In its latest report, the International Panel on Climate Change advises that even at current levels, human actions contributing to warming the climate are causing dangerous and widespread disruption, threatening devastation to swathes of the natural world. In the face of everything, sustainability in business is growing hard to ignore by the day.
According to Forbes, although 90% of executives think that sustainability is important, only 60% of companies have a tangible sustainability strategy in place. As is often the case, companies speak of being sustainable but are lacking when it comes to implementation. However, these 'quick wins' are quick to be picked up on, alongside other forms of greenwashing.
Not every business has the capacity to launch an all-singing-all-dancing sustainability strategy - but small changes can make a big difference.
With March bringing B Corp month and a wider discussion on sustainability begins, we reached out to experts to tell us what sustainability means to them, and share their guidance on how businesses can begin to solidify their sustainability strategy.
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What does sustainability look like for your business?
For Daniel Mahoney, Global Sales & Marketing Director at Social Energy, “being in the cleantech space means that sustainability is at the heart of our business model. But for us, it’s not just about selling sustainable products.”
“We invest in the right projects and relationships to benefit communities, innovate to deliver the greenest solutions and promote awareness of the big climate problems, not just what sells our products. Ultimately, truly investing in sustainability is what will set apart the businesses that survive and fail in the age of more conscious consumers.”
Conscious consumerism, sometimes referred to as ethical consumerism or conscientious consumerism, has grown rapidly in recent times. According to the Consumer Goods Forum, nearly 80% of people would do as much towards the climate as they did with COVID-19 recovery efforts.
A recent addition to our Network, Creature & Co, is a mission-driven creative agency whose purpose is to ‘create lasting, positive change that makes the world a greener, fairer, more prosperous place for all.
For Managing Director of Creature & Co Peter Johnson, “sustainability isn’t just about progressing environmentally friendly practices, it’s about putting all stakeholders including people (customers and employees) and the natural world as high a priority as shareholders.
"Sustainability isn’t just about progressing environmentally friendly practices, it’s about putting all stakeholders including people (customers and employees) and the natural world as high a priority as shareholders. This ultimately means being kinder to people and the planet."
For e.pop, the very nature of their business revolves around sustainability and efficiency. e.pop is a digital receipts app that connects merchants to customers directly, allowing receipts to be sent, stored and organised without the need of paper. We asked their Co-founder and President, Sunil Rajan, what sustainability looks like for them.
“There are two angles to sustainability at e.pop. The first involves our efforts to be a sustainable business, examining our carbon footprint and taking steps to offset that through numerous reforestation activities and eco-friendly practices. The second is mission-driven in that one of the primary drivers for us even starting e.pop was – and remains – eliminating paper waste from receipts altogether. Sustainability is baked into everything we do.”
What should you consider before starting a sustainability effort?
Wanting to become sustainable is, like most things, easier said than done. Very often, it can be difficult to know what to consider before starting a sustainability project. “It’s important to focus your efforts on something that aligns well with your brand/business story,” says Gemma Chandler, Content Director at Creatures & Co.
“Sustainability is huge, covering many different areas and challenges. It can be overwhelming wanting to help everywhere and anywhere.”
Daniel Mahoney recommends that you should start by “identifying what you want to achieve. So many businesses just try to become ‘sustainable.’ Having a clear and measurable objective so often gets missed, but it is fundamental.’
Gemma Butler, Global Director at The Chartered Institute for Marketing, advises that “every business needs to consider their purpose (why they exist), what sustainability means to them, and understand their impact before starting a sustainability effort. Only then can they make plans which can drive real actionable change and relate that back to people, planet and profit.”
Regarding profit, Peter Johnson acknowledges that becoming sustainable “can be scary for some shareholders who believe their margins might be squeezed by being more ESG focussed. However, businesses with strong ESG strategies tend to be more stable and are doing much better.” But is there any truth to this?
