By Adrian Johansen
We are living in an increasingly ecologically-focused society and with good reason. The potential for the irreversible effects of climate change is extremely concerning; particularly as so many avoidable human behaviors continue to contribute to our environmental decline. Businesses are among the most substantial contributors here. A recent study found that industry accounts for 23% of global greenhouse emissions, and that’s to say nothing of water pollution, waste disposal, and energy consumption.
Too often, businesses are only willing to go as far as compliance with environmental laws. But if we’re to make a serious impact on the fight against climate change, companies need to go much further with their sustainability efforts. It needs to be more than a few activities they tack on top of their standard practices and become a more central part of their ethos and operations.
This is why it’s important to take a moment to review the situation. What are the reasons that businesses must focus on sustainability, and where can they discover positive incentives to do so in a meaningful way?
First and foremost, businesses have an ethical duty to focus on sustainability. Doing what’s right for the mere fact of it has not always been at the forefront of many commercial concerns, but over the last couple of decades, it has become clear just how vital strong ethics are to success. Environmental values that are at the core of the business make it more resilient and more relevant as our society shifts its priorities to sustainable methods. Even small businesses that make consistent, simple steps toward sustainability are making a difference.
However, it’s important to note that authenticity is a key component of this. It has become a common practice in recent years for less ethical brands to participate in greenwashing. This is where businesses act deceitfully by claiming green methods and standards that they don’t, in fact, utilize to gain unearned credibility. They deliberately misrepresent the sustainability of their products and use tactics such as natural imagery to attract consumers. This not only fails to address damage to the environment, it can also harm consumer trust for not just the brand but the industry.
As such, a vital tool to support ethical authenticity is maintaining transparency. Businesses should use their websites and social channels to keep a culture of openness between them and their customers. Show behind the scenes videos about how products are manufactured, list their supply chain partners, and produce blog posts about what the company does to ensure it is staying on top of its ethical standards. Importantly, companies should go out of their way to acknowledge that their methods aren’t perfect, and talk about what they still need to address. Indeed, inviting consumers to provide suggestions and keep them accountable for their actions is a vital component of authenticity.
One of the primary reasons that businesses should be focusing on sustainability is the fact that consumers are increasingly demanding of it. A recent study reported that 88% of consumers in the U.S. and U.K. combined want the brands they engage with to help them make a positive difference in the world. As a result, consumers are becoming better educated about sustainability, and more willing and able to make purchasing decisions based on this.
However, this goes further than an incentive to attract more customers to the business. It can offer valuable opportunities for companies to forge meaningful bonds with consumers for years to come. Sustainability is a deeply emotional subject for many customers, and companies can make connections with them by taking time to listen to their concerns and even their stories on the subject. When businesses demonstrate their respect for their customers and pay attention to their needs it helps to build mutually beneficial relationships.
However, it’s just as important to parlay these relationships with individual consumers into cementing a place in the community. Companies that become an integral part of the communities they serve often enjoy the loyalty of local consumers, alongside their ongoing support — which can be vital during economically uncertain times in particular. This should begin with making investments into community sustainability initiatives. Financial analytics firm, S&P Global has made this approach a core part of its mission. It has created 28 staff-led “Green teams” worldwide that don’t just champion environmental behavior in the workplace but engage in community sustainability projects. Not every business has this global reach, but even small businesses can make sure there are staff representatives at community environmental activism meetings. Employees should also be provided with paid time off to participate in projects, and the company can provide business resources to assist them.
It’s important to remember that businesses often thrive or fail based on their status. It’s one of the reasons that companies spend so much time and resources on marketing. Yes, it’s helpful for consumers to just know that the business exists, but if their profile and reputation can be boosted, there’s a greater chance of longevity. As such, leaders need to understand that sustainable practices can help this.
Put simply, having sustainable operations does more than show awareness of the environment. It demonstrates to consumers that business owners actually care about how their actions might affect customers, the general public, and the following generations. This isn’t just vital for keeping customers on-side, it also provides the kind of profile and reputation that encourages rising talent to engage with the business. Whether it’s aspiring entrepreneurs seeking partnerships, or potential employees, a reputation for sustainability has become a top priority for Generation Z.
It’s also important to note how businesses raise their profile among the public. Consumers have become savvier about what marketing methods are considered sustainable. Companies that prioritize digital marketing channels rather than traditional methods are usually considered to be more environmentally conscious. If print is part of the strategy, ones that use recycled and reusable materials are more likely to garner positive reactions. This will obviously matter more to some consumers than others, but by committing to sustainability across the board, there is less chance to cultivate a negative reputation.
In a world that is experiencing serious environmental damage, businesses need to take greater responsibility. Part of this is an ethical imperative as contributors to society. However, there are also clear business reasons. With a little effort and adjusted focus, businesses can both do good in the world and forge better relationships and reputations.
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.
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