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You‘re probably aware of some of the things you can do as a business to become more sustainable. These could include reducing waste, adopting clean energy and offsetting carbon emissions.
But being a sustainable business doesn’t just mean reducing your carbon footprint. As seen in the 17 sustainable development goals set out by the UN, to be a truly sustainable business you need to consider the impact you have on both society and the environment.
There’s a lot to think about, but this introspection is necessary to ensure we reach the targets set out at the latest Conference of the Parties (COP) – a summit that brings participating parties from around the world together to accelerate climate action.
This article offers tips on how to become a more sustainable business across each key area, including your employees, the community, your customers, the environment and your governance. These areas are based on the B Corp assessment – a free and credible tool that companies can use to measure their impact. Becoming a B Corp is a mark of true sustainability, so if you follow these tips, you could be well on your way to becoming one.
What is sustainability in business?
The very definition of sustainability is ‘to be able to continue over a long period of time’. With this in mind, assessing the sustainability of your business involves looking at the systems you have in place and the impact they will have in the long term.
Essentially, a sustainable business operates without negatively impacting the community, environment and society.
Why is sustainability important in business?
According to British Business Bank, smaller businesses are responsible for around 50% of UK business-driven emissions and almost a third of all greenhouse gas emissions in the UK. If every business did their bit to lower their emissions and become more sustainable in other ways, this would not only help the planet but would support long-term ecological balance.
And the benefits don’t stop there – more and more consumers are actively seeking sustainable businesses and, according to Deloitte, 28% of consumers have stopped buying certain products due to ethical or environmental concerns. This means consumers are choosing a more eco-friendly lifestyle through their buying habits, opting to shop with greener businesses.
Let's run through each area with some guidance on making your business more sustainable.
A big part of becoming sustainable is transparency – being transparent about your company’s ownership, finances and impact not only helps you become accountable for the business’s actions, but does so with the intention to alter your mission, policies and practices.
Some steps you can take to assess and improve your governance include:
Create a mission statement
A mission statement lays out your core values and goals for the organisation. It could set targets and include details of how you will achieve them. Your mission statement should touch on the areas discussed in this article, such as your workers, the community and the environment and could include goals such as:
- Workers: create a cross-skills training programme for employees
- Environment: cut greenhouse emissions in half by 2030
- Community: choose a charity partner and fundraise £3000 annually
Produce and publish annual financial reports
Sharing the company’s financial information with employees and even the public helps them feel trusted and valued, which has been known to increase retention, job satisfaction and loyalty to a brand.
Create a code of ethics
A code of ethics describes how employees are expected to behave while acting on behalf of the company. It can include points around anti-harrassment and anti-bullying policies, working hours and absense, mental health and wellbeing support, parental and compassionate leave and an inclusion, equality and diversity policy.
Part of striving to be a better business involves ensuring your workers are happy and well taken care of. Your employees are the driving force behind your business and without their health, wellbeing and satisfaction in check, your business could suffer.
Improving the impact on your workers’ could include:
- Making sure everyone is being paid a living and fair wage
- Health benefits
- Development opportunities
- A retirement program
- Incentivising health and wellness activities, such as a reduced gym membership or cycle-to-work scheme
- Offering remote working
- Childcare benefits
- A professional development program for every employee
- Offering management training
This is the section that most businesses focus on when aiming to be sustainable and with good reason. With global temperatures expected to rise to 2.7 degrees by the end of the century due to carbon emissions, the need for businesses to do what they can to cut down is severe.
While assessing your carbon footprint is key, evaluating your environmental impact also includes looking at water use, wastage and your business’ impact on land and life.
In order to reduce your carbon footprint, you first need to calculate your emissions. This involves assessing your Scope 1, 2 and 3 emissions.
Some ways that businesses can reduce their carbon footprint include:
- Monitoring your emissions, waste, water and energy usage
- Improving your energy efficiency through lightbulbs, dimmers, thermostats and timers
- Making a plan to reduce a percentage of your energy and emissions
- Creating a travel or commuting policy for employees that encourages or subsidises the use of public transport, carpooling, biking to work or virtual meetings
- Offsetting greenhouse gases
- Creating a company-wide recycling program
You could also think about your product or service and its impact on the environment and the people who use it. Does your product or service restore or preserve the environment in some way? Could it? If it doesn’t and it’s possible to alter it to have a better impact, you could brainstorm ways to do this.
This part of the assessment involves looking at your company's impact on the communities in which it operates, covering topics like diversity, economic impact, civic engagement, and supply chain impact. This could encompass your headquarters as well as other offices or warehouse locations.
To start, you should calculate how many jobs you create, how you support local businesses and whether you offer fair leadership, ownership and working opportunities to all groups within your society.
To improve your community impact, you could:
- Offer diversity, equity, and inclusion training for all employees
- Switch to local suppliers
- Partner with a charitable organisation, match your employees’ fundraising efforts or donate a percentage of your revenue to charitable causes
- Offer a community or pro-bono service
- Create inclusive hiring practices – this could be done by recruiting individuals from underrepresented groups, writing inclusive and equitable job descriptions, accommodate physical, emotional or learning disabilities or adding a diversity, equity and inclusion statement in every job listing
How much value does your company create for its customers? This is what assessing the impact your have on our customers is about. Not only do your customers decide how to use your products and services once they’re out in the wild, but as a business that can contact them directly, you have the power to have a negative or positive impact on their lives.
With this in mind, you should think about how you’re speaking to your customers, what you offer them once they’ve bought your product or service, how involved they are in improving your product or service and how you handle their data.
To improve your impact on your customers you could:
- Make customers aware of how their information is collected, how it’s used, the length of time it’s kept for and how it’s shared
- Ensure all of your email listings and email marketing strategies are GDPR compliant
- Ensure all employees are trained on data privacy
- Monitor customer satisfaction and work to improve it based on feedback
If you collect and store customers’ data, you may want to consider cyber insurance. This cover protects your company if it gets hacked or suffers a cyber attack. We’ll cover the legal and compensation costs, and you’ll get access to our 24-hour breach response helpline that provides you with legal, IT security and PR support.
Working towards a greener future
Becoming a sustainable business goes beyond making a profit – it seriously considers the influence and repercussions that every part of your business has on society and the environment.
By following these tips or even working towards becoming a B Corporation, you’re using your business as a force for good and contributing to a more sustainable economy.
If every business had this mentality, we would reduce inequality, reach lower levels of poverty, create a healthier environment, build stronger communities, and add more high-quality jobs with dignity and purpose.
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This content has been created for general information purposes and should not be taken as formal advice. Read our full disclaimer.