You may have heard of the terms “sustainability” and “corporate social responsibility” but do you know what they mean?
Sustainability is the ability of an organization to operate in a way that does not compromise the future availability of natural resources or the environment. Corporate social responsibility (CSR) is a company’s voluntary commitment to being socially responsible by addressing environmental sustainability and social issues.
Together, sustainability and CSR provide businesses with a blueprint for operating in a way that does not harm the planet and also benefits society. Besides these reasons, sustainability is also an important consideration for businesses – from reducing costs and improving efficiency to gaining a competitive edge.
In this article, we will explore some of the key reasons why sustainability is important for businesses. Here you will also find more information on how you can make your business more sustainable!
What is business sustainability?
For most businesses, profit is a critical factor for survival. Bringing in sustainability practices may at times clash with the ability of a business to generate profits. This is the reason why businesses should look for ways to operate sustainably without compromising on their ability to generate profits and survive.
Sustainability in business involves business practices that do not have adverse impacts on the environment. Though this may seem to restrict its activities and profits, the bigger picture will reveal how conservation of the environment is important for the welfare of the community and the health of the economy, which in turn are vital for businesses.
Why should businesses care about sustainability?
It makes good business sense not to focus merely on profits. Businesses that are concerned just about the profits may be short-lived and are bound to have a tough time surviving in the long run.
John Elkington who founded SustainAbility came up with the term “triple bottom line” for sustainability in business. These are profit, people, and the planet. Finding the right balance among these three is crucial for businesses to survive in the long run.
The reason why sustainable practices are important for businesses is simple and easy to understand. Only when a business plays a part in improving the health of the ecosystem in which it operates, can it develop an environment where it can flourish.
Sustainable businesses earn profits by using the resources that nature has provided with responsibility and by participating in the progress of society as a whole.
Why is sustainability important for business?
Let’s consider the opposite scenario – when businesses care only about profits and exploit society and nature for their selfish interests. When they use up natural resources without any consideration for the planet and generate waste that can harm the environment, businesses may be able to raise their profit margins.
Unfortunately, all our actions have repercussions – good or bad. This means, our selfish actions can only lead to bad consequences. As we are already witnessing, an increase in greenhouse gas emissions and high levels of air, land, and water pollution are contributing in ample measures to global warming and climate change.
Adverse changes happening in the environment and society will have a negative effect on individuals. Businesses cannot escape the consequences of these unsustainable developments.
When the health of their employees suffers as a result of this, productivity is bound to come down. Diminishing resources will force businesses to scale down their operations, affecting their profitability.
This is where the triple bottom line matters. For a business, profits are intricately linked to people and the planet. They cannot have profit without taking care of the other two.
Sustainability in business benefits not just society and the environment; it is good for the business as well. In fact, this can help businesses survive in the long run.
Here are some benefits of running a sustainable business.
- It brings down expenses. (Example: solar energy, natural lighting, and recycling and reusing materials)
- It enhances image and reputation among the public and peers. Businesses showcase their green values to improve their public perception.
- It helps them survive in the long run. As these businesses are aware of the effects of mindless exploitation of the planet and society, they are better prepared to face the negative impacts.
- It increases the profit margins. All the above benefits come together to help raise the profits for businesses.
How to make your business sustainable?
Sustainability doesn’t come naturally for businesses as there are many challenges to the implementation of sustainable business development practices. While it is easier for bigger businesses to overcome these roadblocks they encounter on the sustainability path, smaller businesses have a hard time in comparison.
Some of the challenges faced by businesses in their endeavor to turn more sustainable are:
- The paucity of resources to become more sustainable.
- The disinterest among employees to carry out sustainable initiatives.
- The ambiguity in measuring the success of sustainable strategies.
- Focussing on too many sustainable initiatives can be unsettling for businesses.
Each business has to figure out its sustainable practices based on various aspects of its operations. What works for one may not work for another. Besides the unique and successful business strategies that companies can adopt to infuse sustainability in their functions, there are common sustainability practices most businesses can embrace.
These sustainable steps can get you started.
1. Recycle and reuse
The conservation of natural resources is the main component of sustainable practice. Adopting a no-waste strategy and trying to reduce, reuse, and recycle can help the environment besides reducing operational costs. Training the employees about the need to reduce and segregate waste and rewarding good work can help businesses become more sustainable.
2. Promote green commuting
Transportation is a major source of environmental degradation. Encouraging employees to carpool, buy electric cars, cycle to work, use public transport, and live closer can help in saving natural resources like petroleum as well as bring down pollution levels and positively impact climate change.
3. Allow remote working
Fewer people on the roads means less pollution and fewer contributions to climate change. One of the simplest ways to deter your employees from long daily commutes is by offering them remote work options. Not only can this move reduce carbon footprint, but it has also been proved to reduce health risks and increase the productivity of employees.
4. Go paperless
Before the digital age, businesses did not have a choice but to use paper for all their correspondence and transactions. Now, they can choose to turn digital. Businesses can manage all their activities without using paper, though most of them still continue the old-fashioned way. Businesses can use modern technology to make their processes and workplaces paper-free and more efficient.
5. Form a committee to monitor sustainability practices
No business can turn sustainable in one go. Limitations in resources may not allow them to implement all the sustainable initiatives they want to adopt. In this scenario, it is better to start small and adopt more sustainable business practices as and when possible.
Moreover, as newer technologies and opportunities open up, these need to be evaluated for implementation. It would be in the best interests of a business to set up a sustainability committee to oversee the entire process.
Companies that found success with their sustainability initiatives
If you are a business owner and have reservations about sustainable business strategy and how it will affect your profits, you can learn a lot from these pioneers in the field. These companies used sustainable initiatives and green practices to garner more visibility and profits for their businesses.
Livestock is one of the major contributors to global warming and climate change. Beyond Meat is making a mark with its plant-based meat products.
The well-known name in the world of adventure sports, Patagonia’s products include a range of activewear, snow gear, fleece, and sleeping bags. One of the most notable among their sustainable initiatives is repair shops around the world to stretch the lifetime of their products.
Offering toys made from and packed in 100% recycled materials, Green Toys are the first choice of an environment-conscious parent. These toys also come with the advantage of being locally produced, reducing their carbon footprint.
The role that plastic straws play in pollution besides being a threat to wildlife is well-documented. YesStraws changed the concept of straws with its 100% biodegradable straws made from natural materials.
Though they are not as famous as others in this list, Wipro EcoEnergy is helping businesses go green, limit their waste, and reduce their carbon footprint. Their sustainable solutions, energy-saving processes, and efficiency management strategies have made a difference to big as well as small businesses.
Sustainability gains importance as we are fast running out of natural resources. Their mindless use and waste generation are wreaking havoc with the weather patterns around the world.
Individuals have an important role to play in restoring the balance in the world and making it more liveable. This doesn’t mean businesses can shirk their responsibility.
While individuals use up what nature has provided to live a comfortable life, businesses utilize them to make a profit. This makes businesses more accountable for their actions. Corporate social responsibility or CSR was devised to make businesses do their bit for the planet.
However, sustainable initiatives need not weigh like an anchor for businesses. With sustainability strategic planning, businesses can use sustainable practices to improve their image as well as generate more profits.