I'm sure we all have a friend that is very environmentally conscious. They shop second hand, are vegan, and use reusable water bottles. They love talking about sustainability, going hiking, and shopping with intention. Maybe after hanging out with them, you've wondered: what is sustainability, and what does it mean for my business?
Sustainability in business
According to the United Nations, sustainability is:
Meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.”
This concept has been built over three pillars or bottom lines: economic, environmental, and social. An easier way to think of them is as profits, planet, and people.
Business sustainability looks for your company to positively impact the environment and society while remaining profitable. These also intertwine with your business's ethics since when companies fail to generate a positive impact, they can contribute to climate change or further social inequity.
Does Sustainability make business sense?
Efficiency and growth
The Sustainable Business Network accurately explains it as:
Sustainability is about protecting your business from the risks of today while ensuring that it can respond to the challenges and opportunities of tomorrow."
Shifting your perspective from a short-term to a long-term outlook will ensure that. Through the implementation of sustainable business practices, your operations will increase efficiency. Sustainability focuses on reducing waste, water, energy use, and overall making the most of the resources used. You'll have no problem meeting environmental requirements, driving innovation by not depending on finite resources, and ultimately ensure your business longevity and success.
Brand value and meeting consumers demands
Let's take a look at Futerra's survey results as explained by Forbes:
- 96% of people feel their own actions, such as donating, recycling, or buying ethically, can make a difference.
- 88% of consumers want brands to help them be more environmentally friendly and ethical in their daily life.
Another Forbes Study showed:
- 88% will be more loyal to a company that supports social or environmental issues.
- 87% would buy a product with a social and environmental benefit if given the opportunity.
This data shows that sustainability is an effective strategy for your marketing department to keep in mind. However, fostering environmental awareness will drive more customers to trust your brand, make them choose you over another competitor, and retain their loyalty throughout time.
It's important to note that consumers and your employees aren't on a different page. According to Forbes, this is how Millenials feel when choosing companies to work at:
- More than 70% said that they were more likely to choose to work at a company with a strong environmental agenda.
- Nearly 70% of respondents said that if a company had a strong sustainability plan, it would affect their decision to stay with that company long term.
- More than 10% of workers said they’d be willing to go as far as to take a $5,000-$10,000 pay cut.
Top talent is looking for meaningful work that gives them a sense of purpose. Since sustainability is something they're passionate about, talent prioritizes working for companies that share their same values. Having a comprehensive and robust sustainability plan will not only attract new talent but retain valuable employees. Keep in mind your company wants to back up your sustainability claims and have them be more than a smokescreen. Even if you haven't achieved your sustainability goals yet, outlining your plan and critical touchpoints will allow your team to feel involved in creating meaningful work that brings value to society.
Strengthen stakeholder relations
But first, who are stakeholders?
A stakeholder has a vested interest in a company and can either affect or be affected by a business' operations and performance. Typical stakeholders are investors, employees, customers, suppliers, communities, governments, or trade associations."
Traditionally business sustainability hasn't been perceived as not profitable or as an impediment to achieving financial goals. But as people learn more regarding sustainability practices and how it reduces business risks, the perception has been shifting. A sustainable business plan makes a sound long-term investment and will attract investors looking for companies with a strong focus on anticipating business risk.
Developing sustainable practices will help create better relationships with your stakeholders. They are likely interested in holding your company accountable for your sustainability initiatives. So communicating your goals, actions and achievements will help develop trust and nudge them into associating transparency with your brand reputation.
Having said that, it may still be a little difficult to picture what type of business practices you can change or implement into your sustainability efforts. Depending on your company, there are different ways and timelines for your brand to develop a sustainability plan.
That's why I've laid out some examples of companies that have marked and exciting approaches to sustainability:
Change is an unapologetic ethical fashion brand based in New York. They've built their company under three pillars: sustainability, transparency, and inclusivity. Its founder, Jason Castaldi, told Forbes:
We want to reduce the environmental impact as significantly as possible through CHNGE and create the most sustainable and transparent brand we can while building a more philanthropic model by donating 50 percent of our profits."
They honor their transparency pillar by sharing the information of the factories they partner with to produce their clothing. They also detail the certifications each one has, what they make there, why they chose the factory, the union representation, etc.
