Far too often, the rhetoric of sustainability and the rhetoric of business are at odds. Sustainability means doing less, using less and making less money; business means doing more, using more and making more money.
Under scrutiny, though, this idea falls apart. Businesses can and do make millions while being much more sustainable than their rivals. All it takes is the right business acumen — and a lot of hard work.
Think like a startup
A lot of ink has been spilt about the benefits of thinking like a startup. The idea is that older businesses can become comfortable — and being comfortable is one step away from being complacent. Before you know it, your rivals are taking advantage of your relative laziness and they start stealing customers from under your nose.
Thinking like a startup can help you avoid this. Startups are hungry: hungry for talent, hungry for customers and hungry for new ideas. That last part is where sustainability comes in. Sustainable businesses are perfect for new ideas. They are innovative by nature. The old ways of doing things rely on fossil fuels, cheap plastic waste and other kinds of pollution. By shunning these old ways and building a business differently, you’re already forging an original business plan.
Recognise how sustainability interacts with your business…
Sustainability is an instrument with many strings. Each one can produce music in its own right, but they can also be played together to create music. The message behind that rather strained metaphor is that sustainability is a multi-faceted idea. A reduction in waste saves money, but a reduction in energy use also saves money.
Sustainability can also mean a safer business. There’s a lot to be said about the link between safety and sustainability, especially when the four biggest polluting states by carbon emissions per capita are also the four states with the highest workplace fatality rate.
Then there’s Qatar. The host for the 2022 World Cup has a terrible track record of workplace fatalities. So, it should come as no surprise to discover that it’s also one of the world’s biggest polluters in terms of carbon emissions per capita.
Both safety and sustainability are disciplines which involve planning for their future and acting against the impulses of greed and speed which drives unsafe and unsustainable business. As such, it stands to reason that businesses which are sustainable are also safer.
…And recognise how it saves money
In between reducing waste, reducing energy costs and increasing safety, sustainable businesses end up being more profitable. Less waste means better use of raw materials, lower energy costs is a no-brainer, and safer businesses save money by avoiding fines and recapturing days that would have been lost from ill or injured workers.
A business which is planning for climate change is a business which makes decisions based on strong scientific consensus and a business which is thinking about the long term. Hence, those businesses which are planning for climate change have a significantly higher return on investment (ROI) than those who aren’t.
The long-term is the real goal for sustainable businesses. Investing in a completely renewable, zero-emissions energy system is an expense, but Elon Musk’s battery-powered town in Australia proves it can be done. Once the initial expense has been paid for, the system will eventually pay for itself, because an energy bill of zero is infinitely cheaper than an energy bill of any other figure.
Be loud and proud
As more and more people become aware of the damage we’re doing to the planet, more and more people are actively searching for sustainable alternatives to the products and services which they usually use. In the UK, veganism has risen by 360% in 10 years due to more conscious consumers worried about the sustainability of meat and dairy products.
Being a sustainable business which can prove its sustainable credentials is a great way of pulling in conscious consumers, but it’s not just about the money. There is genuine pride that can be taken in a business which actively helps to make the planet better while still making money.