Sustainability has become a centerpiece for business discussions and strategic initiatives over the past few years, and for good reason. Yes, it’s certainly good for the environment to adopt sustainability best practices on a corporate level, but many organizations don’t realize how much it can improve their operations, customer relationships, and even their revenue and profit margins.
Reasons for Adopting Sustainability
Sustainability initiatives can have a positive impact on numerous organizational fronts. For starters, it can be a simple money saver as you switch from costlier and disposable materials and office supplies to more conservation-friendly alternatives. Switching out to cost-saving light bulbs (and even installing cost-cutting toilets) can directly impact your bottom line.
Beyond this, pursuing sustainability could help you branch out into green-oriented products and services which can expand your market scope and secure new, loyal customers. Customers themselves are increasingly drawn to organizations that show a commitment to sustainable practices and products.
Customers surveyed for Edelman research listed business impact on the environment as a top priority in determining what brands they could trust and give their business to.3
Internally, employees and prospective hires are also preferring to work for companies that align with sustainable values—and having these communicated upfront can give an organization a competitive edge in recruiting and retaining talent.
Lastly, governments are taking more direct interest in the impact of business sustainability practices, both in the economic sphere as well as environmental impact across the country and the world. Government policies and initiatives are establishing sustainability regulations that businesses must adhere to.
Challenges of Sustainability Adoption
Of course, if sustainability was easy, everyone would already be doing it. There are numerous challenges that can slow down or deter organizations from adopting conservation efforts, even with the known benefits.
- Lack of green infrastructure – Having systems in place to monitor and measure sustainability initiatives is essential to determining progress and ultimate success. Picking the right tools can be daunting for organizations that haven’t ventured into this area before.
- Product pricing – While green products can be more affordable in the long run, switching over from old product lines can be a larger upfront cost that takes time to pay itself out.
- Environmental inertia – When organizations try different sustainability practices to “test the waters” of going green, but don’t see immediate changes or revenue-based benefits, it can be discouraging for those involved.
These challenges can be overcome by careful planning with concrete goals, schedule, and ways to measure progress as sustainability initiatives are adopted. Employees must be educated and trained for the effort, and the whole corporate culture can be shifted to bring in sustainable language, communicating the new priorities both internally and externally.
Essential Sustainability Practices
Here are just a handful of ways small businesses can begin to shift to a more sustainable future:
- Employee Lifestyle Shifts – Don’t just encourage employees to adopt sustainability practices while at work. Find ways to motivate the same practices in their personal lives, such as using green home cleaning products or finding more sustainable transportation options.
- Eco-Friendly Office Products – As mentioned, there are numerous and rapidly expanding lines of green office products, from recycled paper and pens to toilet paper and ink to office cleaning supplies.
- Energy-Efficient Products – All offices, even ones oriented around remote teams, still use devices that rely on energy. Replacing older devices such as printers, scanners, and the like with newer, energy-efficient models can provide some more direct savings.
- Establish Sustainable Partnerships – Sustainable practices don’t happen in a void, and it’s important for a business to work with partners, vendors, and peers who value the same green priorities and can support your efforts to do the same.
- Encourage Employee Volunteering – One big way to encourage an environmental culture shift is to get employees to devote a few volunteer hours for sustainability programs and outreach events. As they become more directly involved, they can see the positive impact sustainability makes on their community and their workplace. Plus, it’s an excellent team-building opportunity.
- Harvard Business Review, “10 Ways Boards Can Act on Sustainability in 2022,” Jan 2022.
- The Sustainability Institute, “ What’s Next for Sustainable Business? 2022 Trends Report,” Jan 2022.
- Edelman, “2021 Edelman Global Brand Report,” 2021.