. Local governments and activist organizations recognize the environmental impact of different businesses, helping to build a company’s reputation in the community.
Protecting your company’s future
Being sustainable and environmentally responsible now can protect your company and its employees years down the line. Refusing to contribute to waste and pollution can delay and even eliminate certain environmental consequences. It can also help you ensure that you’ll have access to the resources and space that you need to operate your company instead of allowing them to become inaccessible or polluted.
How to create and promote a more sustainable work environment (with examples)
Depending on your industry, there are different steps you can take to improve sustainability in your company. From small adjustments to company-wide policy changes, any size business with any size budget can find ways to reduce their negative impact on the environment. Follow these steps to start developing and maintaining sustainable workplace practices within your business:
1. Assess your current impact
Before you start making changes, spend time researching your current company practices and assess your environmental impact. Some businesses hire environmental consultants to measure resources used, identify the environmental policies of suppliers and assess how office practices influence overall sustainability. Measuring your company’s environmental impact before planning sustainability initiatives allows you to target the most important areas of improvement.
For example, you can use an emissions calculator to collect information on your business’s carbon footprint periodically. The changes in your company’s emissions over time can reflect the effectiveness of new policies. The size of your carbon footprint creates a benchmark that you can use as a comparison point when measuring your progress later on.
2. Set and measure goals
Brainstorm to set goals for your business’s sustainability practices. Determine which items are high-priority, what can be accomplished in the short-term and what your long-term goals look like. Having clear goals allows you to develop strategic objectives that fit in with other business practices.
For example, you could set sustainability goals to lower emissions by 10% over the next year and transition to 100% solar and wind power over the next 10 years.
3. Update company policies
Implement environmentally friendly policies that encourage people on your team to make choices that are good for the environment. Try expanding the types of materials your company recycles or give out free coffee to employees who bring reusable cups. Create incentives for your employees to live sustainably to help everyone feel invested in the outcome of new environmentally-friendly policies.
For example, you can offer vouchers and discounts for public transportation and finding ways to reward employees who walk, bike, carpool or take public transportation. This shows employees that your company is committed to providing solutions for common sustainability issues for their employees.
4. Avoid single-use products
Just like the packaging on your products contributes to your environmental footprint, the packaging on the products your company uses are also an important factor. Single-use products like coffee pods, plastic ware, plastic bags and cleaning supplies generate a lot of waste when an entire office of people uses them and throws them away every day. Finding ways to avoid single-use products can make a significant impact on your company’s waste over time.
For example, buying supplies in bulk and investing in reusable items can help you limit packaging waste from the products your employees use on a regular basis. Purchasing sets of dishes for the office kitchen instead of using paper and plastic can encourage your employees to limit their personal daily waste.
5. Research your suppliers
Don’t assume that your material suppliers and business partners share your eco-friendly values. Do your due diligence and research the environmental policies and behaviors of the companies you do business with. Look for suppliers who ethically source their materials and have sustainable labor practices that align with your company values and goals.
For example, you could look for a paper supplier that uses only recycled materials in their products to take care of all of your company’s printing and mailing needs. By doing business with another sustainable company, you save paper and contribute to a culture of being environmentally conscious at your business.
6. Implement green technology
Eco-friendly technology is constantly developing, giving business owners a range of technical solutions to their sustainability needs. Implementing green technology can help you reduce energy waste at your company, limiting your overall impact on the environment.
For example, businesses can install low-flow water features and replace old lighting fixtures with automatic lights that turn off when no one is in the room. This helps save energy and reduce the emissions that come from operating a storefront, office or warehouse. Other examples of green technology that you can start using at work are:
- Solar charging stations
- Rechargeable batteries
- Smart power strips
7. Make charitable contributions
In addition to optimizing sustainability within your business, make an outward impact by giving to environmental charities and organizations. Giving back to groups that are already involved in sustainability and environmental justice allows you to make a larger impact than your company could on its own.
For example, you could organize a paid volunteer day where participating employees could use their time off to clean up trash and plant trees at a nearby park, reducing pollution and contributing to a healthy local ecosystem.