How to write your sustainability policy

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Companies and agencies are under more pressure than ever to meet environmental responsibilities. A sustainability policy defines your commitment to towards ethical and environmentally-friendly practices within your organisation, but where do you start?

Why develop a sustainability policy?

It has become very important for organisations and companies looking to contend for public sector contracts to demonstrate a sustainability policy. All government departments are now targeted on reducing their carbon footprint, decreasing waste and improving sustainability. So, it is vital that any service they purchase offers assurances of contributing towards their set performance indicators.

This trend is not limited to the public sector either, with sustainability often featuring heavily in corporate responsibility initiatives. Some private companies are also looking to only work with suppliers that boast a sustainable approach to meet their required mandates.

A sustainability policy should outline your commitment to practices and standards designed to promote environmentally responsible operations.

How a sustainability policy can help your business

While creating and implementing a sustainability policy may require initial investment, some of the advantages you will receive include the following:

  • Adherence to current environmental legislation
  • Streamlining business processes, creating less waste and using less energy
  • Create a better reputation with environmentally conscious customers
  • Improve your standing with stakeholders in the business

Initial considerations

When you are creating your sustainability policy there is no standard layout. This is where gaining ISO 14001 certification can help your business. This gives you a set process for creating environmentally aware systems within your business, and once you have achieved full certification, it allows you to officially demonstrate competence in this area to prospective clients.

Should you decide to complete your own sustainability policy, the key questions you need to consider are:

  • How do you plan to prevent and reduce your environmental impact?
  • How are you going to ensure compliance with all relevant green legislation?
  • How will you continually improve your sustainability performance?
  • What steps will you put in place to manage and communicate the policy?

It is important that you also take the context of your company into account. If you are working in the haulage industry, then it would be appropriate to review how you can start to use green fuels and energy efficient vehicles to cut down on emissions. More so than saving waste paper in the office, although both activities can contribute towards your policy. Look at the maximum area of impact and assess how you can make reductions.

It may be worth reviewing Cancer Research’s policy, which you can download online, to get an idea of how a professional organisation in the public sector is constructing their policy.

How a sustainability policy can help you commercially

Many organisations now have sustainable procurement policies. Defra is one example, publishing its policy statement online. While any ultimate buying decision will require you to still demonstrate reliability, cost efficiency and competence within your chosen industry sector, there are definite advantages to having a watertight sustainability policy.

With more public organisations requiring a standardised demonstration of adherence to environmental considerations, this is where ISO 14001 certification as part of your sustainability can really pay dividends. With prequalification becoming increasingly necessary to even bid on certain public sector contracts, ISO 14001 gives you a fast and simple way to prove your competence in this area.

Additionally, if your company can help contribute to the buyer’s own environmental targets then this can place you in better standing to win the business. Organisations are now looking to make cuts in all kinds of areas. Offering to help reduce their carbon footprint or remove toxic or harmful chemicals from its global production process, for example, could be extremely attractive from a purchasing perspective.

The importance of community investment

Sustainability doesn’t have to be solely based around production and consumption. It can also consider your wider impact on the populations around your business locations and the well-being of your employees.

For instance, if your company is a major employer in a local area, setting up green charity drives or allowing your workers time to support local green issues could help both your reputation and improve employee morale. This is a good example of how evaluating the wider context of your environmental impact can lead to better efficiency in the business as we know that happier employees are more efficient.

Reviewing your employment practices

Securing employee buy-in to your green initiatives is vital. Taking care of their wellbeing is part of your company’s wider impact and should be a consideration in your sustainability policy. Some more forward-thinking businesses are already implementing six-hour days and finding that productivity is on the up and seeing less sick days.

A good place to start is with your own employees’ suggestions. Rather than simply using an intuitive approach, featuring what you believe is best for the business, focus on allowing your employees to take an active role in decision making. Once you have completed your sustainability process, make sure you share it with your employees.

A final note – retaining relevancy and updates

A sustainability policy is best expressed as a living document that is updated continually in line with the demands of both legislation and the best academic understanding regarding environmental impact and employee wellbeing.

Post your policy on your website. Talk to your suppliers about your policy and see if they can follow suit, with you leading by example. And of course, be sure to integrate your sustainability message into your marketing for the maximum results.

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Written by Neill Gatley

EMS Scheme Manager - Experienced management systems Lead Auditor and EMS Scheme Leader. Assessing clients management systems to the requirements of ISO 14001, ISO 9001, ISO 27001, ISO 45001, OHSAS 18001.