This article is the first in a two part series looking at quick wins in sustainability. Sustainability can often seem like a monumental challenge. Too big and too complex for any one organisation to tackle individually, many businesses fail to act at all.
This is the wrong approach as a failure to act means that these businesses are not able to seize upon the many opportunities that a focus on corporate sustainability can deliver.
Sustainability like many things in life can seem overbearing and overly complex. But just like in other areas, things that at first seem impossible, over time become reality. Take for instance Richard Browning, who this week completed a stunning jet-suit speed record in his flying contraption. It is an amazing feat of engineering brilliance.
I am sure there were those during Richard’s journey who said it wouldn’t work who said he should give up. Despite the accidents that occurred in the production and training, Richard didn’t give up and because of that he has been able to create something truly remarkable. There is a lot to learn from Richard’s achievement.
What follows is a series of three quick wins that you can use to get sustainability moving within your organisation.
1. Leverage your strengths
Leveraging your strengths is a great way to get sustainability off the ground in any organisation.
Sustainability is complex enough as it is, don’t try and go off on a tangent whilst pursuing sustainability. Say you are known as either a low cost or high end producer, try and build on those existing strengths. Too much change is as dangerous as too little.
Focus on what your business already excels in and then go on your sustainability journey from there.
Say your business is known for having phenomenal customer service. That can be a great way to work with your customers, to not just listen, but also to act on their concerns.
Say your business operates in construction; in that case health and safety and environmental quality are likely to be critical. That can be operationalised by setting zero based targets for serious accidents and environmental incidents and maintaining that over a number of years.
What is even better is if you take the initiative and set up an industry working group to promote excellence in these areas. That communicates to your stakeholders that you are committed to being a responsible business. In business as in life, it is always better to be a leader rather than a laggard.
Your business could also operate in fast-moving consumer goods markets and have significant operations in emerging markets. You may have already developed relationships with preferred suppliers in these areas, but maybe you are not communicating this. The 21st century is the century of disclosure and your business should be telling your stakeholders about your progress on sustainability. Communication is a massive incentive to go big on sustainability. It allows you to tell stories and create a more human image for your business.
The key takeaway is that leveraging your existing strengths is an excellent way to get sustainability moving and to create real competitive advantages for your business.
2. Procure sustainably
Procuring sustainably is an easy way to increase the sustainability of your business with little drama.
In the old business paradigm, your businesses responsibility ended at the factory gate or office entrance. That is no longer the case. Money that your business spends, that generates economic activity on your behalf is your responsibility. If that economic activity is harmful to society or the environment, your business is culpable.
Most people agree that environmental problems such as deforestation, overfishing and unnecessary emissions caused by poor quality construction are bad. The good news is that there are certification systems out there that can make sustainability a great deal simpler for your business. They do all the hard work for you, so all you have to do is look out for the logo. This presents another communications opportunity.
Sustainable procurement is not the end or the beginning of your sustainability journey, but rather one method of achieving quick wins on sustainability at an organisational level. Following and looking out for sustainability certifications and logos is not a panacea or a substitute for reforming the operations within your own business.
The key takeaway is that by procuring sustainably and communicating that you are doing this, you can get sustainability off of the ground in any business with only a small amount of effort expended.
3. Engage with your customers
Engaging with your customers is an excellent way to galvanise sustainable change within any organisation.
You can employ issues monitoring specialists to do this, but an easier way to do it is to simply do it yourself. Make sure that your customers know that you don’t just welcome, but that you actively encourage and expect them to participate in your decision making process via feedback.
Simon Mainwaring has lots of great ideas in exactly this area. I highly recommend that you watch his video on How to Get Close to Your Customer. He has lots of other great content on his website www.wefirstbranding.com and is one of the best accounts to follow on Twitter.
You can engage and get feedback on social media, but remember to follow the golden rule of micro incentives for micro actions. If you expect people to fill in an e-form or online questionnaire try and make sure that there is something in it for them and that you thank them for their time.
Another great way to engage with your customers is on a more personal face to face basis. Your sales team or account managers should reach out to your customers at the end of every year and thank them for their business that year. Ask them what aspects of sustainability you can improve on and what they expect from you in the upcoming year? The next step is to deliver on this.
The key takeaway is that engaging with your customers is a great way to get critical information on what your customers find to be particularly important on sustainability and what you should focus on. This leads to a more targeted approach, which is important as your business gets sustainability off the ground.
What you need to know
This article looked at how organisations can get sustainability off the ground by looking for quick wins.
The areas that were specifically identified for businesses to focus on were to:
1. Leverage your strengths
2. Procure sustainably
3. Engage with your customers
Leveraging your strengths is important as sustainability is complex and building on pre-existing strengths is more likely to lead to competitive advantages and businesses wins.
Procuring sustainably is important as in the new business paradigm; you are responsible for the actions of your suppliers and subcontractors. It is also an easy way to get sustainability moving and to look for communications opportunities.
Engaging with your customers is important as it is an excellent way to get sustainability off the ground in a targeted manner. Focussing on what it is that your customers expect you to be doing on sustainability means that you can merge business interests with environmental interests and that is the best place to be in.
The overall takeaway is that there are quick wins available in sustainability. These are available to all business in all industries and of all sizes. What is required is to see sustainability as an opportunity and to run with it from there.
Stay tuned for Part two, coming next week.
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.