This article is the last part of ERA’s five part series, Sustainability: Going Beyond Compliance. Part five will help you make the most of your sustainability efforts.
There is absolutely no doubt sustainability is good for business.
When you make your business more sustainable, your profitability will increase on its own because you’ll be spending less on raw materials and energy, and maximizing what you get out of what you have.
There will always be an initial investment in sustainability projects, but the long-term nature of sustainability brings with it the promise of a long lasting payoff.
However, there are extra benefits to getting more sustainable that any size business can take advantage of. If you want to further improve your business while maintaining your sustainability plan, here are a few steps to consider adding to it:
Make Sustainability Communication a Cornerstone
The single most important thing you can do to maximize your sustainability benefits is to communicate your sustainability plan to everyone you can. Your employees should know all the details, your suppliers should be informed, your stakeholders and key decision makers should be involved, and above all, your consumers should know.
The reality is that sustainability is a huge selling point and a public relations dream come true. But in order to tap into the potential there you need to communicate your efforts.
Depending on your business you could do this in many ways. Company newsletters, websites, press releases, external certifications - such as LEED or ISO 14001 - can and should all be a part of your sustainability plan.
And if you’re being honest about your commitment to the environment and health, your communications won’t be interpreted as self-interested. (Caution: exaggerating or lying about how green your product is, AKA “greenwashing”, can do a lot of damage to your brand!)
Being vocal about your sustainability efforts can even help you gain shareholder trust or seal the deal on a new contract. In fact, many international manufacturers are starting to seek out sustainable providers and screening out those who aren’t.
It’s also no secret that the everyday consumer is beginning to demand their products be greener and more environmentally friendly. The green market is growing every day and almost every brand name company is developing or has already released eco-friendly product lines.
One of the most popular ways of incorporating communication into your sustainability plan is to engage in voluntary reporting. Some environmental agencies and advocacy groups (like the Climate Registry and the Carbon Disclosure Project) keep guidelines for voluntary reporting and make the results public. It can be a great way to show off your efforts and get some good buzz.
If these voluntary reports aren’t your style, you can also develop your own recurring sustainability report and make it available to your shareholders or on your website.
Attract and Keep the Best People
The old way of thinking used to be that the less you paid your employees, the better off your company’s budget books looked. Now, however, the name of the game is attracting thought leaders and dedicated professionals who will not only accomplish the work of several employees, but will stick around too because they want to work for a business with outstanding values.
These employees are also the ones who will continue to bring fresh ideas, making it easier and easier to stay on top of your sustainability and find ways to improve.
And you won’t attract those kinds of employees in today’s job market by not valuing your environmental performance.
Innovation is one of the 9 principles of sustainability planning, and arguably the most difficult to achieve. However, if you have the money and the drive to do it, including technological innovation can have some of the biggest returns on investment of any sustainability actions. Innovation is the driving force behind new product development, which allows your business to break into new markets or reach a new consumer base.
For example, look at the rapidly growing market for electric vehicles (EVs). The automotive manufacturers that have invested time and money into developing their own hybrids and electric cars are cashing in on this emerging market. Their dedication to innovation has kept them ahead of the curve instead of struggling to keep up.
The type of innovation you work towards will depend on the resources you can allocate to R&D and what sort of manufacturing you do. Innovation doesn’t always need to be a big game changer and can be as simple as finding a faster way to manufacture your product, a change to your chemical composition that produces less air emissions, or a way to recycle a material you once thought was waste.
If you want to get the most out of your sustainability plan - or maybe you’re comfortable with your current sustainability efforts and want to push your business to the next level - consider taking the above actions and see just how much you can get out of your sustainability program.
It's worth it.
March 7, 2013