Sustainability is about being an environmental activist or about philanthropy and I can’t afford to give away all the profit of my business. While philanthropy can be an important and effective component of the sustainability puzzle, it is just one piece and focusing too much on philanthropy can lead to ineffective business programs that fail to achieve very dramatic benefits for the community or the company.
The sustainable option is going to be more expensive than the alternatives. It is true that certain environmental policies, such as investing in renewable energy, can be expensive, many responsible business decisions and activities actually cost little or nothing and even larger investments will ultimately pay for themselves through substantial and ongoing cost savings. Focusing on employee engagement and satisfaction, customer service and community involvement are all examples of sustainability programs that usually require surprisingly small amounts of cash and other resources. In addition, simple programs aimed at reducing overall consumption of energy and other natural resources (e.g., green commuting options and recycling) can generate savings without impairing productivity.
Sustainability is about re-cycling materials, therefore other than installing recycling bins into our offices, sustainability doesn’t affect my business. Recycling is part of the sustainability puzzle; however, all companies, including those not engaged in manufacturing of products which can be recycled or which do not use recyclable materials in their operations, can find other areas to implement sustainability: employee engagement; suppliers and supply chain management; operational efficiency; resource consumption and waste; packaging and facility design; volunteerism; governance; ethics and customer service.
If we use green-colored packaging and the words ‘eco’ or ‘organic’ in our product, then we can sell our product as being ‘green’. Many companies have appeared to underestimate their customers’ critical thinking skills and ability to smell “Greenwash”. They understand that just because products come in recycled packaging or are marketed with the latest buzzwords does not make those products, or the company itself, any more environmentally or socially responsible.
We are already doing as much as we can in our company, but it is not making a difference to sales. Customers have a limited amount of time and resources to research and understand sustainability initiatives can companies need to proactively market and thoughtfully explain their legitimate initiatives so that customers and other stakeholders understand how the business and products of the company are adding value.
Sustainability seems so complex and hard to measure, how can we hope to manage it? In order to manage anything, including sustainability, you need to measure it; however, many managers have complained that it is just too difficult and costly to measure environmental and social impact. Fortunately, a number of tools have been developed to help even the smallest businesses measure sustainability, often by applying relatively simple processes and habits. It will remain difficult to compare the value of one type of sustainability impact, such as reducing pollution, with another, such as providing educational opportunities to members of the local community; however, improvements in specifically identified dimensions can be tracked.
Source: “Sustainable Entrepreneurship: A Guide for Sustainable Entrepreneurs” (A Sustainable Entrepreneurship Project publication), based on Sustainable Business: A Handbook for Starting a Business (New Zealand Trade and Enterprise).
Alan Gutterman is the Founding Director of the Sustainable Entrepreneurship Project, which engages in and promotes research, education and training activities relating to entrepreneurial ventures launched with the aspiration to create sustainable enterprises that achieve significant growth in scale and value creation through the development of innovative products or services which form the basis for a successful international business. Visit the Project’s Library of Resources for Sustainable Entrepreneurs to download handbooks, guides, articles and other materials relating to sustainable entrepreneurship and keep up with the Project’s activities by following Alan on LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook.