Sustainability is a challenge that everyone has to face. From governments to individuals, sustainable use and ethical consumption have become important concepts.
For businesses, achieving sustainability isn’t easy. Invariably, though, it’s worth it. Even putting aside the fact that sustainable business practices help us to protect the planet, sustainability also benefits efficiency and employee wellbeing. This often outweighs the costs.
Even in post-pandemic conditions, sustainability remains important to consumers. According to recent research from Deloitte, 32% of consumers are highly engaged with a more sustainable lifestyle.
The same study revealed that 28% of consumers have stopped buying a product due to ethical concerns. If you’re looking to develop a customer-centric strategy for your business, sustainability must play an important part.
What Does Sustainability Really Mean?
When we say sustainability, you might think of recycling efforts or a zero-paper policy. Those definitely count, but sustainability actually goes a lot deeper. Environmental issues are important, yet sustainability could also refer to diverse recruitment policies.
From the carbon impact of your supply chain to the ethical sourcing of raw materials, sustainability has many forms. Some sustainable business leaders have recommended following a framework like the UN’s Global Goals to guide your efforts.
This framework, agreed between world leaders in 2015, is a roadmap for increasing wellbeing worldwide by 2030. It focuses on areas like education, climate change, ethical sourcing, and more.
Aligning your business’s sustainability strategy with these goals can help your efforts to drive effective change.
Why Sustainability is More Important Than Ever
Generation Z is a growing consumer force and a growing workplace presence. This generation is more engaged with sustainability than any before.
In the Deloitte study, as many as 50% of Gen-Z responders would reduce or stop buying products due to sustainability concerns.
This means that sustainability is becoming more important to businesses than ever. Sustainability and ethical concerns will become key factors in attracting both customers and employees.
There are many more reasons to adopt a sustainable business strategy, though. By increasing efficiency and reducing waste, eco-friendly policies can save your business money. You can reduce both operating costs and key overheads like energy spending.
Having clearly stated policies on diversity, inclusion, and social change can have a positive effect on morale. When it comes to sustainability, people want to work for a business they can be proud of.
9 Steps to Creating a Sustainable Business
Creating a sustainable business model doesn’t happen overnight. You’ll need to review every part of your business operations to implement consistent policies. These are some simple steps you can follow to get you on the right track:
Step 1: Create a Sustainability Strategy
The first step to creating a sustainable business is to create a sustainability strategy. Having a clear picture of where your organization wants to go will help all parts of the business work together.
Consider the specific impacts of your industry. Even in a service business like a call center, there are impacts to consider. Employee welfare and energy consumption would be bigger concerns than pollution in this case. Learn more about what is a contact center or call center? to get more to grips with the potential eco impacts.
What your customer base considers important will also matter. At this stage, you should research the main ecological and ethical concerns of your audience. If your business can reflect these values in your policies, ethical consumers will notice.
You need to look at this strategy from all levels of your business, a good sustainability strategy should address:
- Raw material sourcing (ethical & environmental)
- Impact of logistics
- Technology (efficiency & usage)
- Employment (diversity & wellbeing)
- Education (training & development)
- Community (local & societal)
- Product (disposal & impact)
Once you’ve outlined your strategy, make sure you can communicate it. This means both to your employees and external stakeholders.
Step 2: Review Your Environmental Policies
Environmental issues are what most people think of when we talk about sustainability. They’re not the only part, but they are an important part. The next step to sustainability is reviewing environmental policies at all stages of business.
For example, the raw materials you source. What environmental impact does acquiring or creating those materials have? If these materials are farmed or mined, does this have a lasting effect on the environment?
Look at the technology you use, from your customer service AI to your factory loading equipment. Any areas where you can make efficiency savings by switching to cleaner or less energy-intensive tech will lead to long term savings.
Don’t forget to look at how your own product or service impacts the environment. After the point of sale, what happens to what you produce? Does it go to landfill or can it be recycled?
Maybe you operate from an office like a contact center. What are your energy use statistics? What’s the environmental impact of your call waiting service? What does call waiting mean? It’s one way you manage inbound calls, and even something so small can have knock-on environmental impacts.
People are enthusiastic about eco-friendly policies, but they still want businesses to lead the way. 64% of users in this study said they want businesses to use less packaging. 50% said they want more information on recycling products.
Step 3: Invest in Education and Development
Providing opportunities for your staff to learn and grow can help reinforce your strategies. We often hear complaints about skill gaps in the workforce. Filling these gaps by investing in the development of existing staff is a great route to sustainability.
You’re ensuring that your business can continue to grow and fill gaps in demand. You make recruitment easier in two ways by doing this, too. First, you can bring in less experienced staff as a baseline which lowers the barrier to entry and recruitment costs.
As these staff continue to develop and succeed within the business, you will attract a higher caliber of applicant. As your reputation for developing staff grows, you become a more attractive employer.
Step 4: Create a Culture of Sustainability
To run a truly sustainable business, you need to develop a culture of sustainability. This means that sustainability should be at the core of your values. New staff should train in your sustainability policies in the same way they would learn your procedures.
It’s something that everyone in your organization should think about. This is how you’ll achieve continual improvement and get out ahead of changing conditions. Incorporate sustainable processes into your task management and learn more about what is task management to help along the way.
Make your sustainability goals and policies visible in external partner materials, too. We’re talking about things like your brand ambassador contract template. It will help your long term goals to have internal and external partners on the same page.
Step 5: Get Involved in Your Local Community
Nothing shows your customer base that you care like investing in local community projects. Get involved in the issues that matter to your community. Visibly affecting local change is a great way to emphasize your company’s commitment to sustainability.
This is important even if your business has numerous physical locations. Look at your industry’s impact on the local area and how you could help improve this.
For example, fast-food businesses often produce a lot of waste. Helping with local litter cleaning efforts has a positive effect on their reputation in local communities.
Step 6: Work Toward Systemic Change
“Be the change you want to see in the world.” It’s an often-used quote but remains appropriate. Sustainability goes beyond the here and now. We also need to think about the long term positive changes we want to make to our society.
You can align this thinking with your sustainability goals for your business. Clean energy or transport could help you meet your sustainability goals.
An organization needs a culture and a voice. Define your values as a business collectively. Make sure you stand by these principles and act as a voice for change when you need to.
Step 7: Embrace Diversity
Diversity isn’t just a buzzword. It’s not hiring people for the sake of it based on a profile. Diversity is about inclusion. The more inclusive your recruitment and advancement policies, the greater variety of viewpoints you have access to.
At the decision-making level, this is vital. Having a variety of backgrounds and genders means that the views you get are more representative overall. This will help shape your culture in a way that works for your whole organization.
Step 8: Set Long Term Goals
As well as the short term changes you can make, set long term goals for sustainability. Net-zero pledges are a good example of this. This is when a business reduces carbon output and invests in offsetting to achieve a net-zero level of carbon emissions.
This is just one example. Perhaps you want to eliminate paper use from your business or cut out plastics. These are strategies that are difficult to implement quickly. Setting long term goals and making small transitional steps can be a better option.
Once you’ve implemented your sustainability strategy, don’t stop there. Review the success of your efforts. Feedback to your team to create a positive reinforcement loop. Continually look for areas where you could be doing more.
Technology often moves quickly. Make sure you review your options regularly. Outdated technology and techniques lead to unnecessary waste.
Creating a sustainable business is not an easy task. Making an existing business sustainable can be even harder. But, sustainability is how all businesses ensure that they can continue to grow and adapt in changing times.