One of the biggest buzzwords in business today is "sustainability," but why is environmental sustainability important, and how does your business make this transformation?
What is 'Green' Business?
A sustainable business is one that makes an effort to eliminate its negative impact on the local environment or community. Sustainable decisions can also positively impact society, as well as the economy.
Sustainable businesses often work with an accounting framework known as the triple bottom line, which features the three pillars of sustainability:
Or, "people, planet, profit."
The idea of a triple bottom line was coined by a British consultant named John Elkington. The concept enjoyed a rise in popularity at the turn of the millennium as companies began looking at how social and ecologic sustainability was as essential to a company's longevity as the traditional bottom line of profits.
Interestingly, the idea and public awareness of corporate responsibility forced major changes from some of the world's most influential companies. According to The Economist:
"Growing awareness of corporate malpractice in these areas forced several companies, including Nike and Tesco, to re-examine their sourcing policies and to keep a closer eye on the ethical standards of their suppliers in places as far apart as Mexico and Bangladesh, where labour markets are unregulated and manufacturers are able to ride roughshod over social and environmental standards."
Meeting the Criteria for Sustainable Business
Business economists and researchers have created four standard criteria that businesses should meet to merit a sustainable label. Those criteria include:
- Business decisions are influenced by sustainable principles
- Its products are environmentally sustainable
- A commitment exists to ensure eco-friendly habits
- It makes an effort to be "greener" than other companies
Now that you understand the general guidelines for sustainable business operation, how do you make the change to a sustainable business model? It's different for every business, but there are several common projects you may consider in your journey to an eco-friendly company.
How Becoming a Green-Friendly Business is Profitable
As an important topic of discussion for today's businesses, the concept of sustainability has been studied intensely with some interesting results from those studies.
According to the Green Hotels & Responsible Tourism Initiative:
"Several studies have indicated that economic benefits can be gained in hotels through implementing environmental and social initiatives; many with little or no capital."
Although the Initiative's focus is on tourism and hospitality, the idea that many sustainable practices don't cost anything to implement is essential. Low investment costs mean that small businesses without significant capital or savings can implement sustainable practices without endangering the future economic health of the business.
Some of the tangible benefits of environmentally sustainable strategies include:
- Improved customer loyalty
- Industry recognition and awards
- Improved brand reputation
- Improving competitive advantage
- Retaining valuable employees
- Complying with industry regulations
Becoming a Sustainable Business
As you're probably aware, there are a variety of ways your business can become sustainable. There's no need to implement absolutely every method immediately.
Usually, it's best to create a long-term plan for introducing various sustainable practices. Doing so reduces the interruption of business services and income while helping the transition to sustainability become more permanent.
Here are some of the projects you'll want to start with when becoming an eco-friendly business.
Implement a recycling program
If you're in a medium or large city, there's a good chance your community already has extensive recycling options. A recycling program should feature ways your business will reduce paper use, as well as general guidelines that employees should follow for reusing materials and recycling.
For example, you may look at the packaging you use to ship your merchandise. Are you using extra boxes and too much padding? Additionally, you may think about eliminating printers in the office and outsourcing your printing needs.
In many cases, you can avoid printing by using email, creating PDF or electronic invoices, and printing only when you have to have a hard copy of something like a contract or official agreement.
Remember: You can reduce costs by adopting a plan to "reduce, reuse, & recycle."
Install green-friendly equipment
At the more expensive end of the scale is updating or upgrading equipment to adhere to new green standards. Over time, manufacturers create machines that use less energy to run and which may also use fewer resources to create whatever it is they make.
One of the simplest examples is the advent of LED lights. They're much more efficient than their incandescent predecessors. A bigger example is the HVAC equipment of today versus the machinery used just a short decade ago. New systems use a fraction of the energy used by old equipment.
Your projects in this area will depend upon your resources and the size of your business. As with all sustainable business practices, implementation over time is the best strategy.
Real-Life Businesses and their Sustainable Efforts
Some of the biggest companies in today's economy have adopted some seriously eco-friendly policies. Studying these examples will help you design similar initiatives in your own business.
One such company is Starbucks, which gets a lot of flak for its 5 dollar cups of coffee, but actually engages in a variety of environmentally sound practices behind the scenes. According to an article from the University of San Francisco:
"In addition to purchasing Fair Trade Certified™ and certified organic coffee, the company is setting out to achieve LEED® certification for all new company-owned outlets. By focusing on creating “green” stores, Starbucks has been able to reduce both operating costs and the environmental impact of its business practices."
A company that many people might be surprised was involved in green efforts is Wal-Mart. According to the Harvard Business Review, the retail giant has started making changes related to green supply chain choices.
"For example, the laptop PC buyer set a goal that, by Christmas, all of the laptops Wal-Mart sells would come pre-installed with advanced energy-saving settings. It was by no means a hiccup-free year on sustainability issues for Wal-Mart, with deep concerns about corruption in its Mexican operations. But the subtle change in buyer incentives is a big deal."
Employ Sustainable Business Practices with Howard Packaging
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