These 12 benefits of becoming sustainable can help any business or organization.
When it comes to sustainability, a lot of folks and organizations are often left scratching their head. What does it actually mean? Will it definitively help my organization? What are the benefits? In other words, as a business, how does becoming sustainable affect our bottom line?
Ten years ago sustainability was a hot concept. We had folks calling and emailing us asking what we knew about it, how they could start looking into it, etc. Then something happened. It was like the perfect storm. The economy took a nosedive. Everyone started watching their spending. People were laid off, facilities were mothballed, and only the most needed things were given any financial backing. Long story short, the pipe dream of becoming sustainable for many, many organizations was shelved. But why?
We found most people abandoned the concept of sustainability because they didn't clearly understand what it meant, and they couldn't define a clear return on any 'sustainable' investments they made.
Let's be honest here, most businesses are still firmly holding onto that mindset. The majority of businesses in the United States are running leaner and more cautious than ever. Sure, they'll spend money and lay out capital, but only when it makes sense. Just because something's vogue or in trend doesn't mean it's worth throwing money at.
But, sustainability isn't just in vogue. It's not a temporary trend. It's not going to go away. We're not ever going to go back to doing business like we did in the 50's. Click here to learn what is sustainability.
Now that the recession is (hopefully) in the rear-view mirror, should businesses and other organizations be taking a hard look at increasing their level of sustainable practices?
Are there benefits to becoming sustainable?
Of course, I'm biased and my answer is yes, but ask a layman, and you'll most likely get the same answer. Should we stop burning as much fossil fuel? Should we look into more efficient means of production? Should we reduce our carbon footprint? Do we need to re-evaluate how we use natural resources?
If you're thinking 'No' to any of those, stop reading and go back to daydreaming. It's not about you, it's about the future. Your kids. Your kid's kids. Your children and grandchildren are going to depend on the choices we make today.
Let's look at some solid, sound reasons why you need to reconsider sustainability. Take these 12 reasons why becoming sustainable makes good business sense:
1 - Becoming sustainable means a reduction in energy usage.
Not always, but most operations that start implementing sustainable practices almost immediately notice a reduction in their energy demand. For example, a client of ours modified their facility to incorporate new, more efficient machinery and experienced a drastic reduction in their energy demand. So they technically didn't do anything "sustainable", but just upgraded and got with the times. Their reduction in energy needs is certainly a step towards sustainability.
Maybe you can't upgrade. Have you considered alternative energies? Another client of ours with a massive piece of property installed a very large solar panel array. Sure the up-front costs were high, but at this point, they've recouped a large amount of their outlay, gotten some great tax breaks, and are able to advertise that they run an operation powered mostly by solar energy made onsite.
2 - More efficiency often means less waste...
If you take a hard look at your operation, chances are you'll find ways to reduce the waste you generate. How can you trim the fat? Maybe it's material reuse. Maybe it's recycling. Maybe it's something one of your employees suggested which sounds far-fetched but might be a brilliant idea. A reduction in the waste generated at your operation can not only be financially lucrative but can become a great selling point when discussing or advertising your facility and processes.
3 - …which means less pollution
I know I've said I was going to stay away from touchy-feely stuff, but bear with me. Reducing your environmental impact can be more than financially lucrative, not just because of a reduction in waste generated. Think of my client above. How can upgrading or modifying your facility, or alerting your business processes save you a headache? Can you eliminate your expensive wastewater discharge permit? Maybe it can reduce the use of expensive air pollution control equipment? How about a reduction in environmental regulatory compliance fees (and possibly fines) associated with these activities? Sure, the biggest benefit here is keeping the environment cleaner and greener (which obviously isn't a bad thing), but there's a very significant chance at saving money here too.
4 - Sustainable practices usually mean an overall reduction of operating costs.
So, we've just covered a few areas above that will reduce your operating costs, but are you really thinking outside the box? How can you cut costs while benefitting the environment? Are there raw material substitutions that can be used? Can your by-product be reused, sold, or even donated for a tax break?
A classic example of this is what I like to call the brewery to farm example. Go into any brewery in America (probably across the world too) and take a tour. They'll give you the full run-down on how they make beer, what goes into it, etc. For those that don't know, a ton of grain goes into making beer. Once the brewery uses it for its intended purposes, the grain is no longer useful to them. So what do they do with it?
They donate it to farmers for use as feed for livestock. In fact, most farmers will come and pick the grain up! Think about it: no waste disposal fees and great publicity for the company's local image.
Remember, sustainability is about more than just improving your bottom line. People, planet, profit (not necessarily in that order) means helping out the company, the local environment, and those who exist in it. Sure you can save a few bucks, but you're also helping the planet.
5 - Sustainability doesn't always mean going green.
Take Amazon for example. Or Google. Or Zappos.
These are business powerhouses and they all have one thing in common: their employees love working for them. How does that make them sustainable? Simple.
Happy employees are productive employees. Check out this article by Inc. saying happiness boosts productivity by 10%. Or this Harvard Business Review article that shows happy employees are on average 31% more productive, produce 37% higher sales, and are 3 times more creative.
Like I said above, profit is a staple of sustainability. Become more profitable without expanding your operation and create a workforce that looks forward to getting the job done quickly and efficiently.
6 - Get into better relationships with your suppliers.
Say what you will but sustainability is here to stay. Savvy businesses are getting with the program, and one aspect of that means the people and companies you do business with now are going to start taking that into consideration when doing business with you.
How would your business measure up? More importantly, how would your partners, suppliers, and others you do business with measure up? Look into sustainable supply chain management and figure out where you, your partners, and suppliers all stand.
