Everyone agrees that growing a business requires dedication, vision, and both strong leadership as well as a committed workforce to be successful. Yet one of the unfortunately overlooked developments in the last few decades has been how important sustainability has become to professional environments that used to relegate their environmental considerations to the backburner, or off the stove entirely.
In 1987, the United Nations Brundtland Commission defined sustainability as “meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.” This has been commonly framed as a solely environmentalist thought process, opposed to economic development in a bitter struggle that requires sacrifice, economic losses, and minimal realized benefit in the short run.
All of that couldn’t be farther from the truth. As a professor who teaches graduate level MBA courses on sustainable business, economics, and quantitative analytics, my work with nonprofits, for profits, and municipalities working on sustainability at Eighth Generation Consulting, as well as my experience in the solar power industry has taught me that good sustainability practices actually create economic and environmental benefits for organizations looking to invest in themselves and their industry. With my economics degree from the University of Utah, I understand the real value and meaning of money, as well as what it represents: the power and privilege to direct how we shape our material world.
Below, I’ve included my top five benefits and tips for any organization looking to achieve economic and environmental sustainability metrics that mutually reinforce each other. It’s not hard to get started, and even when I perform simple reviews and assessments of organizations, I always find low hanging fruit with actionable value.
Supply Chain Analysis
Ever heard of the phrase waste not, want not? It’s a foundational principle in sustainability that reduction of waste, through the mantra of reduce, reuse, and recycle, has huge benefits to the environment. But what few people realize is that there’s incredible and ongoing economic returns created for businesses who can trim waste from their supply chains. Time is a resource as well as material resources, and a simple review of supply chains and scheduling will be able to identify broad swathes of inefficiencies that cost real cash without any benefit. One hundred percent of cost reduction goes towards your bottom line, whereas only your profit margin on increased sales goes towards your bottom line, meaning that it is always more productive to isolate waste reduction where possible.
Marketing Opportunity Review
Marketing your business and products or services is one of the more intensive aspects of business development, with any marketing team worth their salt indicating that bad publicity is certainly real and impactful in a negative way for most businesses. Reviewing your operations to determine the positive elements of your business that help support or give back to the environment has huge returns for beneficial publicity, as well as avoiding some of the significant issues that can come from accidental issues regarding environmental damages from your operations. Greenwashing, the attempt to frame a firm as more sustainable than they are, fails to create the long-term benefits that real change does, and also invites more attention and issues than you save.
Risk Mitigation Auditing
Legal compliance to local, state, and federal laws around environmental impacts and reporting has become critical for organizations that hope to last in the long term. Bankruptcy is a real possibility when you hope to skirt these requirements, and the fines and fees only multiply exponentially when you are conscious and intentional about avoiding working on these impacts. If you legally have to review your environmental systems and report on these requirements, why not take the opportunity to work with a certified International Organization for Standards 14001:2015 Lead Auditor who can make real recommendations to avoid major legal issues or damaging hazards in the future from sustainability efforts? Getting ahead of the curve proactively is always more affordable than reactively responding to crisis after crisis.
Innovative Research and Development
Reviewing your sustainability policies and the impact that you have on the future is also key to shifting your perspective from the “now” to the “future of nows,” a phrase that while cheesy also explains that having a long-term vision is critical to ensuring profitability that is sustainable. Having an eye to the future forces you to consider cutting-edge developments that help create real side effects for your R&D departments, which can result in entirely new profit centers within a business and would otherwise have been missed by folks trying to pinch pennies with a narrow minded and short-term focus. It also means that you are able to run economic cash-flow analysis on new technologies like solar power, that can result in significant economic returns even in the short run that you might not have considered with a less open-minded perspective. Adapting or phasing out is the reality of industry, and it’s critical that you continue growing and developing to retain and improve your market share.
Workforce Development and Retention Programs
The modern economy has shifted significantly in line with our cultural expectations of work and labor of the last several decades, with sustainability ranked near the top for reasons why employees find themselves appreciating or moving on from the organizations that they work for. We all know how expensive a high turnover rate is for employees, so spending a little money up front to invest in and develop sustainability options ends up becoming more affordable in the long run when you consider that it helps encourage passionate and creative people to stay with your company even when offered higher pay for less equitable and sustainable roles. Providing real meaning and connection to your employees also makes folks work that much harder as they see real benefit that they bring to themselves, their organization, and the world around them, providing real opportunities for efficiency improvements from folks who are not even specialists in that type of work!
Sustainability is clearly an economically valuable consideration for businesses, even those in industries with historically poor environmental impacts. Every business needs to create a real value statement that makes it clear why you are worth choosing when clients usually have several competing options. Sustainability is a way to separate yourself from the herd to clients and existing/future employees, as well as a way to reduce operating expenses and provide investment opportunities. Reach out and connect, and you’ll see just how easy it is to find ways to turn green policies into environmental AND economic benefits to your organization.