Any business has a variety of priorities. In some cases, it may appear as though these conflict with one another. In recent years one area that has seen some attention here is the place of sustainability within companies. There is an increasing expectation from consumers that enterprises display behaviour that is environmentally and ethically sound. Yet, popular belief suggests the measures needed to maintain this might conflict with a business’s need to achieve growth and maximize profit.
This apparent conflict is contributory to the tendency for some companies to act deceptively — appearing to be sustainable while acting otherwise. It is what has popularly become known as greenwashing. But this is ethically unsound and doesn’t address your company’s urgent responsibility to our planet and all who live on it. As such, you need to make sure you can achieve an honest and practical balance of these priorities.
Let’s take a look at how you can best manage a successful sustainable business plan.
Production and Shipping
It’s important to actually examine where changes can be made. Taking the time to perform an audit on the production and shipping aspects of your company, in particular, can help to highlight current areas of environmental damage.
Some elements for your attention here can include:
- Energy Consumption
- When it comes to production, energy can be one of the main resources that are expended. Review who your providers of electricity are, and establish how they produce power. There is a growing number of providers that are utilizing green only and renewable supplies, and switching here can positively affect the environmental impact of your production process.
- It’s also important to audit your production and shipping for energy efficiency. Wastage in this area can not only overuse resources but also put additional pressure on infrastructure. Alongside reviewing your practices for inefficiency, look at the equipment you are using — many computers, lightbulbs, and heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) systems can be replaced with options designed to be energy efficient.
- Packaging Use
- Another key area of environmental waste is in the packaging used when shipping items. Even when your production methods are green, you can’t claim to be sustainable if you send your items out using damaging materials. This can be particularly prevalent when you are trying to operate a sustainable ecommerce business. Start with reviewing the type of materials you are using here. Plastics are non-biodegradable, so consider replacing them with reusable materials such as paper and bamboo.
- Alongside the materials element, review how much packaging you’re using. There is a tendency for businesses to send out small items in boxes that are far too large and use a lot of cushioning material. Create protocols for packing, and where possible, consolidate into a single delivery package.
Marketing is a vital tool for any business. Unfortunately, it has also become one of the primary areas for greenwashing. As a method to communicate with consumers, it is too often being used to mislead them into thinking the products and actions employed by the company are environmentally conscious when in reality they’re anything but. It’s certainly not an ethical practice and it can damage the valuable trust consumers have not just with the individual company but with the wider industry. As such, one of the primary ways customers are encouraged to avoid companies that engage in these methods is to pay closer attention to the use of marketing and packaging materials.
Your business, therefore, needs to take a marketing approach that both exemplifies sustainability, and reassures your customers of your authenticity. On your packaging, don’t just use buzz phrases such as “organic,” “green,” or “natural.” These have very vague definitions, and as such have also been co-opted by less ethical businesses. Rather, be specific about what aspects of your business are sustainable. List where your raw materials have come from, make clear statements about your labour standards abroad.
As part of your sustainable business plan, you should also make certain your marketing campaign itself is built upon solid principles. Rather than print methods, go for online-only campaigns through content marketing, email newsletters, discount codes. Within this, too, it can be important to introduce evidence of your sustainability; give consumers behind the scenes videos of your practices, interviews with your key staff.
Your employees are among your most important assets. This includes their potential for helping you to maintain a sustainable business plan. They can also be an area you may be inadvertently greenwashing. If your marketing states green practices, but your staff is behaving in ways that are less than exemplary, you’re not living up to your responsibilities. Therefore, you need to use your employees intelligently in your plans.
This starts with not being dictatorial; rather, make them a part of designing sustainability solutions. Form a committee of staff from all levels of your organisation, and have them identify aspects evident in their jobs and departments that are problematic. They should then work together to forge protocols for steady change — including communicating best practices to colleagues. Give them ownership over sustainability.
In essence, we’re talking about mutual accountability. This can also extend to making certain high standards of productivity are achieved and maintained. For your company to use minimal resources and attain maximum profit, everyone must be making the most out of the hours in the working day. As such, it’s worth putting measures in place to optimize productivity. Discuss the importance of this with your team and give them responsibility for tracking their own work hours. Categorize tasks and encourage them to report the time spent on them, along with elements that cause delays. Do this yourself, too — transparency is essential here. By getting together and assessing where improvements can be made, it can not only be more profitable for the business, but it minimizes potential wastage.
Across many industries, greenwashing is negatively impacting consumer trust. As such, you must take time to maintain green practices through regular auditing and continued consideration. More informative and honest marketing techniques, alongside a culture of mutual responsibility among staff, can help you to improve in ways that benefit everyone.