Why sustainability is important in business

A business owner drawing a diagram depicting sustainability on a chalkboard

Sustainability is an issue that many businesses now take very seriously.

In fact, research carried out on behalf of energy company World Kinect Energy Services has found that over half (53%) of the UK’s small to medium sized enterprises have put sustainability plans in place to help them lower their carbon footprints.

But what exactly does sustainability refer to in a business context, and why is it important for companies? Keep reading for the answers to these questions and more.

What is sustainability in business?

Put simply, sustainability in business refers to an organisation’s strategy to avoid negatively impacting the environment, or society as a whole. As well as limiting or reversing harm to the planet, sustainable business practices can centre on tackling inequality and promoting social justice. For this reason, a company’s sustainability practices are often analysed against environmental, social and governance (ESG) metrics.

There is no one blueprint for sustainability that all businesses can implement. The measures that companies take depend on a variety of factors, ranging from their size and the industries they operate in to the issues they want to prioritise and the particular results they wish to achieve. Examples of actions that businesses can take include everything from optimising supply chains to lower CO2 emissions, to using renewable energy sources to power workplaces, to bringing in environmental and ecology consultants to offer guidance on the environmental impact of particular developments or projects. It can also involve social initiatives such as sponsoring charitable causes in their local communities.

Why is going green important for businesses?

It’s now widely recognised that the threat posed by global warming is severe. A report published in 2021 by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which is the United Nation’s body responsible for assessing climate change, stated that emissions of greenhouse gases caused by humans have already heated the climate by 1.1°C since pre-industrial times and are expected to cause a further rise of 1.5°C within the next few decades. We are already seeing many of the predicted effects of global warming, including sea level rises and longer, more intense heat waves. Experts agree that the severity of future climate change will depend on how humans respond to this problem. Failing to reduce emissions will lead to widespread damaging effects around the world, but if we manage to limit emissions, we may be able to avoid the worst impacts.

Given this backdrop, it’s not hard to see why many business owners and managers include sustainability in their strategies. But beyond the environmental benefits, there is a strong business case for focusing on sustainability.

What are the benefits of going green for a business?

Being more sustainable can result in many benefits for your company. For example, if you become more efficient in your use of resources, you stand to reduce the cost of everything from energy and water to waste disposal. Ultimately, this can make your business leaner and more profitable.

There are reputational advantages to focusing on sustainability too. Many consumers now seek out companies that are responsible in their approach to the environment and social issues, and so you may benefit from increased custom if you can show that you take sustainability seriously. On top of this, there is evidence that people are prepared to pay a premium for products or services from brands that are environmentally responsible. Research carried about by strategy and marketing consultants Simon-Kucher & Partners suggested that consumers are willing to pay an average of 25% more for more eco-friendly alternatives to their current purchases.

And it’s not just customers who may be impressed by your commitment to sustainability. You also stand to benefit when it comes to recruiting and retaining the best workers. People are increasingly searching for prospective employers that can demonstrate a responsible approach to this issue. The same applies to investors, so you may find it easier to attract money into your business if you are committed to sustainability.

How can a business become more sustainable?

The reasons for becoming sustainable may be clear, but what are sustainable business practices in practical terms? Below, we outline some of the measures you can take as a small business.

Introduce working from home

Giving your employees the opportunity to work from home all or part of the time is one way you can enhance your sustainability. Reducing or eliminating the need for people to travel to and from the workplace lowers CO2 emissions and other pollutants associated with commuting. As well as helping to boost your green bona fides, this can also benefit your workers in various ways. Many people find that remote working helps to lower their stress levels, improve their work-life balance and save them money, for example.

As well as introducing home working, think about other ways that you could limit the travel undertaken by your employees. This might include replacing more in-person meetings with video conferences, for instance.

Give employees ‘green’ training

To achieve the best results from your sustainability initiatives, it’s important to get your employees on board with your agenda. This means giving them appropriate training. On a broad level, it’s useful to give workers training on the importance of being sustainable, emphasising the benefits it can bring to the environment, communities and your business itself. This will help to motivate them to play their part and mean they understand why you may be making certain changes to the way they work.

On a more granular level, you’ll need to make sure your employees are properly trained in any new systems and equipment you implement to make your organisation greener.

Go paperless

While going completely paperless might not be feasible for your business, reducing the amount of paper you use can help you to become more sustainable. As well as cutting down on the amount of paper you get through, this approach can also mean you use less energy in your workplace because you won’t rely as much on equipment like printers, faxes and photocopiers.

There might be a number of different things you can do to reduce your reliance on paper. This could include replacing paper copies of documents with cloud-based storage, using digital project management apps, adopting a digital visitor sign-in solution and using e-signature software, for example.

Invest in eco-efficient appliances

Replacing inefficient appliances and technology with greener alternatives can be a simple way to become more environmentally sustainable. Although it will cost you upfront, you stand to make financial savings in the long run thanks to reduced energy usage, plus you will be reducing the carbon footprint of your business. According to government figures, the average SME could lower its energy bill by 18-25% by installing energy efficiency measures. And the average payback is less than 1.5 years.

From installing a more eco-friendly heating, ventilation and air conditioning system, to fitting smart lights and water saving taps, there might be a number of steps you can take to make your premises greener. Even switching the appliances in your office kitchen for more efficient models, such as your fridge or kettle, could help to lower your carbon footprint and your bills.

When it comes to any equipment you use for work, make sure it’s covered by your business insurance policy.

Work towards zero waste

You can also enhance your sustainability by identifying causes of avoidable waste in your business and taking steps to address this issue. For example, if you currently have vending machines in your workplace that dispense disposable plastic cups, search for alternatives like cup-less machines that require your staff to use their own ‘cups for life’.

Make sure you have recycling bins in your workspace too so that as much waste as possible is recycled rather than being sent to landfill. To ensure correct usage, it’s important to label these bins clearly. If there is space outside at your premises, you might even want to set up a food composting bin. As well as minimising the food sent to landfill, this will create free compost that you can use on your own grounds or donate to employees.

Think about waste outside of your workplace too. For example, if you operate a fleet of vehicles, you could implement more efficient route planning to cut your fuel usage. Investing in better driver monitoring and training may also help to lower fuel wastage by enabling you to address inefficient driving habits, such as idling.

There is no denying the importance of sustainability in business. By following suggestions like those outlined above, you can help ensure your company doesn’t get left behind when it comes to this crucial issue. 

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