One of the major trends impacting companies across the globe, regardless of the industry, is sustainability. From creating Sustainable Business Models (SBMs) to monitoring Economic, Social, Governance (ESG) metrics, and developing Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) – C-Suite executives and CEOs have been calling their teams together to develop long-term strategies that will support business growth with sustainability at the core.
Global organisations like the United Nations (UN) have created targets and goals for sustainability (the UN SDGs) and have set the clock for 2030, yet they already believe that it will be difficult to achieve this target.
Reports say that 90% of business leaders think that sustainability is important, but only 60% of companies actually have a sustainability strategy, and only 49% of companies are developing new climate-friendly products or services – which is surprising, given that 83% of consumers will ‘always’ choose a brand with a better sustainability record, and 88% will be more loyal to a company that supports social or environmental issues.
Making a Sustainable Strategy Work
Change isn’t always easy, and it doesn’t always come quickly either – but even if you can’t make huge company changing steps in one go, there are things that you can do straight away, that will prepare your business and lay the groundwork.
- Take a Comprehensive Listening Approach
Rather than just taking an ‘outside-in’ or ‘inside-out’ approach, adopt a policy of doing both – listening to concerns and the needs of investors, stakeholders, consumers, board members, and employees.
This allows for a more reactive framework, that can identify current sustainability trends, and new ones, as well as clarify where your business is positioned in relation to your competitors.
- Set Realistic Goals with Overlap in the Timeline
Some sustainability challenges will take weeks, months, years, or more to achieve, especially if it requires a complete overhaul of processes or production (for example, eliminating plastic waste or reducing carbon emissions).
Rather than having one over-arching goal alone, develop a plan that includes the long-term resolution, a mid-term result, and short-term milestones. This allows larger challenges to be broken down into component parts, and for SBMs to pivot (where necessary) to adapt and evolve.
- Develop or Implement an Existing ESG Reporting Framework
Unless you know the existing position of your company, you cannot hope to determine how you’re improving – or even know where you need to make changes.
Undertaking ESG reporting, and adopting a framework (such as Global Reporting Initiative [GRI], Task Force on Climate-Related Financial Disclosures [TCFD], etc) will give you not only a benchmark as a starting point, but also suggested metrics to measure – and the tools to create a report on a regular basis (usually annually) to compare results, and accurately determine your company performance.
- Make Sustainability a Core Principle
For an SBM to truly work, it has to be something that the entire company adopts. Every element of the business, both customer-facing and internal, needs to commit to actioning sustainable activities.
This could start small and simple, for example: in-office recycling, motion-detected lighting in kitchens or meeting rooms, eco-friendly lightbulbs, recycled toilet-paper – and these steps can be undertaken quite quickly.
How you action your sustainable goals will depend on your business, but it can start small and grow.
- Open, Honest, Transparent, and Accountable
Modern media (including social networking channels) make it impossible to hide problems, scandals, or issues.
Be honest about what you’re doing, how far along you are in doing it, and what you’re doing to make your company better.
If you make mistakes, own up to them – it’s better to get there first and tell the real story, than have a third party pick it up and run with their truth (which doesn’t necessarily match the truth).
Everyone has to start their sustainable strategies somewhere – and even if you’re late to getting started, letting people know that you are now moving into action, and giving them regular updates on the progress can generate positive reputation and goodwill.
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It’s important that your business reflects a focus on sustainability, not only to reach your SBM goals, but also to generate interest and engagement with consumers, who will (and do) research who they’re buying from.
Remember, over 70% of purpose-driven shoppers pay an added premium of 35% for sustainable purchases; 57% are willing to change their shopping habits to help reduce their negative impact on the environment, and more than half of consumers will pay more for sustainable products that are designed to be reused or recycled.
Sustainable business strategies aren’t just good for the environment, they’re good for business and the bottom line too.