More than just a buzzword, sustainable business is going to become the norm. It has to. Every business has a social, an environmental, and an economic impact. To remain profitable all companies have to focus on sustainability, however the choose to define it.
If your company is interested in being more sustainable, you must first choose what aspect of sustainability – social, environmental, or economic – is most important to the business. Then, choose a pathway that is realistic and achievable. Sustainability activities, like any business activity, should be carefully planned, appropriately implemented, and regularly assessed, or it won’t be successful. So, set goals, create deadlines, and stick to them to gain credibility in the eyes of both internal and external stakeholders.
Step 1: Assess your Business’s current state
Start with what you know. What is the business currently doing with regards to sustainability and Corporate Social Responsibility? Some businesses choose to do a full-scale sustainability audit or carbon footprint analysis, but this isn’t always necessary. At the very least you need to analyze current activities and their current impact on the environment and on the business’s stakeholders. Write it down, communicate it, then use it as a benchmark.
Step 2: Write Some Goals
Whatever your company is doing to be greener, it isn’t enough. Set realistic, achievable sustainability goals for the organization, with the caveat that your company and stakeholders are aware that this is only the beginning and that once those goals are reached, new ones will need to be set. Think of sustainability as a process, not an end goal. This will make your achievements more authentic.
Step 3: Plan
Once you’ve set the goals, plan out how to achieve them. How can you ensure that your employees will all buy in? What’s a reasonable time frame to achieve and then reassess the goals? Does the company need to spend money? What will be the return on that investment (there is one, I promise)? How can you communicate these activities authentically without being accused of “greenwashing”?
Step 4: Implement the Process
If the previous three steps are done well, implementation is the easy part. Make sure everyone knows their role in the process and understands the benefits of what the organization is doing. Record the activities so you can see what’s been done, and take note of reactions from internal and external stakeholders – these will give you insight on whether you are doing well at “greening”. Most importantly, measure the results. These will become your company’s new benchmarks.
Step 5: Evaluate and start all over
Sustainability is a process and a cycle; once some projects have been implemented, those results become ground zero, the place from which the next cycle begins. To have a sustainable business, the people in the company have to be committed to doing it forever. There are always ways to be greener, to communicate better, to make a more positive impact on society. This thinking is the only way to remain sustainable, despite existing on a planet that is not.