Businesses of all kinds are making sustainability a priority. In today’s world, a sustainable business model is practically a necessity. Whether you own a brick and mortar store, a tech startup or even a law firm, the time to adopt a sustainable business model is now.
Although adopting sustainable practices might seem expensive or out of reach, there are many easy and cost-effective ways to weave corporate sustainability into the fabric of your company.
Ashlee Piper, sustainability expert and author of Give a Sh*t: Do Good. Live Better. Save the Planet. says corporate sustainability can come in many forms.
“There really is no one-size-fits-all rubric for sustainability… It really is a personally developed, choose-your-own adventure game,” Piper says.
Although small business owners with smaller profit margins might be intimidated by the idea of committing to a sustainable business model, Piper says small businesses are actually better positioned to adopt effective corporate sustainability practices because they’re usually more nimble and adaptable than large companies.
What is corporate sustainability all about?
Corporate sustainability refers to long-term, transparent strategies that prioritize the environmental, social and ethical realites of your business. It is a broad term, and it can be implemented in many different ways.
Some businesses might prioritize sourcing locally or cutting carbon emissions. Others might emphasize giving back a portion of their profits to NGOs or social programs. Certain employees might be interested in cruelty free and vegan food options, while others care more about closed-loop manufacturing. It’s up to you to decide exactly which sustainable path to take and how you go about achieving those goals.
Piper suggests starting small and building momentum until you are ready to implement a more robust corporate sustainability model at your business. Ultimately you will want to have sustainability as a core aspect of your company. Long term, you should plan to take on advisors dedicated to your sustainability goals and even include sustainability efforts in your fiscal reporting. You don’t have to start here (and shouldn’t). But, keep in mind that the bigger corporate sustainability actions you take, the more financial and ecological payoff you will see in the long run.
Here are tips that will help you build momentum in corporate sustainability action at your small business. Ultimately it will help you run a more sustainable company. First are some low-hanging fruit, and then tips for building larger projects. Those can help your company save money and become sustainable at its core.
1. Switch it off
One super easy way to save costs and make your business more environmentally friendly is to adopt a “switch off” policy at your office. This means that all lights and devices are switched off at the end of the day.
Installing motion sensors for your lights or using energy friendly lighting, such as LEDs, will reduce energy use. Finally, making the most of natural light is an effective way to save on energy costs and help your employees feel better at the office.
2. Remote first
One of the best ways to reduce the carbon footprint of your company is to make your business remote (or as remote as possible). Encourage your team members to work from home unless there is an explicit reason for them to come into the office.
According to a study by Global Workplace Analytics, encouraging your employees to work remotely at least 50% of the time can save your business around $11,000 per employee, per year.
These significant financial savings also relate to a huge reduction in energy costs and consumption. By letting your employees work from home, you will cut back the energy costs of commuting, fueling an office and maintaining basic infrastructure.
A remote-first model will help you save in some unexpected ways too. Piper says that remote workers are actually healthier, which significantly lowers the cost burden for health insurance and life insurance costs.
3. Compost to be sustainable
If remote work is not an option at your company, composting is a relatively simple way to reduce waste at the office and to save money.
Lunchtime is the most wasteful time in the American day, Piper says. “We make almost 10 pounds of trash per person during lunch, because we’re going out, buying lunch and all that jazz.”
Encouraging composting at your company is obviously a more eco-friendly option, but it will also save you money. Piper estimates that you could cut trash bills by 40 to 50 percent by composting at the office.
4. Scrutinize your company swag
A lot of companies love giving their employees all kinds of knick knacks like t-shirts and pens to boost brand awareness and encourage staff to rep the company. Although it’s well intentioned, many of these gifts end up going to waste. Ask your employees what they really need, and take that into consideration before buying branded baseball caps in bulk.
5. Reduce travel to be sustainable
Traveling for work is both expensive and carbon intensive. With virtual meeting platforms like Zoom the new norm, reconsider whether an in-person visit is actually necessary or not.
If it is essential for you or your employees to travel for work, consider some of the ways you can reduce your carbon footprint. Piper says forward-thinking companies like WeWork are taking some drastic steps to reduce the footprint of traveling.
“They’re only booking LEED-certified hotels. Perhaps they only book nonstop flights. They’re not doing first class or business class, because those seats take up significantly more space. Sometimes they’re not allowing people to check bags unless it’s absolutely necessary.”
Although this might be a more extensive, intimidating project to incorporate, take a hardline when it comes to traveling. You will mitigate many of the environmental and financial costs of business travel.
6. Incentivize employee engagement
When you’re ready to take sustainability even more seriously, Piper says getting your employees involved is one of the best places to start.
“Instead of the team-building trust fall activities that so many of us have had to suffer through, there are a host of environmentally impactful team-building activities that folks can do that really do make a difference.”
It’s up to each individual company to decide what its priorities are. Perhaps your employees can pick up trash around a neighborhood or fundraise for a local issue. The possibilities are virtually endless, so meet with your team members. Discuss how they are most interested in becoming involved in your company’s sustainability goals.
7. Hire a sustainability advisor, and do an audit
One of the biggest steps your company can take towards a serious commitment to corporate sustainability in its culture is to hire an in-house sustainability manager. A salaried employee is obviously an added expense. However, based on the principles of corporate sustainability, it’s an investment that can ensure your business survives and thrives far into the future.
Having sustainability be a part of the actual strategic plan of your business is another good long-term goal. That includes doing a sustainability audit or even including these practices in your yearly reporting.
Piper says an audit is highly valuable, because it shows how your company can improve its sustainability efforts. “Because you just really don’t know unless you calculate where you’re at right now… It’s no longer just a niche thing that Patagonia would have. It’s something that is now woven into the fabric of all types of companies, no matter the size.”
The heart of the business
Today many customers demand companies take corporate sustainability seriously, and there are many ways for your team to do that. Start somewhere, even if it’s just by offering refurbished laptops or furniture to workers instead of new ones. Or, just shut off the lights at the office at the end of the day. Before you know it, sustainable practices at your company will be at the heart of your growing business.
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