Sustainability Policy Tips

08/11/2010

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A Sustainability Policy is a statement outlining your business’ commitment and strategy towards all areas of sustainability. This articles covers what you should consider when starting your own policy and how to write it.

Introduction

Sustainability is an important word in the public sector, with Government departments all having to meet various environmental targets. Accordingly, suppliers to the public sector are expected to follow suit, with a Sustainability Policy often stipulated if they wish to tender for contracts. Increasingly too, the private sector is expecting more environmental responsibility to be shown by their supply chains.

Related to an Environmental Policy, a Sustainability Policy should outline sustainability considerations within business decisions, with a plan of how to prevent issues arising. This might include encouraging staff to use public transport (where possible), to ensuring your business is doing its best to recycle. The idea is to show consideration to the environment and natural resources. Sustainable procurement would also have the objective of social progress that recognises the needs of all stakeholders, including the wider community.

You could consider using an environmental management system to help you manage, measure, monitor and report on your environmental performance. The internationally recognised ISO 14001 standard allows organisations to demonstrate their environmental credentials and is highly regarded for public sector contracts.

Benefits of a Sustainability Policy

Implementing a Sustainability Policy may require some initial investment to change the way your business operates. However, this investment should be quickly recouped due to savings from new found efficiency, energy savings and work opportunities.

A well written Sustainability Policy helps your organisation to:

  • Meet current environmentally related legislation
  • Save money in terms of consumption, waste and recycling
  • Increase efficiency throughout your supply chain
  • Differentiate you from the competition
  • Improve reputation with stakeholders

Getting Started

An in-house risk assessment should be the first step before starting your policy, as it will help you understand the impact your business has on the environment and society. To help you get started, our eco friendly office guide may give some ideas of how your business affects the environment on a continuous basis. You can also read guidance on environmental legislation on  the Government’s Environmental Agency website.

If your business is in the manufacturing sector, legislation is more of an issue, yet even office-based businesses have to consider direct use of resources such as energy consumption. Also consider the full life cycle of the products or services you deliver. Have you thought about the delivering of your supplies, or how your customers dispose of your products? What could you do to improve this?

When it comes to society, consider how your business impacts the local community. This could range from how you source your suppliers, to hiring local people.

When creating your Sustainability Policy, there is no agreed set layout. However, if your motivation behind creating the policy is because of a supply chain requirement, it is wise to obtain a copy of the client’s own so your policy can reflect their requirements. Otherwise, there are numerous templates available on the web.

It’s imperative to have a policy that is both easy to understand and that clearly states the organisation’s aims and objectives, similar to a Mission Statement. It doesn’t need to be longer than a single page.

There are four key areas to address in a Sustainability Policy:

  • A commitment to prevent and reduce environmental impact
  • A commitment to compliance with relevant legal requirements
  • A dedication to continously improving on sustainability performance
  • An assurance that the policy wil be well communicated and manaaged

To help you get started writing your own sustainability policy, you can see links a range of policies below.

Supply Chain and Market Place

Of course, it’s not practical to choose suppliers purely on sustainability criterion. It’s still important to consider quality, reliability and costs. However, by ensuring you use local, like-minded suppliers, you can often find money can be saved. In your policy, you can include:

  • Your sourcing plans and targets
  • That all suppliers are required to provide their Sustainability Policies which are evaluated and noted
  • How you encourage and promote sustainability to your suppliers and stakeholders

Community Investment and Social Impact

What community and charitable projects is your organisation involved in? How much have you spent on donations this year? Have you sponsored any of your employees for any charitable events? Do you allow local students to come in for work experience?

It’s worthwhile involving your employees in deciding what concerns you would like to support, as this will certainly aid buy-in.

Employment Practices

It’s important to encourage employees to help with your initiatives, as collectively they have the potential to contribute massively to reducing your organisation’s environmental impacts; research has proven that engaged employees work harder as a result.

You may start with more obvious things such as reviewing contracts to ensure minimum legal standards are exceeded and there are allowances for a flexible, diverse working environment.

More proactive employee intiatives range from the more common cycle to work schemes, to lunchtime yoga sessions, free annual health checks or even an annual “family day”. If you don’t do anything at the moment, what could you do? Ask your employees for their suggestions.

Once your Sustainability Policy has been finished and signed off by senior management, you should distribute it to all employees.

Influencing others

Once your policy is finished, don’t stop there! Your Sustainability Policy is a communication tool; it also needs to be shared with customers, suppliers and other stakeholders. Then, set a date in the diary for the policy to be reviewed to ensure it remains relevant; this should be at least a yearly activity.

You have an opportunuty to reduce environment impact even further by engaging with your suppliers. Whilst a typical office based business may not have a huge environment impact, together, your suppliers will. Accordingly, use your influence as a client to encourage suppliers and contractors to uphold similar environmental standards, you may even want to make it a requirement to do business with you.

Certainly post your Sustainability Policy onto your website. You could also integrate your green message into all of your marketing materials, hopefully encouraging customers to adopt a similar ethos. By communicating your aims and objectives, it may even bring your organisation more work or help you to retain existing clients.