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Sustainable Business

Understand social and environmental obligations and opportunities.

Business Sustainability: The Essentials

Sustainability is a business approach to creating long-term value by taking into consideration how a given organisation operates in the ecological, social and economic environment. Read this essential information and start your journey today.
By The Growth Hub Team,

The demand for environmentally sustainable business practice is increasing rapidly, whether that is from government regulations or customer expectations. That means that whether you are an international manufacturer with a complicated supply chain, an independent caterer or a digital solopreneur, customers and clients want to know that you are operating environmentally responsibly. Last year, nearly 3 in every 4 consumers surveyed ranked “environmentally friendly business practice” as one of the most important company attributes. Meanwhile, just last month, the UK government increased its climate change targets, aiming for at least 68% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by the end of this decade (benchmarked against 1990).

What is business sustainability?

Simply put, sustainability is a business approach to creating long-term value by taking into consideration how a given organisation operates in the ecological, social and economic environment. Sustainability is built on the assumption that developing such strategies foster company longevity.

Areas of focus could include reducing plastic use, having enough capital to survive a poor sales period, or reducing staff turnover to save recruitment costs. Every business is different, but be sure to look at your weaknesses as well as the areas you’re passionate about.

Have a clear goal

Building sustainability throughout your company is no easy task. It is important to have clear sustainability goals. These will enable your workforce to have targets to work towards, meaning they have a clear agenda and can work cohesively. Once you have these, embed these goals in the beliefs of your company. Be realistic about what you can achieve, it’s better to have fewer goals and really focus on them. You can always add more later.

Some examples of sustainability goals are:
  • To encourage entrepreneurial culture and mentor young entrepreneurs in your local community.
  • To provide employees with lots of opportunities to improve their job skills for their development.
  • To prioritise energy efficiency across all business operations.
  • To comply with regulations

Engage your people

Once you have chosen your goals the next step is to embed this in your culture. In order to ensure buy-in across the entire business it is crucial to get your senior staff on board first. Make sure they see the benefit of achieving your goals. This will then feed down to the rest of the business. Also consider championing somebody internal to lead on each goal. Their role is to drive forward that goal, keep it top of mind with the rest of the company and spread the word in your area, industry or with your customers. 

Reduce your environmental impact

Going green is an important part of running a sustainable business. By using renewables and being more energy efficient, you’ll not only will you be helping the environment, you’ll save money and build a reputation as a responsible business with your customers. Here are some examples of simple changes you can make:

  • Recycle and reuse – make sure the bins are clearly labelled; purchase recycled paper products and ink carriages; compost the food waste from your kitchens and canteens; Recycle all of your metals and electronics.
  • Reduce the use of plastic cups and bottles – encourage people to bring reusable bottles and make drinking water easily accessible
  • Encourage greener travel – think about encouraging your workforce to ride a bike to work, lift share or start “Leave your car at home days”. This will reduce single vehicle usage and encouraging your staff to pursue healthier and more environmentally friendly forms of transport.
  • Switch to a green energy provider - switching to a green energy provider can significantly reduce your organisation's carbon footprint. For further information about the types of green tariff visit Energy Saving Trust.
  • Switch your light bulbs – swap your standard light bulbs to LED lighting. LED light bulbs use far less energy and do not contain toxic materials like mercury. They are more expensive initially but last about five times longer.
  • Replace old appliances with energy efficient ones – the next time your appliances need replacing, check out a more sustainable replacement. Look out for the energy ratings and compare the product to its competitors. 

You can also read our guide on the simple steps you can take to reduce emissions.

Encouraging a sustainable supply chain

In-house sustainability is very important but you can take it one step further. Take the time to look at your suppliers and make sure you are sourcing your raw materials from people who practice being sustainable themselves. Avoid suppliers that use substances which are toxic and harmful to the environment. You can do this by mapping out your supply chain and communicating your expectations directly with them. If suppliers fail to meet the criteria or fail to provide the information required then start researching into alternatives. Also, think about sourcing from local suppliers rather than those produced from too far away. 

Keep Improving

Sustainability is a journey, not a destination! Everything is a learning process and there will always be room for improvement. Once you see that running a sustainable business saves money, builds respect and simplifies operations you will constantly be looking for new ways to get better. So once you have achieved one of your goals, set yourself another, more ambitious one. 

Showcase your sustainability achievements

Don’t keep your progress a secret – shout about it! Sustainability achievements are great to share with your customers. Your employees will love it too. It shows that you don’t just value your bottom line, helping to win over an audience that is increasingly drawn to responsible brands. It will also encourage other businesses to follow suit and become more sustainable themselves. 

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