17 September 2020

Why the future of your business may depend on sustainability

In the wake of a global pandemic, why should business leaders put sustainability high on their agendas? Here are five good reasons…

Reduce waste – and cost

Sustainable practices make your business more efficient. View them as a long-term benefit, rather than a cost: many steps can deliver swift savings for minimal outlay.

Installing LED lightbulbs or switching to bicycle deliveries are potential quick wins that require little or no investment – and boost your bottom line.

Creative thinking on the operational side can cut cost as well as carbon footprint. For instance, it might make sense to lease rather than buy equipment, or to opt for reconditioned or ‘upcycled’ items.

Introducing paperless operations can save staff time as well as print costs. Making your premises more energy-efficient will provide payback in your bills, while also cutting emissions due to wasted heat or cooling.

Impress your customers

Consumers are keener than ever to buy from businesses that work ethically. That commitment has persisted despite the impact of COVID-19. Research in summer 2020 found a quarter of Britons see the environment as the top issue facing the UK; three years earlier, only one in 10 saw it as the priority.1

“I’ve never seen figures like this before,” says Nicola Stopps, CEO of the Simply Sustainable consultancy. “The COVID-19 crisis has shown people the importance of the undervalued environment.

“After the 2008/9 recession, investment in climate change commitments faded and we lost about five years’ progress. But now the mood is very different. For one thing, we’re all physically experiencing climate change in the UK.”

She warns, however, that enhanced public awareness makes it easy for people to detect ‘greenwash’ where a company tries to overstate its environmental achievements.

“Focus on four simple goals, publish your targets and then set out how you’ve performed. If things didn’t go to plan, explain why,” she advises. “People appreciate the practical challenges of all this – take them on that journey, be transparent and you can earn their trust.”

Support your suppliers

B2B companies can enhance their attractiveness to clients by making it easier for them to meet regulatory or internal goals.

“Many SMEs are supplying larger businesses which have sustainability targets for their supply chain,” says Stopps.

“Talk to them about their priorities, and see how you could make your business a lot more ‘sticky’ for these clients. Even if you don’t have a close relationship, check out their targets on their website and see how you could help to achieve them.

“For example, as a transport company you might be able to reduce miles driven or overall carbon emissions. For a food supplier there might be more social objectives, such as ensuring workers are paid a fair wage and that food is sourced as locally as possible.”

Boost your workforce

If you have employees, getting them on board is essential to your sustainability progress.

By seeking out their suggestions on how to make the business more sustainable, ensuring they understand the importance of your targets, and celebrating successes together, you can boost motivation and morale.

Being able to point to your sustainability record will boost recruitment too. Research has found that 65% of the workforce are keen to join an employer with a strong social conscience.2

Get your business in shape

As Stopps points out, integrating sustainable thinking is a way of exposing wider risks and opportunities for your business. So it’s no surprise that firms focused on the future in this way enjoy a commercial edge.

“The companies that have the best sustainability credentials have outperformed other businesses in the COVID-19 crisis,” Stopps says. “That’s because in many ways, sustainability is really a proxy for good management. It just makes sound business sense.”

The companies that have the best sustainability credentials have outperformed other businesses in the COVID-19 crisis

Disclaimer

1 https://yougov.co.uk/topics/politics/articles-reports/2020/07/07/covid-19-environmental-issues
2 https://pwc.blogs.com/files/future-of-work-report-1.pdf

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