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10 Ways To Operationalize Sustainability As A Business Value

10 Ways To Operationalize Sustainability As A Business Value

People are more aware than ever that actions speak louder than words, and that there’s a big difference between “greenwashing” and a viable sustainability strategy.

Customers won’t have faith in your commitment to environmentalism based on a temporary tweak to your logo or tagline.

They won’t put much stock in your promise to combat climate change just because it’s written into your vision or mission statement, either.

People are more aware than ever that actions speak louder than words, and that there’s a big difference between “greenwashing” and a viable sustainability strategy.

That doesn’t mean anyone is expecting your positive actions towards the climate to generate results overnight.

It also isn’t simply the jurisdiction of large enterprises to help protect our natural resources, either. Small and medium-sized businesses (SMB) have just as much of a role to play – and fortunately, they’re just as capable of acting as a role model to the wider community.

The Link Between Sustainability And Business Values

Start by thinking of the overall value you want to bring to your customers.

For most SMBs, it starts with solving a problem or addressing an unmet need you identified in the market. In other words, you’re trying to be helpful to people.

Next, most SMBs want to offer products and services that are designed with high quality in mind – products that will last, and services that are easy to use.

In some cases, the value SMBs offer will include selling their products and services at a competitive price point, or bundling products and services together in a way that sets them apart from their rivals.

Now look for any of the trade-offs or negative impacts on the environment that operating based on those values might have.

Examples could include the mounds of plastic and cardboard that your products arrive in, or the need to burn lots of fossil fuels transporting raw materials to create them in the first place.

This is where you can begin to operationalize sustainability as a value. It doesn’t mean compromising on the brand promise you’ve been making all along. Instead, it aligns more closely with the concerns of many customers that issues like climate change aren’t getting enough attention and action.

Go through the list below and see which changes to your operations might make sense in order to operationalize sustainability:

1. Shifting to greener procurement

Many SMBs begin choosing suppliers based on who can offer the lowest cost, even if it means having them flown in from great distances. There has never been a better time to explore more nearby alternatives, which not only drives sustainability but helps support your local economy.

2. Choosing sustainable materials

It’s not just a matter of picking local suppliers but scrutinizing what they’re made of and how they’re sourced.

Ask a potential new supplier about whether they use renewable water sources in the production process, for example. Aim for materials that are biodegradable or will generate less waste. Many environmentally-friendly businesses are also fair trade businesses, so be on the lookout for those as well.

3. Adopt green shipping practices

How many boxes or containers do you typically put a product in before it ships? The ratio for greater sustainability is pretty simple: the fewer layers of packaging, the better. The same goes for how orders are sent out. Bundling multiple orders can mean fewer emissions from trucks or other vehicles. And don’t forget that shipping materials can be sustainable too, from compostable bags to recycled cardboard.

4. Provide work from anywhere options to curb commuting

Employees have traditionally spent hours idling on packed highways just to sit in a cubicle all day. In many companies that’s no longer necessary, thanks to technology that allows us to collaborate as easily from our homes as a boardroom. Join the hybrid work revolution and deliver a powerful message to employees and customers alike.

5. Promote work environments with sustainable design

No matter where work in your company gets done, encourage practices that make every spot as “green” as possible. This might include the use of LED lights in an office (or helping employees get a discount to do the same at home). Smart thermostats can ensure better energy use, while adding some plants not only makes spaces more beautiful but can improve air quality.

6. Do away with paper through digital tools and the cloud

Order forms, invoices, contracts, hiring agreements – there is a reason running a business has long been synonymous with the term “paperwork.” The truth is, paper is no longer really necessary for many of these processes. Cloud-based software can help spare entire forests while streamlining the experience for many employees, customers and suppliers.

7. Turn sustainability into a KPI

Keeping an eye on revenue, expenses and process efficiencies comes naturally to many entrepreneurs. Today, you need to be just as vigilant about how you’re progressing towards a lower carbon footprint. Platforms like Net Zero Cloud make this as straightforward for SMBs as for much bigger entities. You can use them for everything from setting science-based targets to being more transparent in communicating your results.

8. Adhere to standards and explore certifications

No one needs to operationalize sustainability as a value in the dark. There are countless organizations in Canada and beyond that are constantly sharing the latest best practices. There are also many certification programs available to designate buildings or entire companies as environmentally sustainable in how they are run.

9. Offer Employee Hours To Donate Time And Talent

Giving to non-profits and charities that fight climate change is a no-brainer, but operationalizing sustainability can go beyond that. Let team members use some of their paid time lending their expertise and passion to organizations that depend on volunteer labour to reach their goals.

10. Take out the waste

Are promotional T-shirts and stress balls really bringing in more sales leads, or are they winding up in landfills? Do you need to stock an office kitchen with cups, or could employees bring them in from home? Could a well-written, well-designed email campaign serve your needs better than a piece of printed direct mail? Once you begin spotting waste, you’ll see plenty of opportunities to reduce it.

Companies usually don’t make big changes to the way they operate until something goes wrong. On a global scale, though, there’s a lot about our sustainability that’s really wrong. SMBs have the power to help make it right.

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