When you discover that Adidas is planning to make 11 million pair of shoes from recycled waste this year, you know that the welfare of our planet must be right up there on the agenda of some of the world’s biggest brands. Today, among the most successful corporations is a veritable who’s who of businesses who are not only supremely profitable, but rate highly across a number of ethical criteria, such as gender diversity, carbon and waste reduction and revenues derived from clean products.
While it’s heartwarming to believe that huge institutions and brands are taking responsibility for people and planet, it’s clear there is not only commercial viability in these practices, but commercial benefit. But if you’re only at the starting line of your sustainability journey, how do you begin?
Think big, start small
Yes, change comes at a cost, but an investment in sustainable business practices is, by definition, a positive for the future of a business. That said, it doesn’t have to be insurmountable. Waste reduction is the simplest place to start and it’s practically free. You might have already been taking steps without realising – installing new LED bulbs, reducing paper waste or using new manufacturing processes that result in less waste or require lower levels of raw materials.
Perhaps you can look for inspiration to companies who are right at the top of their sustainability game. Deloitte’s new award-winning office in Amsterdam is a sustainable business dream. Its smart lighting system is integrated with 30,000 sensors to continuously measure occupancy, movement, lighting levels, humidity and temperature, allowing it to automatically adjust energy use. Rain water is collected from the roof and used to flush toilets and employees use a mobile app to customise the light and temperature where they’re working, which them gives them reports on their energy usage. Now, that is a smart use of technology.
Of course, Deloitte are in a financial position to make such a weighty investment and will no doubt see a tangible return within a number of years, but this is not just a long-term energy reduction strategy, it is also commercially savvy in a number of other areas. The regulatory landscape regarding energy use is changing, and sustainable practices are being adopted at a government level. Those businesses who act now to create more energy efficient working spaces may well be future-proofing themselves against fines and maintain their standing with today’s environmentally conscious consumers.
Don’t be a banned brand
A new breed of consumers is changing the way we buy and having a demonstrable impact on the bottom line of ethical businesses, preferring to buy from brands they believe are doing social or environmental good. They make purchase decisions based on their beliefs and the vast majority will lean towards companies who support an issue that is close to their hearts. The opposite also applies – they will refuse to buy a product from a brand which supports an issue that is contrary to their own beliefs. A word of warning – your credentials, intentions and commitment to social and environmental causes can and will be scrutinised. A social media backlash can take a brand from ‘woke’ to ‘broke’, so truth, transparency and authenticity are everything. Those businesses who live and breathe their ethics will likely join the thousands of other like-minded companies in prospering.
Who are your future leaders?
Today, our next generation of business leaders are looking for socially responsible employers and, believe it or not, are willing to work for less money to be a part of an organisation which offers a healthy work culture and a clear sense of purpose. Deloitte found that 73% of employees who feel that they work for a purpose-driven company said that they are engaged with their job.It stands to reason that people want to be part of something positive and feel good about what they do every day. This translates into employees who in turn have a positive impact on their company, are loyal and willing to go the extra mile.
Win. Winning. Winners.
Companies that approach sustainability as a box-ticking exercise to keep the board happy are missing out on the opportunity of a lifetime. This generational change in mindset can be found across customers, employees and even investors, who are all keen to work with brands that have a strong sense of purpose and sound sustainable goals. New and established businesses alike have a real opportunity to rethink their position now and take the first steps towards new ways of operating, fresh connections with your customers and a healthier bottom line.