How To Begin Your Sustainability Journey

This article sets out three steps that companies should take to begin their sustainability journey.

By following these steps, companies can go from a position of obscurity on sustainability to developing a recognised position in this field.

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1.     Audit environmental performance

Carrying out an environmental audit is a crucial first step in a company’s journey towards sustainability.

Magagement guru Peter Drucker once remarked:

You Can’t Manage What You Don’t Measure

This timeless management adage is still accurate today. It is highly relevant for companies beginning their sustainability journey.

Carbon footprint

The best way to perform an environmental audit is to carry out a carbon footprint. A carbon footprint is a read out which describes the level of greenhouse gasses (GHG) produced by an organisation or activity.

This will give you a baseline so that you can adjust and perfect your sustainability management into the future. It allows you to analyse your environmental management with respect to climate change and allows you to set overall and sector specific emission reduction targets for your business.

It is also an awareness issue. Many businesses operate completely unaware of the environmental impacts of their activities. When businesses become aware that some activities have an environmental impact that is hugely disproportionate to the benefits they receive, they are more likely to take steps to change their behaviour.

For some large organisations, this can be a compliance issue, but for many this is about going beyond compliance and operating in a responsible manner. Measuring and reporting on your carbon footprint on an annual basis is a first step in any businesses journey towards sustainability.

Life cycle analysis

A carbon footprint is an essential first step. But for businesses that are engaged in construction or manufacturing a life cycle analysis (LCA) is needed. LCA’s should be carried out on all existing and proposed products and projects.

LCA is a technique which assesses the environmental impacts associated with all the stages of a product or project’s life. It analyses this from the extraction of raw materials, to the materials processing stage, the manufacturing stage, and the distribution, use, repair and maintenance stages. Importantly it analyses the disposal and/or recycling stages. This is why this technique is also sometimes referred to as cradle-to-grave analysis.

Once completed LCA’s give businesses vital information that can be fed into management decisions going forward.  The data is highly supportive of business strategy and research and design. But LCA’s can also form part of a marketing strategy, whereby you label products with declarations of their environmental performance.

For carbon footprints and LCA’s, the measurement itself is important. But what you do with the information going forward is imperative. It needs to be acted on and to guide management decisions. These are both important steps in an organisations journey towards sustainability.

2.   Introduce a corporate social responsibility programme

The introduction of a corporate social responsibility (CSR) programme is an essential second step for any business beginning their sustainability journey.

Sustainability is about more than just looking after the planet. It is about people and profits too. The social element of sustainability is crucial and if it is left unaddressed, sustainability has not been achieved.

Some key issues to be addressed in a CSR programme include:

  • Internal stakeholder engagement
    • Employees
    • Managers
  • External stakeholder engagement
    • Suppliers
    • Society
    • Government
    • Creditors
    • Shareholders
    • Customers
  • Community investment
    • Time
    • Money

Where it is possible, companies should try to engage with advocacy groups. This could come about as a result of an employee who develops a relationship with a charity through a volunteer programme. Or a group could be identified and engaged with on the basis of specific expertise that they possess.

The point is that sustainability is about reaching out to others and developing meaningful and long lasting partnerships with likeminded business and charities.

Introducing a CSR programme is increasingly expected by your stakeholders and can be a highly rewarding experience. It is an essential second step for any business beginning their sustainability journey.

3.   Introduce a sustainable procurement programme

Introducing a sustainable procurement programme is a third step that companies should take in their journey towards sustainability.

This builds on the LCA’s from the first step as it will be important to introduce life cycle thinking into your procurement decisions.

The old saying:

You buy cheap, you buy twice

Is certainly still true today. Often products with cheaper initial outlays have higher lifetime costs when use and disposal are taken into account. There are increasing numbers of ways to engage in product service contracts where you rent the good that you want from a manufacturer and return it for remanufacture when upgrades are available. This is an excellent way to procure sustainably.

Other factors to consider in a sustainable procurement programme include:

  • Procure raw materials from recognised responsible sourcing schemes
  • Where possible procure from small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs) and social enterprises
  • Ensure that ethical, human rights and labour standards are met when procuring from emerging markets
  • Eliminate wasteful spending on goods which are not used or not completely used

Introducing a sustainable procurement programme is a great way to manage your resources more efficiently. It encourages cost savings and profitability is a key element of sustainability. A sustainable procurement programme is the right thing to do and it is a third step that companies should take in their journey towards sustainability.

What you need to know

This article set out three steps that companies should take to begin their sustainability journey.

If followed through correctly, companies can develop a recognised position on sustainability. They include:

1.      Audit environmental performance

2.     Introduce a corporate social responsibility programme

3.     Introduce a sustainable procurement programme

We will learn more about sustainability in subsequent posts.

Thank you for reading

By Barnaby Nash

Contact Details

Mobile: 07745 904 128



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