The answer, simply, is yes. A 2019 study by Oxford University and Arabesque partners found that sustainability and ESG practices correlate with lower operating costs, better profitability and superior share price performance.
Where can businesses practically start on their sustainability journey?
When you have a good understanding of what you want to achieve, and why you exist, you’ll be in a good place to start thinking about the practicality of your sustainability journey. Here is the advice our experts gave:
“Education and awareness are key when it comes to starting your sustainability journey. Being aware of the macros environment you are operating in is a fundamental requirement and understanding things such as The Paris Climate Agreement, the UN Sustainable Development Goals and regulation related to sustainability and the environment in your industry, are all key to building a broader, longer-term roadmap for your business.”
“An obvious play to start is something that actually saves businesses money. When commercial and sustainability goals are aligned, the process tends to get much more buy in across the business. With energy costs rising massively, I’d recommend businesses look at installing solar and other energy bill-slashing green technologies, which make financial sense.”
Therefore, a crucial acknowledgement for businesses is the value of being networked.
At e.pop, we integrate sustainability directly into actions we were performing anyway but amplified them by partnering with various other organisations around the world. A good example is reforestation efforts via partners to not just drive carbon neutrality but go further to be carbon negative.
The other practical starting point for businesses is community-building. Being a part of and connecting individuals, consumers, organisations and other businesses working toward the same goal is valuable and moves the needle, and one doesn't need to be far on the journey to sustainability to begin.
“Going through the initial certification process of becoming a B-Corp business is a really good place to start.
This will give you a clear benchmark against how your ESG policies stand up against other businesses of your size and provide useful tools to help your business become better.”
As consumers themselves continue to be more proactive in their climate-saving efforts, they are expecting more from brands and looking beyond the effectiveness of a product/service to consider its sustainability.
It’s critical for companies to address the gap between knowing and doing. As Peter Johnson says, “the days of getting away with greenwashing are fast coming to an end as a next generation of sustainably savvy consumers closely scrutinise product packaging and company credentials.”
Here is a breakdown of our experts advice:
- Identify what you want to achieve and have clear and measurable objectives.
- Start by considering what will save your business money.
- Install solar/other green technologies to generate energy.
- Keep up to date with the latest regulations related to sustainability and environment in your industry.
- Take a look at the certification process of becoming a B-Corp company.
With thanks to our contributors
Daniel Mahoney, Global Sales & Marketing Director, Social Energy
Social Energy are a smart energy provider working across sectors to effectively reduce carbon emissions and make renewables more profitable. From creating solutions in large-scale energy trading to lowering the heating bills for those in social housing, Social Energy ensure that everyone can benefit from a renewable future.
Sunil Rajan, Co-Founder, e.pop
e.pop (electronic proof of purchase) is transforming the way consumers and businesses think about environmental sustainability, eliminating paper receipts altogether while delivering retail merchants greater data, analytics and insights, and providing a valuable consumer engagement channel.
An environmentally safe and efficient alternative to paper receipts, e.pop automatically sends new transactions securely to its mobile app with itemised digital receipts without consumers needing to share their email information with merchants. e.pop was co-founded by Sunil Rajan and Sunay Shah with the aim of enabling sustainable practices for both consumers and businesses and making our daily activities efficient.
Gemma Butler, Global Director, Chartered Institute of Marketing
The Chartered Institute of Marketing is the world’s largest community of marketers that support, represent and develop marketers, teams, leader and the marketing profession as a whole. The Institute was founded in 1911 and has over 30,000 members, including more than 3000 registered Chartered Marketers.
Peter Johnson, Managing Director, Creature & Co.
Creature & Co. are a purpose driven creative agency that helps brands drive positive change for the benefit of people and planet.
They are experts in helping brands navigate purpose, and their team has years of experience communicating a wide range of complex, challenging and sensitive world issues - from deforestation to poverty – nurturing audiences through education and solutions-focused action.
If you are wanting to kick-start your sustainability efforts and are looking for support, GO! can help put you in touch with the right people. Contact us here.