7 reasons to go big on sustainability in 2017

Sustainability is a long distance journey, but it is one worth taking. This article teaches you why your business should go big on sustainability in 2017.
So here we are at the start of 2017. In a year of explosive developments, both good and bad 2016 will go down in history as a remarkable year. On the plus side, we saw Solar Impulse 2 setting a new standard for solar powered flight, we saw growing numbers of tigers, manatees and pandas. Importantly, we also saw the Paris Agreement enter into force on 4th of November 2016.

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This is an important milestone. It marks a major turning point in the journey from being civilisations based on fossil fuels, to being civilisations powered by renewable energy. Let’s take hope and optimism from the good things that happened in 2016. Because there is a good chance, that through sustainability 2017 could be our best year yet. Let’s now turn to the 7 reasons to go big on sustainability in 2017.

1. Sustainability is a great way to save money

Whether you work in a business, in government or in an NGO, sustainability can save you money. But specifically for businesses, it doesn’t matter what sector you work in, whether you employ 50 people or 50,000 people, a focus on sustainability can bring tremendous business benefits.

By reducing the amount of waste your organisation produces and the amount of energy that you use, you can achieve massive savings. This can also take place alongside double digit business growth.

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For example a business with office lighting costs of £40,000 pa could expect to reduce these expenses to £14,500 by switching to JCC Skytile LED Panel lighting. This is serious money that your business should be investing in its staff, marketing or improving its product or service. A great company, which I know a bit about and who are helping businesses on their journey towards sustainability, is Save Money Cut Carbon. Their website does exactly what it says on the tin and is packed full of useful content: www.savemoneycutcarbon.com. I highly recommend you visit their site.

2. Sustainability is a great way to make money

A common misconception is that sustainability is only useful for driving down costs. This is wrong. A focus on sustainability can turn waste into money. Many business owners used to see their waste as just that, a burden on them, their business and society. But now, thanks to systems thinking approaches, circular economy business models can bring value to waste once considered anything but valuable.

This is an important lesson that value doesn’t exist in things; value is how we think of things.

Take for example Costa’s circular economy success story, which has been making headlines across the internet recently. Costa, the UK’s fastest growing coffee chain has struck a deal with bio-bean a company which turns waste coffee grounds into low-carbon fuel. Importantly, giving the grounds value and passing them to bio-bean is cheaper than sending them to an anaerobic digestion plant or incinerator.

3. Sustainability can provide a competitive edge

Sustainability is a transformative process. It is little surprise then, that when the right strategies are applied in the right way, that sustainability can give your business a competitive edge. What is more, depending on whether your business deals primarily with other businesses, governments or consumers, you can pass this competitive edge on to them. If done correctly, sustainability can turn customers into raving fans, who evangelise about your business.

A brilliant example is IBM and their project green initiative. The aim was to dramatically reduce energy consumption in their own and also in their customer’s data centres. With savings of up to 40% common, it has been a tremendous success. This is obviously great for IBM’s customers who benefit from savings in their IT costs and could give IBM a bigger share of the market. As we can see, sustainability can provide a competitive edge.

Particularly if your business is operating in competitive business to business markets, a focussed sustainability strategy is imperative. An emphasis on sustainability could be the difference that gives your business the edge in tough pre-qualification questionnaires when there’s not much to separate the shortlisted suppliers.

4. Use sustainability to differentiate your business

Sustainability can be used to differentiate your business. If used correctly, sustainability can create a gulf between your business and competitors who focus less on sustainability. The key is to find something that customers like anyway, which is related to sustainability and to focus your sustainability efforts on that area.

Examples of this would be Enterprise Rent-a-Car who realised that fuel efficiency was a key factor for shoppers when choosing a car to hire. They decided to make buying fuel efficient cars an organisational priority. More than half of the vehicles in their fleet are now of a fuel efficient variety, with thousands of others and hybrids being added each year. This is ten times the number of fuel efficient vehicles offered by its nearest competitor and is a major point of differentiation for Enterprise Rent-a-Car in a competitive marketplace.

5. Use sustainability to shape your industry’s future

All businesses want to be leaders not laggards in their industry. Through sustainability, you can shape your industry’s future. Clever use of sustainability can allow businesses to shape the direction of future regulations. A great example of this is Sony Europe, who pioneered a cost-effective system for recycling electronic equipment at the end of its life. This system has now become mainstream. This meant that Sony was ahead of the curve and not hit with unnecessary compliance costs.

6. Use sustainability to become a preferred supplier

Massive businesses like Costco and Walmart are taking sustainability seriously and so should you. These retailers focus on long-term, reliable suppliers, who can meet their targets. These businesses are known to set high environmental, social and governance (ESG) standards for their suppliers. If you wish to develop supply partnerships with businesses like these, then you should be meeting these ESG standards. Taking sustainability seriously shouldn’t be seen as a cost, far from it. It represents an enormous opportunity for suppliers who are willing to work hard to meet these higher ESG standards as a prerequisite for trading with the world’s biggest and best companies.

7. Use sustainability to change your image and brand

Using sustainability to change your image and brand is the least well understood benefit but the one which offers the best long-term opportunities for leverage. From small firms to large multinational corporations and across all industries, businesses can benefit from an explicit focus on corporate sustainability. It really is true, that businesses can remake their brands and reputations by investing in environmental and social initiatives. We are going to be looking into this in a lot more detail in subsequent posts as it is an area I find fascinating.

What you need to know

After reading this, you should be aware that sustainability is a long distance journey, but it is one worth taking. You should now be aware of the reasons why your business should go big on sustainability in 2017. The reasons that we identified were:

1. Sustainability is a great way to save money

2. Sustainability is a great way to make money

3. Sustainability can provide a competitive edge

4. Use sustainability to differentiate your business

5. Use sustainability to shape your industry’s future

6. Use sustainability to become a preferred supplier

7. Use sustainability to change your image and brand

The key takeaway should be that value doesn’t exist in things; value is how we think of things. New approaches, new business models and a bias to action are all required for businesses to begin their journey towards sustainability. There are a whole host of reasons why your business should go big on sustainability in 2017; this article explored what I consider to be the top 7.

We will learn more about sustainability in subsequent posts.

Thank you for reading

By Barnaby Nash

(Many of the facts and figures for this article were drawn from The Necessary Revolution: How Individuals and Organizations Are Working Together to Create a Sustainable World by Peter Senge. This is a tremendous book, which I encourage others to buy, read and share.)

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