Adopting sustainable business practices can save your business money, as well as reduce the impact your organization has on the environment. A sustainable business is a respected business, and can act as a leader in its industry.
If you've been searching for sustainable business practices to implement at your business, here's what you need to know about transforming your business, as well as the best traits of a successful sustainable business.
What Research Says About Sustainable Companies
The Massachusetts Institute of Technology published an article in an issue of MIT Sloan Management Review with the results of an expansive study that interviewed more than 200 people from more than 60 companies. The results offer an excellent view of sustainability from the point of view of active companies known for their sustainable practices.
One of the most interesting findings from the study was that sustainable companies routinely looked for solutions outside the company's walls:
"Sustainable companies learn from the outside. In doing so, they are far more likely to encourage their employees to assimilate knowledge from sources external to their company than are traditional companies (72% vs. 20% at traditional companies)."
With that in mind, here are 10 traits of highly sustainable businesses.
1. Accept an Uncertain Future
It's not uncommon to read advice regarding business plans and the importance of detailed budgets and spending plans. However, an organization that's willing to adopt sustainable practices will understand that every decision isn't one with an established protocol. According to the organization Business for Social Responsibility:
"…leading sustainability companies have developed their appreciation of interdependence and complexity through their interest in long-term mega-trends and by engaging with stakeholders who represent diverse and even conflicting interests. These companies are more comfortable dealing with issues for which there is rarely a "right answer." Sustainability is replete with such dilemmas."
2. Challenge the Status-Quo
Large corporations usually have a terrible reputation for their commitment to sustainability, treatment of their employees, and the quality of their customer service. A sustainable business not only adopts sustainable business practices but also adopts a series of principles that show the company actually cares about the world more than its profits.
The Guardian shares some of these essential characteristics and concepts:
- Life is more important than profit.
- Empathy, humility, and authenticity are essential.
- Learn to follow but also act as a visionary
- Be flexible and slow down.
3. Actively Implement Sustainable Business Practices
Sustainability brings many benefits, but there's a huge difference between deciding to become a sustainable business and actually implementing the practices. Companies who are sustainable do act sustainably.
According to Sustainable Business:
- Sustainability Champions find ways to overcome a lack of material resources, customer education or customer financing.
- Sustainability Champions are defining bold visions for sustainability, integrating that vision into operations and engaging their workforce in the process.
- Sustainability Champions actively partner to achieve mutual goals and to influence policies and standards.
4. Strive for Responsible Consumption
A few decades ago, installation of a few recycling bins in the corner of the room was enough for any business to declare they adhered to sustainable business practices. Today's competitive environment means those shallow attempts aren't enough for a business to claim true sustainability.
Sustainability Advantage describes the concept of responsible consumption as it applies to businesses:
"[A sustainable business] promotes responsible consumption by educating consumers so they can make more informed decisions about their purchases based on products’ location of origin, the labor conditions under which they were made, their ingredients, their packaging, their life-cycle ecological footprints, and other sustainability-related criteria."
5. Adopt Emerging Management Tools
A business must not rely upon "the way things have always been done" when adopting a sustainable model. In addition to acting as a leader for innovation and sustainability, a business must also consider the newest industry tools used by sustainable businesses. Sometimes these concepts are so new that they're not yet part of the standard curriculums at business schools. That doesn't mean these concepts aren't important to successful businesses.
According to Green Biz:
"...apply emerging management tools such as the "integrated bottom line," stakeholder analysis and engagement, lifecycle analysis, full-cost accounting and sustainability reporting."
6. Balance Human Nature and the Natural Environment
Acting sustainably as a business doesn't mean adopting a radically different business model where features like technology and innovation are rejected because of perceived negative impact on society or the environment. A sustainable business uses technology as a tool to implement sustainable practices that will preserve diversity, optimize key resources, and respect the natural environment.
The Centre for Sustainable Development and the Regional Environmental Center for Central and Eastern Europe reveal:
"...the formulation of goals that are rooted in a respect for both the natural environment and human nature and that call for the use of technology in an appropriate way to serve both of these resources."
7. Think About the Long-Term Impact
A sustainable business is one that will not only help sustain the planet's resource but its own existence and growth as well. The concept of sustainability is one that's closely connected to the idea of long-term survival. Short-term solutions that ignore the long-term impact aren't a part of sustainable businesses.
"The word sustainability implies long-term thinking, because it focuses on how your company can survive and thrive in the long term, and includes consideration of future generations."
8. Adopt Frugal Practices
Many people think of sustainability as a concept that impacts the physical world and its longevity and health. However, sustainable businesses think about budget expenditures like fixed costs and avoid unnecessary spending.
According to an article initially published with Smart Business Philadelphia:
"There are times when all businesses tend to be more frugal, such as during economic downturns. One factor that contributes to long-term success is managing costs with the same degree of urgency in both good and bad times."
9. Embrace Social Responsibility
One of the benefits of acting as a sustainable business is improving the reputation a business cultivates with its customers and with business partners. Harvard Business Review describes the efforts of various companies who have worked to make alliances with other businesses or individuals providing socially and economically beneficial services:
"In consumer packaged goods, SC Johnson has sourced raw materials from farmers in Rwanda, partnered with local providers to improve hygiene and sanitation in low-income urban communities in Kenya, and chosen to eliminate harmful chemicals from its production processes in spite of the negative consequences for its market share."
10. Define Core Values for Sustainability
Adopting a few sustainable business practices is a great start for the average small business where fiscal limitations mean the transition to a fully sustainable business model will take time. One of the most important facets of starting this process and keeping it active within business culture is creating real and tangible core values connected to sustainable business practices.
According to Fast Company, those core values will have a positive impact on consumers and other businesses:
".. consumers are looking for more. Citizens are 'looking to connect with something bigger' and it’s up to brands to help them take steps to do something different."
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