Sustainability is a concept that seems to be everywhere at the moment, but what does sustainability mean for business?
Let’s start with the most widely-used definition: “Sustainable development is development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs” (The Brundtland Commission, source: Wikipedia).
That all sounds very commendable, but why should a business be interested?
I think businesses should get involved in sustainability because at its simplest level, it’s about using resources more efficiently.
That just in itself sounds like a good thing. However, with prices for water, energy and waste disposal rising very quickly, it begins to look more like a commercial priority, particularly when any savings made from a reduction in the use of resources – materials, waste, energy and water – go directly on the business’ bottom line.
By making the way you work more sustainable, you can drive costs out of your business and make your business more competitive as well as more profitable.
Adopting a sustainable approach can also benefit your business as new prospects are attracted by your improved reputation.
In addition, increasingly larger businesses and public organisations want to see your sustainability policy and achievements before considering you as a supplier. Sustainability can mark you out from your competitors.
So what actions can you take?
- Get everyone involved – It’s a great motivational message. Reinforce the message that using less resources helps in two ways – it does save money but also it makes a contribution to sustainability and protecting the environment.
- Monitor what you are currently using so you can set the baseline – It’s great identifying which are the major bits of equipment using most energy – are they really essential to the business? Set targets for improvements once you understand your current performance.
- Switch off where possible – Encourage people to do this but also invest in seven-day timers: the office PCs and photocopier don’t have to be on over the weekend or overnight.
- Minimise the use of artificial light – Where the light has to be artificial then check you are using the most efficient lighting. LED lighting can use 90% less energy and, importantly, does not need to be replaced so frequently. Up to 35% of the electricity costs in an office are lighting so the savings can be significant.
- Control your heating – Again, a timer pays for itself very quickly.
- Make sure that boilers and refrigerators are maintained regularly – Check to see if they are still operating efficiently or are past their useful life. What was efficient yesterday has often been overtaken with the latest innovations
- Check that you have taken the simple measures to minimise energy use – for example, have you installed insulation and turned thermostats down?
- Keep an eye on the waste you are creating – Could it be recycled? If it’s packaging, can it be reduced or can you get the supplier to reduce the packaging? When it’s taken away, is it being dealt with sustainably or is it just being dumped in landfill?
To move to a truly sustainable business is a tough challenge, but it’s great to get started on the path.
These easy wins might just be the spur to start thinking about what else could be achieved. For example, have you thought about generating your own energy using your roof or wind power?
Are you using dangerous chemicals that could be replaced? Face-to-face meetings are important, but do you really need to use the car to get to every appointment?
Those are a few ideas. Can you tell us what changes you have made in your business to help contribute to sustainability? Or do you see it as just another buzz word?