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What Is a Sustainability Audit and Does Your Business Need One?

What Is a Sustainability Audit and Does Your Business Need One?

Deciding how to incorporate sustainability into your business model can be challenging, but conducting a sustainability audit is a great first step.

Today, nearly every organization is embracing corporate social responsibility, where companies consider the environmental and social impact of their decisions to produce a positive outcome. Companies such as Microsoft and Google are moving to renewable energy, while Patagonia’s founder is donating the entire company to tackle climate change.

With so many different approaches, deciding how to include sustainability in your business model can be challenging. Should you partner with a non-profit? Buy carbon credits? Or look for ways to streamline your own practices? The right approach depends on your business model and industry, but performing a sustainability audit to find areas to improve is a great first step.

Below, we discuss why businesses should prioritize sustainability, how to conduct a sustainability audit, and green practices to consider implementing.

Why Is Sustainability Important In Today’s Business Environment?

With so many other priorities, should your business be concerned with sustainability? The answer is a resounding yes. More than half (61 per cent) of leaders say business models should generate profit and improve societal outcomes. Businesses no longer need to choose between doing well and doing good. Along with sustainability being the right thing to do, jumping on the sustainability cause can benefit businesses in several ways:

  • Save money: Simple sustainability efforts can help save your business money. For example, reducing paper usage and cutting shipping costs by streamlining your supply chain helps decrease spending. In fact, 38 per cent of Canadian businesses state that saving money was one of their main motivations as to why they invested in sustainability. Plus, any sustainability costs will often deliver an ROI on top of cost savings due to higher revenue, making them worth the investment in the long run.

  • Increase customer satisfaction: More than two-thirds (69 per cent) of Canadian consumers expect companies to advocate for sustainability. Making your products, services, and operations more sustainable doesn’t just improve your business’s image, but it also shows customers you care about more than just your bottom line.

  • Improve employee retention and engagement: Research shows 56 per cent of employees are more likely to stay at companies dedicated to sustainability. Adding environmentalism to your business’s mission can lower employee turnover and help your business attract top talent.

Even small changes to your organization can help make a significant difference. There are many ways to build sustainability into your business model, and your company can get started with a sustainability audit.

What is a Sustainability Audit?

A sustainability audit evaluates your business in terms of sustainability, measuring current efforts and locating areas of opportunity; it goes beyond what type of cups are in the breakroom, considering every aspect from supply chains to data storage. By auditing your environmental impact, your organization can discover areas to improve upon, course correct, and set initiatives for change.

How to Perform a Sustainability Audit

This sustainability audit checklist serves as a starting point to review your current practices and plan for a more environmentally friendly future:

  • Plan ahead: Outline a plan and SMART (Smart, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-Bound) goals to establish a clear direction and ensure your audit comes to fruition. This process includes choosing which metrics to measure to deduct whether your current initiatives are effective. These metrics can be carbon emissions reduction, electricity usage, paper usage, amount of water saved, etc.

  • Evaluate current sustainability practices: Assess your organization’s current carbon footprint, energy and utility use, and efficiency. Tracking all of these activities is difficult, but tools like Salesforce’s Net Zero Cloud can streamline data gathering and track carbon emissions and energy consumption in real time, eliminating guesswork.

  • Communicate company-wide: Gather insight from key stakeholders and employees from various departments and levels of your business. Employee behavior is significant when it comes to environmental impact. How many resources do they consume daily? How are they utilizing the office space? Multiple perspectives will improve the accuracy of your audit. Plus, active communication helps employees become more engaged and excited about the cause.

  • Identify gaps and course correct as needed: Once you collect the data, analyze for gaps your business wants to fill and adjust your approach as needed, as well as come up with new sustainability efforts. Find out if there is technology that can help create a sustainable workplace experience. For example, tech that supports remote and hybrid settings can cut the impact of commuting.

  • Implement changes: Your timeline for implementing changes can depend on your budget and sustainability costs, but it’s best to execute new initiatives gradually over time so employees don’t feel overwhelmed by the transition. Note that implementing such changes also includes aligning your communication and branding. After all, sustainability plays a large role in customer satisfaction, so sharing your efforts through messaging (e.g., a landing page on your company’s best practices) is important.

  • Ask for employee feedback: Do employees know about the issues that are increasing waste? Are they happy about the changes you’re considering — and why or why not? On top of getting employees involved, offer them benefits to help them go green. For example, charging stations for electric cars and public transportation stipends can increase the likelihood of change.

  • Schedule regular sustainability audits: Regular sustainability audits are crucial to keep your company in good shape amidst a constantly changing environmental and business landscape.

Sustainable Practices to Consider Implementing

Now that we’ve briefly gone over how to perform a sustainability audit, let’s dive into ways your business can become more sustainable:

Conserve resources

Every step of your business process, including sourcing materials, shipping, storing data, and more, impacts the environment. In fact, according to the International Energy Agency, data centres and data transmission networks contribute to almost 1 per cent of energy-related greenhouse gas emissions. Hence, it’s important to look at both physical and digital factors.

After you evaluate your physical and digital carbon footprint and analyze the effectiveness of your sustainability practices, it’s time to figure out what facets to change and kickstart initiatives to reduce consumption and conserve resources. Take note that reducing consumption shouldn’t impact customer satisfaction or employee engagement. For example, getting rid of all the coffee in the breakroom may conserve resources, but it’s also likely to result in unhappy employees.

Some ideas to conserve resources:

  • Install sensors, so lights turn off when no one is using the conference rooms.

  • Reduce shipping carbon costs: Maximise the loading of trucks so fewer trips are required, optimise routes, and choose environmentally friendlier modes of transport such as rail or boat.

  • Use sustainable vendors.

Reduce waste

Next, look for ways to reduce waste or create more eco-friendly waste. Reducing waste can look different depending on which industry you’re in. In manufacturing, this may mean using more of your manufacturing supplies or perishables before they expire. For example, many beverage companies are ditching plastic six-pack rings for paper containers that keep cans together in an effort to reduce the use of plastic. In tech industries, waste reduction may mean switching to a green hosting company or migrating to public cloud services, which can help reduce carbon intensity by 84 per cent.

To increase the impact of waste reduction efforts, businesses should look for ways to reduce waste during manufacturing, at their home offices, and in the products themselves. A large portion of the CO2 emissions that drive climate change are generated by businesses, so these changes can have a huge impact on the future of our world.

A Sustainable Future Starts With Your Business

It’s easy to assume a few small changes won’t impact the environment. However, these small changes add up and can have a massive impact on our world, the future of work, and your bottom line.

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