Climate change is part of an everyday conversation, and more and more businesses are joining that conversation by taking charge of their environmental impact. Not only will this have long-term benefits for the planet, but by prioritising sustainability, you’re also going to be reaching out to an ever-growing audience of like-minded customers.
Whether you’re just starting out with your own eco-friendly small business, or you’re already an established brand looking for ways to improve your practices, we’re going to cover all the key ways you should be making sustainability part of your business model.
What is sustainability?
Sustainability means meeting our own needs without compromising the ability of future generations to provide for themselves. In terms of business, it means carrying on in a way that doesn’t negatively impact the environment. Many businesses have goals to minimise or completely eliminate their environmental impact.
This involves ensuring your business only has enough resources to meet demand, minimising the use of harmful materials to the environment, and improving sustainability across the entire supply chain.
Is it really possible to make a business sustainable?
Becoming a sustainable business does have its challenges, but it is possible to make great strides toward becoming more eco-friendly. For one, sustainability is a vague term and can be used to reference a number of things. While this is a keen emphasis right now on reducing carbon emissions, it’s important to view sustainability as a holistic issue. Make sure your sustainable business strategy covers other important issues such as deforestation, water shortages, soil erosion and the fair treatment of workers across your supply chain.
With consumer knowledge around environmental issues at an all-time high, it’s important that you can back your claims up with hard evidence. For example, if you’re communicating your business goal to become carbon net-zero by 2040, be transparent and let your customers know what actions you’re planning on taking to achieve that goal. Failure to back up your ‘green’ claims may result in backlash such as accusations of greenwashing.
Benefits of building a sustainable business
Sustainability is shown to have real business benefits. This means that by adopting sustainable business practices, you’re not only benefitting the planet but also your business’s reputation and even profits. Here are some key benefits to making sustainability one of your business’s key aims.
1. A competitive advantage
In a survey by Next Energy Technologies, 33% of companies reported that they had lost business to their competitors because of insufficient climate practices. This matches perfectly with a further study of more than 53,000 US consumers by the Natural Marketing Institute, which found that 58% of consumers consider a company’s impact on the environment when considering where to purchase goods and services from.
This strongly hints that consumers are more likely to favour companies that take control of their environmental impact. Not only does following greener practices improve brand awareness, but can also be one of the reasons a consumer picks you over your competition.
It is important, however, to practice what you preach. As well as risking getting called out for greenwashing, putting your words into action also positively impacts your employees and their families and friends as they will be more inclined to follow your best practice. If you or your employees don’t follow your business’s own advice, the opportunity to enhance your brand image is lost.
2. Reducing costs
It’s a common myth that sustainable practices are expensive for businesses. However, by streamlining your manufacturing process and conserving resources, you could actually be saving costs instead of creating more.
Encouraging your team to help reduce energy usage by turning off unnecessary lights and opening the windows instead of switching on the AC, can also have benefits for your bank account – especially in the wake of increasingly turbulent energy costs.
By taking control of your energy supply and using renewable sources to power your business, this can also reduce your business’s carbon footprint. Insulating your walls or installing solar panels may incur some initial costs, but the long-term results will justify those investments.
3. Attract employees and investors
In the age of the Great Resignation, competition has never been tougher for recruiting the best talent. Younger generations have grown up surrounded by messages about the environment, and as Gen Z make their way into the workforce, positioning yourself as a sustainable business can hugely benefit your appeal as an employer.
Sustainable businesses will naturally attract candidates who share those same values, and by ensuring your company and employee values are aligned, you’ll be sure to build a strong workforce of advocates for your brand.
Similarly, as sustainability in business becomes more and more important, investors will be more inclined to fund businesses that have environmental goals. All in all, sustainable practice can only improve your business’s attractiveness.
What is a sustainable business strategy?
A sustainable business strategy is a set of goals a company sets to improve its impact on the environment and the steps it’ll need to take to get there. The strategy will be individual to the business as it will need to take into account your existing environmental impact and specific goals to reduce this. For example, some companies may set a goal to swap plastic packaging for biodegradable packaging, whereas others may aim to switch to renewable energy in the next five years.