For you to be sustainable you need to be doing business with other sustainable companies, otherwise it doesn't work. What will your customers and suppliers think of your company and your sustainability program? Will they want to continue doing business with you as they become more sustainable? Do you want to continue doing business with them? More importantly, will you be missing out on opportunities by clinging to the past?
7 - Sustainability almost always means new markets.
Following the last item, the business and financial world are actively seeking sustainable businesses. Have you heard of the Dow-Jones Sustainability Index? How about mutual funds devoted entirely to sustainable businesses? Socially responsible investing anyone? These investors are reviewing your sustainability reports and scrutinizing what you're publishing.
Do you want to attract bright young talent? Do you want to be on the cutting edge? If you want to "keep on doing it like we have for the past X years", good luck, you're living in the past.
If you want to work with the best customers, the best companies, the best suppliers, or if you want financing from the public realm, then you've got to have a program or some practices in place. Don't we all have a dream customer? A dream job? Something simple but highly profitable? Sustainability can get you to a point where this dream becomes a reality.
8 - Sustainable businesses attract better quality investments.
The financial world today isn't interested in dinosaurs. Forward-thinking companies, as demonstrated by a sustainability program, almost always have a much lower financial risk, insurance risk, liability risk, you name it.
You're attractive to customers, the financial world, insurers, etc. Since you're a star, expect to get treated like one, with increased access to capital, reduced underwriting costs, etc. This is an area that can see a wide variety in cost savings and financial opportunities.
9 - Earn some local cred.
Think above and beyond the complaining neighbor. How can you make an impact in your community?
If you want to be welcomed, appreciated, and a vital part of your community, you're going to need to… think about your community! Again, think about big organizations like Amazon. We recently had an Amazon shipment center (or something along those lines) open up around the corner from our office. They were welcomed with open arms because of how they treat their people, their business practices, and their pro-environmental stance.
Let's say you're opening up a new facility. How are you going to be received? How many angry citizens will show up at local meetings? Or, how many happy voices will support you entering their community?
If you want better treatment from your community, you need a good reputation. Sustainability can help. Even being pro-environment and spreading your message (hint, use your website) can help! It can mean an easier time getting local approvals and permits, tax incentives, etc., which all mean less money shelled out up front. Now you've just obtained a big plus for your bottom line.
10 - Build a relationship with government agencies.
This is such a no-brainer it isn't funny. Run a clean, lean, green operation and your inspectors, regulatory agents, and any environmental worries will be a breeze. You'll have fewer inspections, less fines, less hassles, less complaints from neighbors.
We've seen this before to the point where regulatory agencies use clean, environmentally friendly facilities as comparisons when visiting other facilities. That indirect marketing really helps elevate your position as an industry and market leader, all contributing to your standing with officials and the community.
11 - Position yourself as an industry and/or market leader by embracing sustainability.
Sustainability can (and in many, many places already has) become a key component in buying decisions. Organizations, businesses, and agencies are already demanding that sustainability be part of your business if you want to be a part of their project.
A good client of ours was one of only two suppliers in a region who had a product with an EPD. Sure enough, they bid on a job for an extremely forward thinking, multi-national company who would only do business with those who could provide environmental data on their products and services. They ended up getting a very, very lucrative job based solely on the environmental qualities of their product. Simply put, they made a more environmentally friendly product than their competitor, and they got the job.
Notice anything missing from that last paragraph? The words price and cost were nowhere to be found.
You might be saying "my customers don't care, they only buy on price". Great customers you have there…..
Honestly though, that is very much the case for most people today, but it's changing. It's a well-documented fact that consumers are already buying green products in a higher volume than ever before, regardless of the price.
Heck, businesses are buying greener products as well. Chances are the paper in your office is recycled. I'd be willing to bet you're using some sort of energy friendly light bulb in your office right now.
Sustainability can, and will, factor heavily into buying decisions in the future.
12 - Position yourself for the advances of tomorrow with sustainability.
The status quo today will not be the same tomorrow. Times change and you need to be ready to embrace them.
Think about homes. Fifteen years ago everyone was buying the biggest house they could get their hands on. Who can blame them! Now? We're seeing a shift towards urban centers, smaller dwellings, energy efficiency, and living within your means.
Ten years ago everyone wanted the biggest, baddest gas guzzling SUV they could buy. Now? You're seeing the rise of fuel efficient vehicles, all-electric sports cars, and ride sharing programs reducing the need for vehicles at all.
Point is, things change, and you need to be ready to take advantage of any changes that come your way.
If you need to provide documents to illustrate your sustainable supply chain in order to provide your products to a new organization, you'll already have them.
If you need a sustainable certification to provide information about your product, you'll have years of details regarding your product.
It's already happening to organizations. They’re asked for information and are either struggling to provide it as soon as possible, often not having any idea what they need, or they coolly and calmly hand over the necessary info.
Do you want to be standing there scratching your head or standing tall and professional ready to take advantage of a great opportunity?
Have you identified a few benefits you'd experience if you became sustainable?
It's hard for me to fathom why businesses and other organizations today don't embrace sustainability, don't have a sustainable practices plan, or why they go out of their way to argue against sustainability. There's so much to gain, and frankly, not that much to lose. From my perspective, it's a win-win no matter how you view it. A lot of companies today get it, but a lot don't.
But hey, a lot of companies back in the day said I'm not getting a website, or using email. How are they doing right now?
And finally, this. I've mainly discussed financial benefits for sustainability since that seems to be the driver for a lot of businesses today. But really, your actions can, and do make a difference, and we all have our part to play to make this a better world for future generations. The "triple bottom line" really works - sustainability can make a better world, and you can help your bottom line at the same time.
How can you argue with that?