Making sustainability part of your business - getting started

[This was first posted on the Innospace blog] 

So you want to put sustainability issues at the heart of your business – but where do you start?

Hopefully the first post in this series highlighted why sustainability is so important to your business. This second post will explore how to get started.

If you are at least thinking about doing something then congratulations, you have taken the first step. The next step is to convince others. How you do this will depend a on the business but the principle will be the same – you need to engage decision-makers. This could be the board, your business partner, your members, etc. When you sit down to talk with others you need to:

  • Highlight why sustainability is an issue that matters – hopefully the first post will have helped with this. Every business, whatever size, is affected in some way by environmental and social issues – waste, energy, staff, supplier management, etc. You might want to get a bit more clued up – check out freely available resources on topics such as waste and energy.
  • Make sure someone at a senior level take responsibility for action – a sustainability champion. It could be you. Whoever it is should report progress at future meetings and be supported. One person isn’t going to make things happen on their own, it needs resources and a collective effort.
  • Pick an issue and get on with doing something – the time for action is now. Think about what issues are most important to you and the business and who and how you might go about things. It could be monitoring and reducing office waste or energy use, tackling staff morale, engaging with the community it’s up to you but try to pick something tangible, visible and ultimately beneficial to the business.

Of course it is not a case of engaging decision-makers you also need to involve staff. While it may be true that initiatives are likely to fail without support from the top, they are just as likely to be ineffectual without the support of everyone else in the organisation. People generate ideas and make them work in practice so involve them.

Now you’ve made a start it is time to think things through a bit more systematically. Where is your business when it comes to sustainability? What are you doing already? What are you doing well / badly? You might think about what you do under the following headings:

  • Environment – have you tackled waste, energy and transport issues yet? Do you know which legislation applies to your organisation?
  • Staff – do staff enjoy their work? What sort of terms of employment are there?
  • Customers and suppliers – what do you buy and how do you make purchasing decisions? How do you communicate with your customers?
  • Community – do you engage with neighbours? Are there any issues that need resolving? What about local employment?

It is important to stress engagement again. Don’t shut yourself in a room to think about these issues – talk to people. Checkout what free support is available. If you are a social enterprise or not-for-profit then you could try Merci. For businesses then Enworks is a good place to start. You can progress things yourself with a little time and effort – if it’s too much of struggle then we can also help by providing, for example, a ‘Tackling sustainability’ package to get you started.

If you have some actions in place and are exploring the wider options available to you then you are already one step ahead. In the next post we will look at how you can make sustainability central to how you work and explore the opportunities for making your business stand out from the crowd.

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