With the climate crisis becoming more dire, many companies and their customers are rightly adopting more sustainable practices and making more environmentally responsible decisions. They are reducing the amount of waste they generate, thereby reducing their overall environmental impact. Some are utilizing 100% renewable energy and using less water. On the other hand, some businesses have been slower to adapt to the increased concern around climate change, which can have long-term effects on public perception.
Putting sustainability at the forefront of strategic business plans and executing on corporate sustainability objectives offers numerous potential benefits, from the financial to the reputational and beyond. And taking sustainable initiatives public can further solidify a company’s position in the market as an environmentally conscious organization.
Why prioritize sustainability?
Many executives now understand the importance of sustainable initiatives, but not all organizations fully commit to improving on those fronts. Businesses that successfully lessen their environmental footprints by reducing waste can realize the following benefits:
- Achieving cost savings—reducing resource consumption limits the generation of pollution, leading to improved economic efficiency. Cost savings can even be reinvested in additional sustainability efforts to further expand an organization’s positive impact on the planet.
- Enhancing credibility, trust, and brand reputation—stakeholders increasingly judge companies by their corporate values, and according to Pew Research, about six in 10 Americans (62%) say climate change is affecting their local community. Committing to waste reduction and being transparent about progress helps to build credibility and relationships based on trust with customers, partners, and employees.
- Meeting customers’ needs—by committing to sustainability, operations can more quickly respond to environmental qualification criteria that their corporate customers build into their purchasing procedures. In addition, a majority (77%) of Americans prefer to purchase from brands that prioritize efforts to fight global warming, according to a recent survey by the Harris Poll. This further strengthens the business case for sustainability as a driver of customer satisfaction.
- Raising market standards—investing in sustainable strategies helps businesses create higher market standards and makes it more difficult for competitors to resort to justifying unfair practices or environmentally irresponsible production methods. For instance, if more paper manufacturers sold products certified by the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC), that may spur additional competitors to seek out certified, responsibly sourced products.
- Anticipating stricter regulations—by choosing environmentally responsible practices, businesses can be prepared for changing legal regulations, which in turn helps reduce operating risks, improves discussion and communication with public decision-makers, and can ultimately deliver a competitive advantage.
- Improving employee engagement and talent acquisition—sustainability efforts can and should engage employees and build a sense of community. They can also support talent acquisition efforts. When two employment options offer the same pay, working for a company that is attentive to social and environmental issues like waste reduction can be more attractive to many applicants, especially young people.
Take your environmental conscience public
Organizations dedicated to transparency around sustainability gain an edge on competitors who fail to adequately promote their environmental efforts. Here are three important tactics for spreading a message of environmental consciousness:
- Use the web effectively—having a section of a company website dedicated to sustainability, or including downloadable reports and white papers with detailed statistics on corporate environmental data, are effective ways to digitally demonstrate that protecting the planet is high on a company’s list of priorities.
- Set specific targets—identifying detailed targets—such as a 20% company-wide reduction in average annual paper waste over five years—helps quantify and further validate the seriousness of any commitment. These specific commitments can attract publicity and further boost a brand’s image as a company that is dedicated to making a difference.
- Show your credentials—businesses should proudly display certifications they obtain in the process of meeting sustainability targets. This may include recognition from LEED, which acknowledges buildings and products committed to energy efficiency and sustainable operations, or from FSC. For the paper industry specifically, FSC certifications represent the gold standard of sustainable operations.
No Time (or Resources) to Waste
Meeting ambitious yet achievable standards of sustainability—like those created by LEED, FSC, the United Nations or the Science Based Targets initiative—can affirm a brand’s commitment to protecting the health of the planet. But the business case for sustainability goes beyond a brand’s image.
A survey of individual investors by Morgan Stanley revealed 71% of respondents believe “companies that focus on the environment and social goals will actually earn better returns.” There is now further evidence behind this: An MIT study compared companies dubbed “embracers” of sustainable action and the more ”cautious adopters,” or companies adopting less robust sustainability objectives. In the study, 71% of the “embracer” employees believed environmentally conscious decisions have added to their companies’ profits. Meanwhile, less than a quarter of employees at businesses described as “cautious adopters” of sustainable actions believed that profits had increased as a result.
Thus, a carefully planned, well-rounded commitment to sustainability is not just an appropriate response to the growing public demand for sustainability. It is a wise decision for the financial future of any organization on this rapidly warming planet.