5 Tools for Businesses Committing to Environmental Sustainability

Deciding to make a serious investment to environmental sustainability is a big step for any business, large or small, and should be done carefully. That’s why, when creating a strategy to make your business more environmentally sustainable, its important to know what constitutes a meaningful commitment to environmental change.

It seems that every company or brand is attempting to “green” the corporate image or has at least one product that’s “eco-friendly.” With this flurry of corporate environmentalism, deciphering between legitimate and illegitimate commitments to protect the environment is becoming more difficult. How can small and medium sized businesses that are actually interested in pursuing environmental sustainability do so in an efficient, effective, and credible way?

This article offers five tools for making a meaningful business commitment to the environment (information in this article was collected from over 30 different corporate commitments to environmental sustainability during a two-year study at UCSB).

1. Play to Your Strengths

sproutFind out what your business does that’s unique and how your operations might impact the environment, choose one that needs improvement, and pick environmental commitments that make sense for you.

Companies committed to promoting sustainability should focus on addressing the parts of their businesses that cause the most ecological harm. Making sure to address the role that your company itself plays in fostering environmental harm separates your company from the rest and will truly add to the value of your sustainability commitment.

To further impact the environmental consequences of your business’s operations, you should always strive to improve transparency through collection and publication of environmental data – your community wants to understand your successes and celebrate them with you, so don’t hide your environmental performance. It is also important to constantly re-evaluate your goals, targets, and progress. The process of achieving environmental responsibility is ongoing and will never be finished: what worked three years ago may not be working today.

2. Mold Efforts to Your Internal Culture, Involve Everyone

Rather than solely dictating environmental changes from the top down, it is important to include every sector, department, and individual into your new environmental business strategy. Making sure that employees are on board and understand their roles in promoting responsible behavior is crucial for the success of any sustainability program. The strongest commitments are often spearheaded or supported by C-level executives and include a relative shift in corporate culture. Ideally, environmental efforts should be adopted holistically, rather than by a single department or environmentalist employee. If environmental responsibility is pursued from the top down, the bottom up, and the middle out, the chances of truly integrating environmental sustainability into long term business strategies are much more probable.

One of the best ways to gain company wide support for environmental sustainability programs is to speak directly with employees and/or colleagues. Do some research to find out who is interested in environmental sustainability, and try to understand the various strengths of every interested individual within the company. Understanding these strengths will show you which people should take on which environmental responsibility tasks, and will eventually create a larger community of corporate environmentalists.

It is also important to encourage an open dialogue between all levels of your business and make sure to listen to what everyone has to say about their environmental contributions and ideas. This will allow everyone involved with the company to feel like they have a stake in the company’s business and environmental success, ultimately ensuring better outcomes for environmental sustainability projects and more.

3. Gain Public Credibility

One of the most important aspects of a successful sustainability business initiative is community support. It’s always necessary to demonstrate to your customers and business partners that your commitments to environmental sustainability are credible and valid – in part, so that your hard work does not go unnoticed.

Screen shot 2014-05-01 at 11.49.53 AMCompanies attempting to incorporate sustainability principles are sometimes accused of “greenwashing,” and it’s essential for you to you separate your environmental efforts from these kinds of accusations. The best way to do this is to follow through on your environmental commitments – don’t make promises you can’t keep. It is also imperative that your company sets attainable environmental goals and efficiently meets them.

Other ways to gain public support are to illustrate that your efforts are reliable by bringing in third party assurances, creating NGO partnerships, or joining a network of environmentally reputable companies. These kinds of organizations can verify your existing environmental commitments and strengthen future ones. Through your environmental efforts and business expertise, you will most likely help to strengthen the preexisting environmental goals of your third party organization – creating “win-win” business and environmental opportunities for everyone involved.

1% for the Planet, in close partnership with LoaTree and sister company LoaCom, represents a network of environmentally minded companies who are interested in doing the right thing and protecting the environment. All companies involved with 1% for the Planet give at least 1% of annual revenues to addressing serious global environmental concerns. 1% for the Planet’s stellar reputation and track record provides a great jumping off point for any business interested in promoting environmental sustainability in a credible way. Joining such a network could really bolster the credibility of your environmental efforts.

4. Cut Costs, Not Corners

plasticsOne of the best aspects of incorporating environmental sustainability into your business is the potential to save money in the future. Making sure to adequately view sustainability investments and their future returns is critical for establishing the best cost savings from your environmental projects.

Some of the most common ways to cut costs are to reduce electricity consumption, reduce water use, divest from plastic water bottles, make an effort to “go paperless,” or start a better recycling/waste reclamation program in the office. These “low hanging fruit” options are a great way to get started on a transition to “greener” business. Other options include office composting, waste reduction, retrofitting, or community development. Of course, not all options make sense for every company, that’s why it’s important to carefully weigh these investment decisions. Be meticulous in consistently setting and re-evaluating your goals. Don’t cut corners in your goal setting, strategizing, or decision making- doing so could result in failure to reach your original environmental goals.

5. Showcase Your Work

Don’t forget to publicize your successes and lessons learned. Finding a way to demonstrate to the community your company’s hard work and serious efforts will go a long way toward reinforcing the behind-the-scenes efforts of your employees, colleagues, coworkers, and community, bringing everyone together in the name of corporate environmentalism. LoaTree is an excellent resource for helping you get the word out on the importance and viability of your environmental sustainability work. Feel free to contact them if you have successful environmental commitments or important goals you would like to showcase to the community.

Following these five guidelines could be a simple start to helping you improve your business, corporate culture, and environmental footprint for long-term sustainability.

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Written by Juliet Taylor. Juliet recently received her Master’s Degree at the University of California Santa Barbara. She specializes in sustainable development and the environment and has spent the past several years studying the corporate benefits of adopting environmental sustainability programs.

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