CHNGE also empathize that their garments are produced with 100% organic cotton. Their clothing is 100% carbon neutral since they offset all carbon emissions from their production and their consumers' use when washing and drying them. They've also do pre-orders on their items to avoid generating waste.
Overall, CHNGE has a very comprehensive approach to sustainability and had managed to gain the trust and support of its consumers. They bring their pillars into everything they do, from the production and design of their clothing to the models they choose. They've also carved themselves space with their singular voice where they're not afraid to talk about the issues that matter to them and have managed to a community around their brand.
Imperfect Foods started with the intention of repurposing the ugly or overproduced veggies and fruits that grocery stores wouldn't buy from farmers. They took it and delivered them in curated boxes to their customers at a discounted price compared to those of the grocery stores. They started in 2015 and then added different food types such as grains, dairy, and canned goods.
Imperfect Food was born in San Francisco, and its mission has remained the same:
"Eliminate food waste and build a better food system for everyone.
Avoiding food waste isn't the only aspect where that holds their sustainability practices.
- They reduce waste by using reusable and compostable packaging to deliver food.
- Imperfect Foods' largest facility is solar-powered.
- They have one of the most carbon-efficient grocery delivery models.
- The company has developed a sustainability plan to reduce carbon emissions and reduce food miles.
Philip Behn, Imperfect Foods' CEO, said the following regarding the opportunities of their industry:
As climate change comes more and more to the forefront of consumers' priorities, we're seeing consumers want and demand more from the food industry in terms of where their food comes from and how it's grown, while also prioritizing cost and convenience. We can tap into this growing network of customers who care about building a more sustainable food system, and oftentimes cannot afford to pay more, to help push the conversation, cut waste and build a better food system overall."
Krave Beauty is a minimalistic skincare lite that started in 2017. Liah Yoo, a skincare Youtuber, founded Krave Beauty when overwhelmed and confused by the messaging and endless beauty industry options. Liah Yoo wanted a more straightforward option that didn't disrupt the skin's natural functionality.
Krave Beauty philosophy is:
We believe in the power of simplicity by urging every women and men to step back, press reset, and listen to your skin’s true needs. And we're born in this industry to offer truly Krave-able skincare essentials that respect the skin and restore it to health."
The company also realized that the Beauty Industry was telling people they needed to use many products in their skin. By doing so, they were risking irritating their skin and producing a lot of waste that affects the planet. And so they started, as Krave calls it, "our sustainability journey":
Recycling and reusing product is helpful but to be truly sustainable, we need to dial it back to the other “R” we tend to forget: reduce. Our mission is to empower the world to slooow down. We encourage companies in and out of beauty to produce at a responsible rate and cut down on wasteful overproduction to reduce their footprint. All of us have a part to play too; we can reduce our excess product consumption and purchase with purpose so we avoid piling up what we don’t need."
Their starting point was to make the majority of their products completely recyclable. They use non-toxic adhesive and UV ink, so you can recycle the bottles without removing the labels. Krave Beauty also points out they send all of the products y 100% recyclable carton without excess fillers. When you place an order, you can add $1 to your order to have a carbon-neutral delivery. That's pretty cool in my book.
Krave Beauty is a member of 1% For The Planet, where they donate 1% of their profits to global environmental protection projects. As well as continue to support different environmental organizations. They also have plans for making their packaging even greener and have shared they're running a Life Cycle Sustainability Analysis (LCSA). And are working to make their internal processes eco-friendly, source renewable energy, creating a recyclable program, and presenting sustainability progress reports
As a consumer, what I like about Krave Beauty the most is how they're always sharing their progress as well as the sustainability roadblocks they face. This transparency has helped them connect with their audience and built trust that even if they're not there yet, they're willing to do the work to become a more sustainable company.
Stakeholders are clearly invested in sustainability companies and are looking to be informed of their plans and accomplishments regarding their social and environmental efforts. Aspects like social justice and eco-friendly practices will soon become something consumers expect from the brands they support.
Whether you're considering starting your company or shifting your business plan to have a sustainability focus, I hope the example has given you some ideas of how others are doing it. Although it can seem overwhelming, outlining a long-term and short-term plan with important milestones will help you get your feet wet. Remember that there is no right or wrong answer, but it's more about what makes sense for your company and where you are right now.