The first step to creating a sustainable business strategy is identifying your current impact on the environment. You should calculate your carbon footprint, identify any sustainable swaps you can make, and see how you can give back to the local community. Remember to identify areas of improvement across your entire supply chain to really streamline your sustainable business strategy.
How to build a sustainable business: top tips!
1. Make sustainability part of your business plan
If you’re serious about building a sustainable brand, it should be one of your core values. If you want to show that your desire to improve the world is authentic, it’ll need to be more than just a marketing ploy or a PR talking point.
By including sustainability in your business plan, it will naturally inform every decision you make, from the materials you use to create your products, to the packaging and marketing methods you use. Here’s a step-by-step guide on writing a business plan to get you started.
2. Don’t try to be perfect
When it comes to sustainability, perfection isn’t always possible. Though you should strive to be as sustainable as possible, you may face limitations with your budget, industry and a number of other factors.
Being transparent about where you need to make improvements will make your business come across as authentic and show that you’re taking small steps towards accomplishing bigger goals.
As your company grows, more sustainable suppliers and materials will become available to you.
3. Build a community
There are a number of ways to grow your reputation for being a sustainable business. One is by encompassing your sustainable value internally and ensuring your team not only are aware of this value but makes a conscious effort to help you reach your goals. This can be done with internal competitions, such as finding out which team can save the most energy, or by encouraging car sharing, remote working and setting up a cycle to work scheme.
Secondly, you’ll need to look at building your online community. As well as posting about your business’s achievements, you can create your own hashtag and connect with like-minded customers through social media. It’s also worth reaching out to sustainable bloggers and offering them free trials or freebies to promote your products to their audience.
You can also reach out to other sustainable brands for collaboration. These businesses will already have your ideal customers, and you’ll have theirs – it’s a win-win situation! You could collaborate on a giveaway, or create a bundle using both of your products.
4. Look at your supply chain
Whilst your business itself might be running in a sustainable way, that might not be true of your whole supply chain. Looking outward at the companies you use as your suppliers and even your couriers could open up even more opportunities for improvement.
Look into where you’re sourcing your product’s materials from and get in touch with them to find out whether they use sustainable energy, what their water usage is like and how they’re mitigating their impact on climate change.
Your packaging will also need assessment to see if you can make any improvements.
In terms of your marketing materials, using recycled flyers instead of flyers made from virgin wood fibres is a great swap – especially if the paper is from an FSC accredited source.
5. Set clear goals & report on your impact
Like any business strategy, setting clear goals is the key to success. We recommend setting SMART goals, which stands for Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Timebound. For example, at instantprint, we’re aiming to achieve carbon net-zero status by 2040. We have specific steps in place to hit that goal, including our recent switch to a renewable energy supplier and carbon offsetting.
While there’s nothing wrong with being ambitious, your goals should be realistic and based on statistics.
And speaking of which… your goals should always be measurable and you should report on them. Identify key areas you want to improve, such as your carbon footprint, water footprint, staff travel, electrical consumption, or emissions and collect data on them straight away. Then, you’ll be able to track how your efforts are impacting these statistics by regularly reporting on your results.
Plus, making your sustainability reports public is yet another way to ensure you’re being transparent about how your business is improving its environmental impact.
Building a sustainable business has a wide range of benefits, from improving your standing as a recruiter to appealing to a wide range of ever-conscious consumers, as well as having a lasting impact on the environment. As well as looking at areas to improve within your business, it’s also important to look outwardly at your supply chain and see if you can source your core materials in a more sustainable way as well.
Here at instantprint, we’re dedicated to offering a sustainable online printing service. As well as using sustainably sourced paper stocks from FSC suppliers, we only use the greenest options available to us – FSC mixed and FSC recycled. As well as achieving carbon neutral status in 2021, we’re aiming to be carbon net-zero by 2040. Find out more about our sustainability efforts here.