5 Steps to Sustainability

07/02/2011

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How do businesses get on the path to sustainability? The end goal has been increasingly desirable, but getting started can be the toughest part. It can take months, or even years in bigger companies, but this article gives an introduction to the steps to becoming sustainable.


Step 1: The ‘green’ champion

In order for a business to welcome sustainability into the core of their philosophy, there needs to be a champion, perhaps you! Initiatives such as reusing or recycling paper, printing double-sided and ditching the paper cup tends to be started by someone who has a personal interest. These small steps are normally the catalyst for engaging colleagues and managers, which is vital for gaining buy-in, as highlighted in our recent article.

The reality is, before sustainability within a business gains complete acceptance, it needs people to go the extra mile, beyond their normal roles. Forming a ‘Green Team’ can help generate ideas, form targets and help distribute responsibilities. By establishing something structured, it makes the agenda far more visible to managers and directors.

Step 2: Department buy-in

The next step to become a more sustainable organisation depends on a department adopting the new attitude. With the manager of this department instructing their team on initiatives, there is then increased visibility to the rest of the management team within the company. A manager’s added authority means they have the power to draw in more resources to help sustainability efforts move to the next level. Soon, from simple initiatives like recycling paper cups, getting the go-ahead on much harder to implement ideas becomes feasible.

Step 3: Adoption at a strategic level

Sustainability saves money, improves efficiency and can have a remarkable effect on employee motivation. It doesn’t take long then for other departments to adopt the new strategy. As higher level manager and directors¬† become more aware of the benefits, it soon becomes clear that a company-wide strategy will have both greater impact and efficiency.

At this stage then, your company may have a sustainable way of thinking in place, but is it written down as part of your company’s strategy and ethos? When input from the CEO is needed, this is when sustainability becomes a priority. With it being the heart of the business, this is when a dedicated person, or even team, will be needed to implement, train and supervise new strategies.

From small beginnings then, where one person spearheaded initiatives off their own back, encouraging the doubters, there is now a team dedicated for this role who are commissioned to implement these ideas as an integral part of doing business.

Step 4: Involving suppliers

As a precursor to the final step, looking beyond internal operations is the next step in a quest for sustainability. As a customer, your business has weight with suppliers who are competing for your business, so why not use it?

With new suppliers, it is a case of being selective, or demanding that they conform with your sustainable strategy. With existing suppliers, which you may have a strong relationship with, it may be a case of talking to them round to the many benefits of becoming a sustainability focused organisation. Ideally, work collaboratively to find eco friendly solutions to obvious existing problems.

Beyond suppliers, the stakeholder group with which companies actively work at this stage now includes NGOs, investors and customers. With each of these groups, there is much greater cooperation on goals, and a focus on accountability. NGOs in particular are often shining the light on global resource issues, and helping to prioritize initiatives for the company.

Step 5: Outside of the company

At this final stage, sustainability is at a sub-conscious level. There is no thinking about sustainability, its simply how you do things.

Beyond your company though, you can now use your enthusiasm to communicate with your stakeholders on the issue. This can be from encouraging, or even demanding, your supply chain adopts a similar sustainable procurement philosophy, to helping the local community by volunteering your time.

Be sure to share your efforts with investors and customers alike. Being a ‘green’ company only has positive effects for stakeholders, so shout about it!

Getting Started

Hopefully this article has helped inspire you to take the first step towards sustainability within your organisation. To help you get started, we have a guide on how to write a sustainability policy, which should help you generate initiatives to get started with.

ISO 14001, the standard for Environmental Management, provides the structure for organisations to measure their output, helping to reduce waste and save money. Because of its recognition, ISO 14001 is often stipulated for public sector contracts and private sector supply chains.


Read more on achieving sustainability with ISO 14001