Why Sustainability Matters

This article proposes that although most service sector businesses will have a far smaller environmental footprint than manufacturing and construction businesses, that sustainability still matters to this sector.


I have identified 5 reasons why this is the case. They are:

1.     Cut the waste bill

2.    Energy costs and taxes

3.    Employee engagement and network effects

4.    Productivity

5.    Sustainability makes sense

1.    Cut the waste bill

Many businesses spend a great deal of money on their waste collection. The present options for how to dispose of general waste are landfilling or energy from waste. Of these two, landfilling is the least preferred option. Energy from waste is the preferable option for non-recyclable waste that you produce.

That being said, I am no great fan of energy from waste plants. The most sustainable waste is the waste that doesn’t get produced. This is where an integrated strategy is needed, so that when you are procuring new items, you investigate the products themselves, but also how they are packaged. Make sure that you speak to your supplier if you believe items are being over packaged as this is wasteful.

The good news is, that more and more products come in recyclable packaging, meaning that if you run single stream or mixed recycling, you should see your recycling rates increase over time, if the facilities are used appropriately. But if you want to reduce your total waste tonnage, efforts need to be made on procurement and avoiding the creation of waste in the first place.

The hope is that ideas around the circular economy take off and that society begins to see waste as a resource.

For more information on waste and to see if zero waste is possible, I highly recommend you watch Gareth Kane’s video on this topic.

Is zero waste really possible?

He shares some brilliant insights on this and other sustainability topics. His website www.terrainfirma.co.uk and YouTube channel are treasure troves of useful sustainability content.

2.    Energy costs and taxes

Energy prices in the UK are amongst the highest in Europe for a variety of fuels, but particularly for electricity, the UK is stunningly uncompetitive.

As the two charts below show, whether analysing the industrial or domestic energy prices, the UK is an outlier and not in the positive sense.

Elec 1

elec 2

(Graphs from: http://euanmearns.com/energy-prices-in-europe/)

This should be seen as noting less than a national scandal. But businesses don’t have to wait for the government to fix things. They can begin installing energy efficient technologies and renewable energy measures on site, procuring energy from renewable suppliers and driving behaviour change initiatives to reduce demand. There is quite a bit that businesses can do regardless of the political situation.

3.    Employee engagement and network effects

Employee engagement and network effects make a great combination. They are individually fascinating, but together they become even more compelling.

What if it’s not the impact of individual actions that matter, what if it’s that those actions influence other actions. Highly visible actions towards sustainability matter, even if they are only trivial in terms of their impact.

For more information on this topic I direct readers towards Susan Hunt Steven’s talk at the recent GreenBiz conference.

The Network Effect of Employee Engagement

She provides a truly fascinating account of the powerful network effects of employee engagement.

4.     Productivity

Many companies in advanced economies are faced with the prospect of solving the productivity puzzle within their organisations.

In many ways, alongside the challenge of achieving sustainability, raising labour productivity is the biggest challenge these businesses face.

It would seem eminently sensible to approach these challenges with an integrated strategy. The old business adage that happy workers are productive workers still holds true today (https://www.fastcompany.com/3048751/happy-employees-are-12-more-productive-at-work). Some things are timeless.

What about about all the millennials pouring into the workforce and becoming an enormously important demographic group? This is a cohort that believes purpose and value is important (http://www.wefirstbranding.com/thought-leadership/millennials-want-work-5-ways-inspire-purpose-satisfaction/). Through sustainability and corporate social responsibility, businesses should allow employees to live out their dreams.

Although the links between sustainability and productivity are tenuous at present, more research should be conducted to explore the links between these two issues.

5.   Sustainability makes sense

Particularly within the service sector, aggressively pursuing a policy of corporate sustainability makes sense.

Sustainability can be seen as a proxy for good management. If you think about how your brand will be perceived by internal and external stakeholders, even though the environmental footprint of service sector businesses is small, they should still pursue environmental excellence.

But it’s not just sustainability for sustainability’s sake. There are many ways that being a responsible business can grow the top line figures and help to reduce costs. In very simple terms, sustainability makes sense.

What you need to know

This article looked at why sustainability matters to service sector businesses.

I identified 5 reasons why this is the case. They are:

1.     Cut the waste bill

2.    Energy costs and taxes

3.    Employee engagement and network effects

4.    Productivity

5.    Sustainability makes sense

Sustainability shouldn’t be something that is done by other people in other places. It is something for everyone to be a part of and something to be worked on constantly.

Thank you for reading,

By Barnaby Nash

Please share your thoughts in the comments section below. It’s great to hear about other people’s experiences in taking sustainability forward.

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