By Adrian Johansen
How your business treats the environment is increasingly important. If you’ve chosen to start a sustainable business, this decision can have a variety of positive impacts. This isn’t just from limiting the direct damage your operations could do to the ecosystem, either. Consumers are also more likely to support companies that demonstrate commitment to sustainability. According to the World Economic Forum, a recent survey found 66% of respondents consider sustainability when making a purchase.
Yet, keeping prioritizing sustainability in your business can be no small feat. Your company needs to consistently maintain high environmental standards in all your activities. This also means keeping your staff engaged with the ecological impact of their efforts at all times. While succeeding here may not be easy, it’s certainly not impossible. One effective way to keep environmentally friendly activities on track is by tying them to the ethical and social values that help drive your company.
Formalize Your Priorities
One of the problems your small business can run into with sustainability is in being too vague in your approach. Yes, a general commitment to positive practices is good, but without specifics, it’s difficult to maintain consistency. In many ways, the same can go for your company’s personal values. By not holding yourself regularly to these, they are generally weaker. As such, it’s worth formalizing your ethical priorities so you can see how sustainability can fit in here.
This doesn’t need to be anything as philosophical as a mission statement. A simple list is usually the most straightforward and actionable approach. Write down the ethical and social values you consider to be personal priorities. You can then work your way down the list writing down how each of these priorities can inform sustainable actions. Indeed, it’s also worth making it clear for yourself how the failure of environmental friendliness can be in direct contradiction to these values. Make this list something you can refer to regularly to keep yourself on track.
While this personal list of priorities is an excellent start, it can be wise to formalize your commitments. Review what regulatory bodies reflect your values and determine the steps you need to join and maintain membership. Concerning sustainability, it can be useful to pursue green certifications. This can help you keep high standards as well as distinguish your company from those who may be consciously greenwashing. There are various certification programs, and each has the potential to relate to aspects of both sustainability and your other values. The USDA National Organic Program can both make sure your products are sustainable while also making sure you have a positive impact on consumers’ health. LEED certification states your building is designed with green priorities while also making your company a positive presence in your neighborhood. Pursuing and displaying these certificates can also influence other businesses to follow suit.
Assess Your Practices
Once you’ve created a formal list of your values, it’s time to really put your business under the microscope. An internal values-led audit is a chance to gain some useful insights into how closely your operations stick to your values and your sustainable priorities. With this information in hand, you can then make practical, achievable plans for improvements.
While your values will largely be based upon your personal standards, this is not a process you should go alone. If yours is a small enterprise, get your entire staff involved wherever possible. If you’re running a bigger business, gather your heads of department, but also make sure there are contributors from all levels of leadership. Create guidelines for the assessment together and discuss how to review whether day-to-day operations meet values and sustainability standards. Confirm a period for assessment and invite everybody back to discuss the findings together and produce solutions as a team.
Your considerations here shouldn’t just focus on operations. Review your community interactions, too. Is your business getting involved with local projects in ways that drive engagement and reflect your ethical and environmental values? Take some time to review community needs and assess whether your contributions are positively impacting these. Indeed, consider what non-profit and charity organizations you can support to match your ethical and sustainability priorities. If you’re hosting an event for a project, consider not just the resources and funding needed to proceed. Look into whether your methods are maintaining your sustainable goals throughout.
Focus on Communication
If you want your business to be sustainable and ethical, you need to talk about it. Entrepreneurs might have some lofty ideas about their values, or their deeply-held commitment to the environment. But if you fail to communicate these effectively, they may as well not exist.
Start with your internal messaging. Your staff’s actions will need to promote your values in each of their day-to-day interactions. Make sure there are visible reminders of the core values and how they relate to sustainability throughout the workplace. This can include posters, reminders in newsletters; it could even feature in the employee handbook. You should also make it a feature of your recruitment efforts. Workers are often looking for careers that align with their personal beliefs and ethical standards. Make sure they can see your values clearly when they research your website and look at your job posting. Ensure ethics and sustainability are part of discussions during interviews so you can each confirm a mutual fit. This way you can find employees well-suited to your priorities.
Alongside the internal efforts, you need to make your values clear in your interactions outside your business. This doesn’t just mean marketing that flaunts your green ideals. Make efforts to talk to your consumers one-on-one about sustainability and ethics. Get their insights and encourage them to be involved in keeping you accountable to them. You should also make your values a part of discussions with suppliers. Talk about what your standards are and how theirs compare. If your partners aren’t operating in a similarly ethical or sustainable way, it means by connection your business isn’t either. This doesn’t mean you necessarily drop them. Rather make it a point to suggest simple steps to make eco-friendly improvements.
Your commitment to sustainability is likely a reflection of your high ethical standards. However, by finding ways to link the two more closely, you can make sure your business is a more positive force in the community. This isn’t a one-and-done situation, though. Keep assessing for areas of improvement, and keep your dialogue with staff, customers, and suppliers open.
Image Source: Pexels
Adrian Johansen strives to prioritize sustainability and ethics in all she does. To that end, she writes in multiple fields, applying and promoting sustainable methods and ideals as much as possible. You can find more of her writing here.