Seven Steps to Inject Sustainability Into Business Plans

Syringe - CC license by Andres Rueda (Flickr)

Sustainability cannot be a small add-on that is tacked to the end of company's business plan, but needs to be infused throughout the whole of a company, said Nancy Fell, sustainability chair of the startup-funding Cleantech Open at a State of Green Business Forum workshop.

Speaking at the "Jumpstarting Your Triple Bottom Line Green Enterprise" session, Fell said there are four key criteria to add sustainability to a business plan, along with the typical issues like funding, marketing and operations, in order to make it a fully sustainability-focused business plan.

First is a problem statement. Startups or companies reevaluating their business plans should identify what the source of the problem they are trying to address is, going back as far as possible. This leads to a better understanding of who your stakeholders are, what compliance issues you need to worry about and better prepare for reporting requirements, Fell said.

State of Green BusinessAlso to be added are environmental stewardship, social responsibility and reporting and metrics. Environmental stewardship is all about reducing the environmental impact through all business aspects and minimizing the use of non-renewable natural resources, Fell said.

Social responsibility covers internal programs and conditions for employee safety and rights, external initiatives and partnerships that better communities and supplier relationships, and business ethics to promote honesty, fair trade and integrity, she said.

Looking at all of those issues at the same time can be overwhelming to some, Fell said. In teaching sustainability at Regis University, she developed seven exercises to follow in order to tackle what needs to be done.

  1. Define your problem statement.
  2. Map our your stakeholders.
  3. Conduct a product life cycle assessment.
  4. Create a facilities management checklist.
  5. Develop a program to illustrate positive and safe employee treatment.
  6. Develop a program for community outreach and relationships with suppliers and vendors.
  7. Make an ethics policy.

Sue Kunz, CEO of BioVantage Resources, a company that creates systems that grow algae for wastewater treatment and research, explained how her company, which is the fourth startup she's been involved with, makes sustainability a key factor.

For their products, they look at if components are recyclable, what their appropriate life spans should be, if they are scalable, if they work off the grid and what their water and carbon footprints are. In manufacturing and distribution, they focus on globally-available parts, local manufacturing and suppliers that are also focused on sustainability.

She also explained how having sustainability be a common thread in a business plan inspires all employees to also focus on it, and she said practically everyone in the company asks sustainability-related questions about products and operations.

Syringe - CC license by Andres Rueda (Flickr)