29 Jan Corporate Sustainability: How to Get Started and Keep Going
It’s is never too late to get started with corporate sustainability. No company is the same, and where you are exactly on the sustainable business ladder differs from business to business.
In case you did not yet embark on making your business more sustainable then please continue reading. I hope you’ll find some useful tips to get started and to keep going on your sustainability journey.
Probably you’ve already implemented certain measures that fall within the scope of corporate social responsibility or corporate sustainability without having in place a sustainable development plan.
I am sure you’ll find some fine examples of sustainable efforts in your own organisation. They simply were the right thing to do for you as a business owner.
In this Sustainable Business Series I’ll make the case for having in place a more structured approach to implementing sustainability measures. It is a smart strategy for any business irrespective of size and it can give your company quick results.
Factors that determine the level of your present sustainability footprint are the size of your organisation, the measures that you’ve implemented to date and the aspiration of you and your team.
These factors determine your next steps and maybe your next steps are your first steps on sustainability. Let’s assume they are your first steps and you simply want to get started.
Where do you begin? Getting started ‘officially’ is a great way for you to show your commitment to social responsibility to your customers, employees and other stakeholders and help you shape your sustainable business. Let me first introduce you to some of the basic ingredients of corporate sustainability.
You may have heard about the concept of the triple bottom line. It means that in making everyday business decisions companies not only look at the profit motive, but also consider the social and environmental consequences of their actions.
These are the three elements of the triple bottom line. What is essential in corporate sustainability is that you look at all three areas at the same time. Later on you’ll notice that this approach is something that you always should be doing.
Only looking at profits can backfire. Not taking into account the environmental and social context could cost your business dearly and is clearly not in your long-term interest. You’ll need to create a sense of purpose to get your customers involved and sustain profitability.
This also implies that once you’ve started you need to keep going and continue reaping the benefits of a greener business. But you’ll see that things will get easier as you go along.
Sustainability Scope: Start with Your Direct Stakeholders
Looking at these three themes of the triple bottom line you’ll notice that you can make the scope of your sustainability effort as broad or narrow as you like.
Some companies have started to develop corporate sustainability programs that are not directly related to their business. They’ve decided to give back to a good cause and outsourced the whole sustainability effort to third parties.
Giving back is of course always a good thing to do, but in order to get more long-term benefits for your business it is better that you start building your own sustainability capacity by educating and engaging your employees. Next you’ll get your community and your customers involved.
So to get this out of the way: sustainability is not exclusively about helping communities in developing countries to improve their living standards and help them uplift their families. It can perfectly make sense for your business to do just that as part of your sustainability efforts, but sustainability starts closer to home with changes within your own organization.
As a small business you should start with your employees and make sustainability part of everything you do. Sustainability goes across all business functions and should not be left to a handful of people. But you’ll need a small team to get started of course. In short, start sustainability from within your business before engaging with other stakeholders.
Once you’ve energized your employees, and I’ll discuss in this Sustainable Business Series how you can do that, you can reach out to your customers and community. An important step is to embed your business firmly in your local community. I am sure you’ve already done this, but have a look whether you could improve this in any way.
When you’ve built internal capacity and have laid a good foundation within your community you can go further and show your commitment to sustainability in a credible and transparent manner.
Having the foundations right makes communicating your sustainable credentials a lot easier and it helps you to keep going. All that is needed then is simply to showcase the efforts that are exemplary for what you have been doing all along.
Taking the First Sustainability Steps
Taking the first steps on sustainability is very important: the decision to do good for your community together with your employees has been taken and you’re also committed to take action to implement your sustainability initiatives.
Next week I’ll write about why corporate sustainability makes good business sense for small businesses. Once you’ve prepared your business for bridging the gap between the long-term benefits of sustainability and your short-term business objectives then you’ve made the business case for sustainability.