The pressure on businesses to become sustainable is on. Global trends such as digitalisation and the climate crisis have led to an increased awareness of social and environmental issues.
Legislation is being strengthened on both national and global levels; investors and owners are demanding stronger focus on sustainability matters in their investments, and job seekers are increasingly conscious of how their employers operate.
It’s a challenging time for any business, but really, it should be seen as the greatest opportunity of our time. As new research shows, a company’s position on social issues can drive purchase intent just as much as product features, with sustainability and profitability going hand in hand. Here are four tips on how to manage this transition.
Understanding your company’s impact
Where does your business have the greatest impact on social, economic or environmental sustainability? Start by identifying which issues are closest to your core business. Are you a manufacturing company? Do you use a lot of resources in your production? Is shipping internationally part of what you do? Do you fly a lot for work? Take the time to analyse and get the numbers on your impact, then set incremental targets and a timeline to achieve them.
For example, one achievable and desirable goal is to become carbon neutral. This can be done by reducing the carbon emissions in your operations as much as possible, and then compensating for any that are impossible to reduce.
A place to start would be to look at your energy consumption. Make sure to purchase electricity from renewable sources, install LED lights and movement detectors and enable sleep mode on all devices in your office. Looking at areas such as waste management, travel policies and transportation are also important.
The Greenhouse Gas Protocol Corporate Standard is an established tool for how to identify your emissions and make a strategic plan for reducing them. Depending on your business model, this can be done in a year or so, but for certain sectors it would need to be a more long-term goal up until the year 2030.
Strategic communication group The New Division on climate strike in Stockholm.
Creating a culture of sustainability
Making a business sustainable typically involves new and improved products, policies, supply chains, systems and so on. But by far the most important element is culture – and it starts from the top. Having a CEO and management team who are informed and passionate about sustainability not only decreases risk for your company, but is also a great opportunity to future-proof your business. Imbue your team with a deep understanding of, and enthusiasm for, your sustainability principles, and you are closer to becoming a sustainable business.
Provide training and information to all employees about where you are headed and how, and make sure you give them opportunities to contribute to reaching your goals. Introduce policies for both environmental and social sustainability: travelling, diversity and inclusion. Install a recycling system in the office and make vegetarian food the norm in your organisation, for example.
Communicating your brand’s sustainability messages
Create the verbal and visual assets which will deliver your message of sustainability to your audiences – and then deliver them. These are vital elements in the process both to get your word out and push your industry forward.
Transparency is key to good sustainability communications. We cannot create a better world in isolation, so when we share our progress and pitfalls, everyone gains. Dare to be transparent with what you have yet to achieve! No company is fully sustainable, but your stakeholders want to know that you’re trying. IKEA and Unilever are two great examples of how to communicate your sustainability strategy and performance.
Keeping a sustainable brand sustainable
Remember: sustainability is not a one-time event; it’s an ongoing process that requires constant evaluation of performance and impact and evolution of the strategy.
Make sure to set measurable goals that are possible to keep track of, and make sure to evaluate them on a regular basis. What can be done better? Where can more ambitious goals be set? Build an internal ambassador programme to ensure the initiatives and culture live on even when the team changes and evolves in other areas.
Finally, realise that you can never become too sustainable. There is always something you can improve so when you have reached some goals, set new ones!
Sandra Runsten, sustainability business strategist at The New Division (Trollbäck+Company).