How to make your business more sustainable

Amy Hamilton Chadwick
How to make your business more sustainable

A greener, more sustainable business isn’t just a nice idea, it’s a win-win-win: people, profits and the planet.

What was once seen as a premium positioning tool is becoming an expectation among consumers – unsustainable practices can seriously tarnish your brand.

Do it right, and recognition can earn you definite bragging rights.


The benefits of going green

“Sustainability used to be about saving money, but now it’s more about managing your reputation and reducing risk, as well as being relevant,” says Carolyn Cox, owner of Green Business Lab.

“Consumer patterns are moving toward sustainable products, especially in the Generation Y and Millennial populations. They don’t want to feel bad about what they’re doing. If you aren’t thinking about sustainability, and your customers are, that’s a risk.”

It goes beyond reputation management, too. Businesses with transparent sustainability plans can also gain a competitive advantage during a tendering process, particularly with larger organisations and government procurement process.

Not only can sustainable businesses attract more contracts, but they also tend to attract a wider talent pool. Younger consumers not only want to buy from sustainable businesses, but they also want to work at a company where they feel like they’re finding solutions, not causing problems.

Job seekers say they would feel a sense of pride in working for a sustainable company, and believe it sends a message that the company cares about its employees. Sustainability also helps workers connect their own personal values to the values of the organisation1.

“Get your house in order,” advises Cox. “Companies have problems retaining and attracting talent if they haven’t looked at their footprint.”


How to get started

There are three main areas for any business to initially target:

  1. Energy use: can the company use less energy? Can it be more energy-efficient? Think about LED lighting, buying energy star appliances, occupant sensors to turn off lights when nobody’s working, plus heating and cooling systems.

  1. Waste management: can your business recycle more of its waste? Can it reduce waste? Look at how much waste goes out and what types of waste are involved. You can use the Renew waste exchange service to connect usable waste products to people and companies that can use them.

  2. Transport: can the carbon footprint be reduced? Can it be offset?

Your business needs to think about each of those areas and come up with a plan for improvements: “no matter what your size, plan what’s important and think about the next step,” says Cox. Once you’re on the right track and able to point to your successes, it allows your business to leverage New Zealand’s reputation for clean, green sustainable commerce.

There’s also plenty of help and some funding available to help you create a more sustainable business.

The website has some great links, including information about an EECA grant worth up to $30,000 to help you pay for an energy assessment and make the improvements recommended. You can apply for a partly-funded energy audit at EECA Business.

An additional $10 million to $12 million is made available each year for waste minimisation projects via the Ministry for the Environment’s Waste Minimisation Fund.

There is also a wide range of certification options available, including Enviro-Mark, carboNZero, CEMARS and Rata, alongside a raft of industry-specific qualifications.


Taking it to the next level

When it comes to sustainability performance, “New Zealand businesses are a fairly mixed bag,” says James Griffin, network general manager for the Sustainable Business Network. Once you get beyond those three basic target areas, there are some world-class initiatives, he says, which make changes to a business’s core operations.

A great local example is Tork, which supplies personal care and hygiene products – you’ve probably seen Tork toilet paper dispensers in a public toilet near you. The company has invested in world-leading product declarations for total ingredient transparency, including the carbon footprint.

Tork is also using digital technology to allow their dispensers to monitor usage, improving customers’ inventory management and cleaning services, says Griffin. This is being trialled for the first time at AUT; Tork has done the analysis on the numbers and believes its continuing innovation will help grow market share.

Another angle for sustainability is your company’s social and community impact. Could your workers all take a day off to volunteer? Could you sponsor a local event or charity? Is there something you could do to improve the natural beauty of your region?

“We have a collective responsibility to protect and enhance the environment we have,” says Griffin. “We have a crowd funding platform for community groups to fund tree planting along waterways to help keep waterways clean. It’s about giving back to the community and social sustainability.”

If you do it right, sustainability should make your business more profitable, he says. It’s all about return on investment – there’s no way sustainability would be so widely embraced if it was a one-way outgoing.

Companies are weighing up the costs against the benefits and throwing themselves wholeheartedly into sustainable investment. Don’t be left behind. 

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