4 ways business can go beyond the low-hanging fruit of sustainability

4 ways business can go beyond the low-hanging fruit of sustainability

Many businesses aspire to reduce their environmental footprints. But often they only manage to take the first few baby steps and not much else.

Things such as making the switch to low-energy lightbulbs, reducing wasted standby power and improving recycling facilities in the workplace are all great first steps to take. They shouldn’t be the ultimate end goal when it comes to sustainability improvements.

Some of the more nominal changes that businesses often employ include: eco-friendly cleaning products; replacing outdated appliances and electronic equipment; reducing wasted water; installing motion sensors for lighting; going paperless or reducing business travel.

Although these simples changes certainly will help with overarching goals such as reducing energy consumption and minimizing waste to landfill, they won't make a huge impact on business sustainability overall. These adjustments are all one-time, tick-the-box changes that are made often once and then forgotten about.

And, to be frank, they’re pretty superficial changes at that. They might look great on your sustainability reports, but they’re not making that much of a difference in the bigger picture of a climate-constrained world.

What’s really needed is the engraining of sustainable notions deep into the core of a business, so that environmental awareness is present in every single action and operation.

Individual businesses need to make bigger changes to their structure, and all businesses need to make a collective effort to improve sustainability and safeguard welfare in the future.

All this might sound like an awful lot of effort, and, well, compared to changing a light bulb to a more efficient alternative, it is. But more effort will return better results — the kind of results that are needed.

Delving deeper into the structure and culture of companies can identify where best to make the most effective and worthwhile sustainability changes. It’s not actually as complicated as it may seem. Here are some of those "deeper" areas to get started:

1. Bring skepticism to your supply chain

Other businesses associated with your company could be committing sustainability suicide — and this has a direct effect on you.

You also can make an effort to support local businesses. Often, this reduces the need for superfluous transportation, minimizes resource consumption and gives a healthy injection to the lifeblood of the economy.

By supporting other businesses with a commitment to environmental welfare, you’re promoting the sustainability that the commercial world so desperately needs.

If you need a helping hand, you even can employ an environment, health and safety manager to give you the boost you need.

2. Overhaul employee engagement

Never underestimate your employees when it comes to sustainability.

If you’re truly going to make a positive change to the inner-workings of your business, then your employees need to be as close to 100 percent on board as possible.

There are a number of ways in which you can begin to implement this:

  • Set efficiency goals along with other numbers or targets that employees are required to hit.
  • Ask for their ideas and input, giving them a stake-of-sorts in the business’s sustainability.
  • Incentivize if necessary; reward and positively promote sustainable behavior.

Engagement also comes with a residual opportunity: once you’ve got your business on the track toward true sustainability, you may find that you begin to attract prospective employees that are personally invested in green business, creating an ongoing sustainability cycle.

3. Contemplate your core business

What does your company actually do?

Do you provide a one-on-one consultation service? Or, are you a high street retailer? Are you an Internet-based business? Do you manufacture specialized equipment?

Each industry is unique when it comes to daily operations and activities, but the idea is to look to at reptitive actions and behaviors, then ascertain how to minimize the environmental impact those actions have.

4. Get looped into the circular economy

Circular economy, sharing economy, collaborative consumption: Different terms have different connotations, but the underlying concept of sharing resources in order to minimise usage and waste is an important one applicable to almost any company.

Local business-to-businesses material exchanges are one option, but other commodities are also easily shared: transportation; perishable goods; cloud storage space; phone lines and Internet connections; tools and equipment; employees/skills.

The benefits are many, including financial savings for your business, trust and relationship building in the business community, as well as a reduced impact on the environment.