We may be overwhelmed with all things Covid at the moment, but the other looming global issues are not going away.
It is easy to get trapped in the short-term (we all do it), but as we recover from this pandemic, the question is: can we do so in a ‘greener’ way that takes into account the challenges of the future?
Here are ten reminders of ways businesses can have a more positive impact on society and the planet, whilst still protecting a healthy bottom line.
REMEMBER YOU ARE STILL A BUSINESS
Adopting more ethical and sustainable practices is not just ‘the right thing to do’, it also makes complete business sense. Getting that mindset right helps everyone. Without it, your best-laid plans and ethical aspirations may simply be unworkable in the long term and therefore unsustainable. Remember, it’s hard to be green if you are in the red.
The case for adopting more ethical and sustainable business practices is a strong one, which includes driving long-term revenue, reducing costs, and managing risk.
VIEW THE BIGGER PICTURE
A good place to start understanding sustainability from a global perspective is the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, adopted by United Nations Member States in 2015. At its heart are the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
These 17 SDGs recognise that “ending poverty and other deprivations must go hand-in-hand with strategies that improve health and education, reduce inequality, and spur economic growth – all while tackling climate change and working to preserve our oceans and forests.”
Try reviewing the SDGs and take inspiration in terms of areas your business can make a difference. If they feel a little overwhelming, check out The Good Life Goals which provide a more accessible interpretation that can be applied by anyone.
CHALLENGE YOUR COMPANY’S PURPOSE
There is much talk about purpose in business these days, but what does it mean?
In short, your ‘moral’ purpose should be greater than the products you make or the services you provide.
Knowing what intrinsically motivates your people (employees, customers, partners), what you’re built to do better than anyone else, and where you can deploy that passion and talent to serve a need or solve a problem in the world, is extremely powerful.
This matrix is from the book Conscious Capitalism Field Guide (Sisodia, Henry, Eckschmidt) and provides an excellent framework for establishing where your moral purpose is or should be.
CHANGE YOUR BUSINESS MODEL (FOR GOOD)
Once you have established a sense of deeper purpose, it is important to reflect that in your business model.
Business is used to success being purely defined by profit, but this is a classic example of short-termism, driven by traditional financial reporting (which has internationally recognised frameworks). Non-financial reporting is less established and therefore less clearly and consistently measured.
The Triple Bottom Line was originally presented by John Elkington. This is a business model that outlines success in terms of protecting People and the Planet, as well as Profit. Getting this delicate balance right is the ultimate goal for a sustainable business.
It should be noted that in his 2020 book Green Swans, John Elkington talks of retracting the concept of the Triple Bottom Line – not because it is bad, but because he is dismayed by how it is being used (or misused) in many businesses today. He feels that many organisations are hiding behind the construct, just paying lip service and using it as a tick box exercise – without any real genuine desire to change the fundamentals of their commercially-driven business models.
Like so much surrounding business ethics and sustainability, it is important to embark on this with genuine commitment, not just for PR purposes.
THINK NET ZERO (AND BEYOND)
An environmental footprint is the effect that a person, company, or activity has on the environment – for example, the amount of natural resources used and the amount of harmful greenhouse gases (GHGs) produced.
More specifically, a carbon footprint is the amount of carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere as a result of these activities.
Reducing environmental footprints is a major priority for business in terms of tackling the climate crisis. It is a complex area and requires expert handling, but every organisation should be working towards a zero environmental (and carbon) footprint by conserving, restoring, and replacing the natural resources used in its operations.
Understanding your environmental footprint (including your supply chain) allows you to set in place clear actions and goals to reduce this. There are now many resources (including basic online carbon calculators) and an array of specialists that can help you achieve ‘net zero’.
ADOPT A MINDFUL BUSINESS CULTURE
It’s important that sustainability becomes embedded into the culture of your business. The message needs to be shared throughout the organisation and not just sit with a few environmentally conscious pioneers or champions. Only by educating and training everyone to understand their impact on other people and the planet, can long-term behavioural change happen.
DEVELOP A CIRCULAR APPROACH TO BUSINESS
The circular economy model is inspired by natural living systems, and promotes the fact that there is ‘no such thing as waste in nature’. Unlike the traditional linear approach of take-make-use-waste, a circular economy is a sustainable ‘closed loop’ model.
It creates value through product recapture and then recycling, restoring and reusing product elements in remanufacturing – thereby radically limiting the extraction of raw materials at the beginning, and the production of waste at the end, of a product’s life. In essence, keeping products and materials in use for as long as possible. For more on this, visit: ellenmacarthurfoundation.org.
IDENTIFY YOUR CONSCIOUS CONSUMERS
We know that mindful consumerism is on the rise, and if a company is falling short on ethical and sustainable behaviour, it could already be losing valuable custom.
But sometimes customers may appear loyal (right now) because a product is good quality, competitively priced and convenient for them to obtain – so they keep buying it. But with dubious ethical credentials and a lack of clearly defined purpose, they may be becoming increasingly conflicted or compromised by a particular aspect or behaviour of the brand (even building resentment with each purchase). As soon as someone else enters the market displaying better and greener business practices, it will be an easy switch.
STAMP OUT GREENWASHING
Marketing exists to persuade customers to buy products. But conscious consumers are on the lookout for false or embellished ethical marketing claims, so they will be exposed.
It is natural for brand owners to have an over-inflated view of their brands, products or services, but some professional cross-examination of claims and statements can flush out the dubious, the doubtful, and the delusional.
It’s important to always: Check the facts; Clarify the details; and Challenge like a customer. Establish not only if you are legally able to make a particular marketing claim, but also morally whether it is wise to do so – are you overstating; missing out an important component; or glossing over something in order to persuade (or mislead) people?
PAY IT FORWARD
Consider who in the world would most benefit from your products or services, but cannot currently afford them? Is it time to give some of your goods or services away for free for the benefit of society?
There are many businesses now adopting a pay it forward principle – designing a business model that can use healthy sales from regular customers to support free products or expertise for those less fortunate. Examples include: Mindful Chef; Hey Girls; and Toms Shoes.
So consider rethinking the old Buy One Get One Free marketing ploy, to Buy One GIVE One Free – helping society and engendering a sense of goodwill and purpose with your customers.
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