If you own and operate a small business, then you may wonder what you can gain from incorporating sustainability into your business plan. The truth is that no matter what industry you operate in, adopting some sustainable business practices can improve your bottom line; whilst also helping the world at large. Building a positive brand association, saving costs, reducing risk, meeting public demand, and making improvements to the environment and society can more than offset the initial costs that it takes to implement these strategies. Simply put, it is a wise investment.
Read on to find out more.
What is a Sustainability Plan?
As a business owner, you may come across the idea of ‘going green’ or implementing ‘greener’ practices. A ‘green’ business offers goods and services that have a far lesser environmental impact when compared with other products. Sustainability, on the other hand, is a broader concept. Sustainability is about making a long-term, multifaceted impact. That isn’t to say that you cannot use green language in your business plan or marketing – as long as it is true; otherwise, that is known as greenwashing, and if you are accused of this, it can tarnish your business’s reputation. Instead, a business sustainability plan or a sustainable business model is something that an organisation develops to make their business more environmentally and socially sustainable, which in turn creates more financial sustainability. A small business impacts the community and the resources around it, so operating under a sustainable business model is in the best interests of the environment, the consumers, and the owner.
The Benefits of a Sustainability Plan
There are several benefits to implementing a small business sustainability plan. Firstly, reduced energy usage. For example, if you installed energy-saving light bulbs and automatic taps, you would reduce waste, which saves money. You can encourage your staff to participate too by turning off lights or car sharing. Secondly, you can help to improve public health. Most sustainable business models include plans to reduce emissions, improve the air quality and identify any products that cause concern about the health and safety of consumers. This then leads to a higher standard of public health and environmental protection, which in turn encourages other small businesses to fall in line. Lastly, you widen your appeal to attract ethically minded consumers. Often adopting a greener approach leads to better marketing opportunities and even publicity. This raises the value of your brand both in the minds of your consumers and also financially.
Developing a Sustainability Plan
First things first, you need to learn more about sustainability. Use your resources; there are a lot of different guides, papers, and studies online that you can access easily. You can also sign up for online courses to further your knowledge; if that interests you, you can learn more about business sustainability here. You can use this newly acquired knowledge as a jumping-off point. You also need to take a step back to evaluate what you put your energy into in terms of business goals. Most people focus on the bottom line, but sustainable businesses use the triple bottom line: profits, people, planet. You should be just as focused on your social and environmental impact as you are on your profit margin.
Once you have learned more about sustainability and the options available to you, you can begin to take stock of your own business and discover what areas could do with improving. First, learn the laws. There may be local regulations, industry regulations, government legislation and even international laws to contend with. After you have done this, you can then check your levels of compliance. At the bare minimum, your company should be in total compliance with any legislation or standards that are already in place for your type of work. If not, that is where you should start. Next, look into cost-effective ways that you can improve your compliance. Finally, once you are compliant at the local level, you can begin to look at how you may be contributing to some global issues. These may be things like global warming or deforestation or social issues such as racial or gender inequality. This can act as a guide for what goals you need to work towards.
After you have done that, you can begin to look for more opportunities. Embrace innovation when looking at opportunities or solutions that can help you to make your small business sustainability plan a success. Arguably, the success of any meaningful business practice is directly related to innovation. If you want to come up with energy or waste solutions, then you need to innovate. From problem-solving to finding better or more affordable solutions, innovation is the driving force behind progress. Why not ask your staff for their input? By bringing in employees and asking them for their ideas, you also gain their support. The employees are then more likely to take responsibility for their contributions to your sustainability efforts. Don’t forget to take some time out for self-reflection too. You may find other opportunities for improvement.
Put together a plan and create a vision for how you see your business incorporating sustainable practices. This vision can then be integrated into the foundation of your business’ beliefs. What is your business passionate about? Choose a few issues that matter to your business the most; if you try to address too many, your practices will be ineffectual. Next, focus on where you can have the most meaningful impact. Depending on the size of your business, you may wish to think about how each section or department can contribute to your overall vision for a more sustainable company. Give each faction their role and explain to them how it fits into the wider objective. Be specific with your employees, as this will help them understand your vision and police it when you aren’t around.
The last step to creating your sustainability plan is to implement these changes. To do this, you need to communicate clearly with all of your employees. Ensure that your current business policies align with your plan for sustainability; if they don’t, change them, either across the board, or you can make them department-specific. You should also be looking at ways to review the performance of these policies and your sustainability plan overall. Create specific, measurable goals that you can attain and develop metrics to help you track your progress. These may be as simple as reviewing your energy bill and whether or not the new policies have decreased it, or it may be more complex such as trying to up your use of recycled materials. Lastly, your staff are an excellent resource. Use them. Ask for feedback on whether or not these new policies have created any issues for the day-to-day tasks. If they have, then you may need to work out ways around this whilst still trying to stay committed to your sustainability model. This feedback can also help you in the future when you want to develop more initiatives.
Sustainability is almost not a choice for businesses today. More and more consumers are opting to switch their loyalties to brands purely because of the steps toward sustainability. Sustainability is vital for the longevity of your business. Make sure to do your research and use the steps mentioned above before you go public with any of your claims of sustainable business practices. If you are refuted, then it could damage your reputation and your profits.