As the concept of commercial sustainability matures, it seems a long time since the environmental and humanist practices that make a company sustainable were devised solely for a ‘green minority’ or something to be tacked on to a business’s profile via ‘greenwashing’. Today, it is widely agreed that sustainability leads to commercial, as well as moral, benefits. A sustainable business has lower costs than its competitors. It is viewed far more positively than them and it will continue to sustain itself indefinitely, irrespective of commercial and environmental problems.
As with many things, the journey to sustainability begins with knowing your business.
Know your footprint
The way to a sustainable business model is to reduce the negative impacts of a business, or it’s footprint, to zero. But before a business can begin reducing its footprint, it must be familiar with it.
The negative after-effects of most businesses can be split into two impact categories; environmental and social. Pollution and resource consumption are two examples of environmental impacts, while imperfect working conditions and damage to customer health are two social impacts.
It is easy to begin tallying these impacts, beginning with the more obvious and direct ones, for example if a shop keeps its heating on and the door open throughout the day. However, it is also easy to miss the less evident ones, like those of your stakeholders that wouldn’t exist if not for your business. Picture a shop with a litter of food packets strewn around it or a mass importer who relies on the produce of child labour. Be careful not to miss these impacts, as the more your business can eliminate, the more positive the response will be from your stakeholders, including customers.
For each impact, answer the five Ws:
- Who was involved?
- What is happening?
- When does it happen?
- Where does it happen?
- Why does it happen?
Next, begin planning to eradicate your social and environmental impacts one by one. It is best to start with the largest and most easily eliminated impacts. Now that you know the answer to the five Ws, you can plan to get rid of the impacts by:
- Asking those involved to stop any problematic actions.
- Blocking the problem as it happens.
- Temporarily altering your operations.
- Changing the layout of an area.
- Preventing all or some of the causes of the problem.
All of the actions taken can be brought together in a prevention plan; something with which many businesses will be familiar. This outlines what is happening, how it will be impeded, who will be involved in the prevention and what they must do.
Of course, we live in the real world, which means that another aspect of strategising is weighing up the pros and cons of your sustainability decisions in the larger business environment. This is the decision of each business, but it is important to consider all of the many benefits of a sustainable business model.