7 simple steps to becoming a sustainable business

With COP26 just around the corner it seems as if the world might have finally woken up to the climate crisis, and so is on the hunt for solutions. If you’re a new or existing business that wants to be truly sustainable, here are 7 steps to get you started:

1) Get some fire in your belly — To give yourself the courage & conviction to make your business truly sustainable, start by reading Naomi Klein’s book “This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs the Climate” and Paul Gilding’s book “The Great Disruption”. You won’t fail to be galvanised.

2) Review your company values — If sustainability is to be in your company’s DNA then it needs to be baked into your company values too, so take a good look and make sure it is.

3) Check your KPIs — What gets measured gets done, so it’s critical that sustainability is reflected in your company’s North Star Metric and core KPIs. Bonuses should be linked to your sustainability KPIs too.

4) Review every aspect of your business, including your business model — To be truly sustainable requires a root & branch review of every aspect of your operations; it might even require a fundamental re-thinking of your business model. For example, if your business sells single-use or hard to repair items you will need to figure out how to migrate to a re-use, rental or repair model. Although this may sound daunting, the key thing is to address the low-hanging fruit first, whilst in parallel starting the harder work of re-imagining your business model.

5) Recognise it’s a journey — Don’t let perfection be the enemy of done. It’s best to be upfront about the fact that you’re going on a journey and to communicate that clearly to all stakeholders including your employees, customers, suppliers, shareholders and the media. Then start your journey with some baby steps — it’s amazing how the momentum of some quick wins will encourage you to reach for more.

6) Avoid “stock sustainability” — When it comes to sustainability communications it’s all too easy to fall into the “stock sustainability” trap, which involves a sea of tree/water/lightbulb/planet imagery in various shades of green and blue. There’s absolutely no need to leave your brand values at the door when communicating your sustainability efforts — you can do better than that!

7) No greenwashing — Finally, it can be very tempting to promote your sustainability efforts, and in doing so to completely overlook the bigger picture sustainability challenges facing your business. Consumers are waking up to this and giving increasingly short shrift to businesses that are guilty of it. Here are the greenwashing traps to avoid.

Whilst it can be easy to assume that sustainability comes at the expense of profitability, this couldn’t be further from the truth. Rapidly shifting consumer sentiment, coupled with significant technology innovation, means that businesses that aren’t sustainable will very quickly lose the licence to exist; and those that are will have enormous markets to unlock. To avoid extinction, it’s best to start your sustainability journey today.

A version of this article was first published in Monocle’s Book of Entrepreneurs, September 2021

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