WHY EMBRACE SUSTAINABILITY?
Businesses of all shapes and sizes can reap real rewards from embracing sustainability
Attract customers and loyalty by showing you care about people, communities and climate
Avoid the costs and reputational fall-out of a damaging, unforeseen event
Cutting waste and energy use can significantly lower costs
Thinking about sustainability means looking forward, innovating and future-proofing
Increasingly, businesses need to demonstrate sustainability credentials to win work
EQUALITY, DIVERSITY, INCLUSION
Sustainability goes hand-in-hand with being inclusive and caring
MORALE & PRODUCTIVITY
Improving sustainability often means a happier, healthier, more productive workforce
PART OF THE COMMUNITY
Strengthen local relations and networks, cementing your place in the community
WHAT DOES SUSTAINABILITY MEAN FOR BUSINESSES?
Being sustainable means different things for different businesses, but it’s about thinking about the future, minimising harm, and maximising the benefits you can create for society and our environment, now and going forward. Increasingly organisations recognise the business benefits of sustainability, as well as wanting to contribute to a greener, better future for the communities you serve.
The list below aims to help all types of businesses, but especially SMEs, get started or ramp up your efforts, whether it’s taking small steps, or carrying out a wider review and developing a full strategy. For greater impact, and a more cost-effective approach, integrate sustainability into your wider business planning and processes rather than treating it as an add-on.
1. CONSULT STAFF, CUSTOMERS, SUPPLIERS
Talking to or surveying your people and the people and partners you serve and work with will bring a wealth of ideas, from small steps to long-term endeavours. Ask what sustainability means to them, what you could do now and into the future, and how you can help them to be more sustainable. Try to involve as many people as you can, as positively as you can, as you go through the steps below.
2. DO A WASTE AND PLASTIC AUDIT
One of the biggest environmental impacts of businesses is from waste, and it’s often the simplest to drastically reduce, bringing cost savings too. You can find advice on the process, ideas and templates from Plastic Free July, Zero Waste Week, and Safety Culture, but adapt them to suit your workplace, and don’t forget to consider waste that’s taken away or produced off-site but is still due to your activities. You may also be able to get advice from your local authority’s waste and recycling department. Once you’ve analysed the types of waste your organisation produces, how much, when, where and whether it’s being recycled, identify steps and set goals to reduce this. Use principle of ‘reduce, reuse, recycle’: your first goal should be to reduce how much you use in the first place, then to reuse as much as you can, then to recycle what’s left. Also see our advice on waste for individuals and families.
3. ASSESS ENERGY USE AND CARBON FOOTPRINT
Use free online tools to assess energy use and carbon footprint. This Energy Saving Trust guide takes you through the steps. Try using the Carbon Trust’s free calculator for small businesses, which covers energy use and transport, and see their guide to carbon footprinting. Or you could try Climate Stewards’ tool, which includes suppliers, waste and water, or sign up to access free tools for carbon assessment and tracking at Julie’s Bicycle, designed for the arts sector, or if you’re in farming see https://coolfarmtool.org/. You might find tools available from your sector’s trade associations tailored to your type of work.
4. LOOK AT WIDER IMPACTS AND SUPPLY CHAIN
It’s usually easier to assess direct impacts than those from secondary activities like commuting and your suppliers. But you should still take these into account. Some of the tools above can help, or try using a paid-for service, like from the Carbon Trust or Energy Saving Trust. Even if it’s harder to measure and influence indirect emissions, you can still take straightforward steps to improve. For example, helping and encouraging staff to walk, cycle or use public transport to get to work (see Sustrans’ advice) can be hugely beneficial to your team and the environment. And talking to your suppliers about sustainability, sharing what you’re doing, and asking what they’re doing, could create a ripple effect.
5. EXPLORE GREENER WAYS OF WORKING
Consider what changes you and your workforce can make, especially if they make your work easier, more pleasant and productive. Look at existing policies and procedures: what could be adjusted to reduce negative impacts like waste, energy use, pollution, and improve positive impacts like inclusion, health, wellbeing and biodiversity? There may be small changes that cost nothing (or save money) that will make a big difference. As well as aiming to reduce emissions and waste, think outside the box about ways to benefit the climate and communities, such as whether your site, workspace and assets can be used to greater positive effect. For example, do you have outside space that could be planted with pollinator-friendly plants, shrubs or trees? Do you have a meeting space that could be used by community groups?
6. DRAW UP A PLAN & TARGETS
Once you’ve consulted your people and partners and assessed your carbon footprint and the wider impact you’re having and how this could improve, make sure you record this and set out a plan, with dates for regular review. This could be a simple action plan with immediate steps you’ll take in the coming year, or a comprehensive strategy with targets for reducing emissions in stages over the next 5-10 years and beyond for each of the areas of impact you’ve assessed. The UK government has committed to net zero emissions (100% below 1990 levels) by 2050, with an interim target of reducing by 78% by 2035, but many organisations and local authorities are going further faster. You’ll find advice from the Carbon Trust on setting net zero targets, or going beyond this with science-based targets towards carbon neutrality, or download a free guide to net zero here.
7. ENGAGE THE COMMUNITY
Sustainability isn’t only about reducing negative environmental impacts: it’s also about being inclusive and delivering social benefit. Engaging with and supporting local communities goes hand-in-hand with sustainability, and can make your business a more well-recognised, valued part of the community. This could involve providing the time for your staff to do local volunteering, or working with local community groups to organise or sponsor an action day or community event about sustainability. Use the chance to ask local people how they think your business could be more sustainable. See our advice for individuals on connecting with communities for more ideas.
8. PROMOTE AND REVIEW YOUR PROGRESS
Whatever steps you’re taking to improve sustainability, make sure you regularly review progress, including assessing impact as part of your annual planning, and perhaps giving a small group of staff responsibility for tracking and driving progress as sustainability champions. And make sure you shout about your achievements. Communicate what you’ve achieved to staff, partners, suppliers and other stakeholders, offer to share good practice and advice with others, and always ask and be open to what more can you do.
9. EMBED A SUSTAINABILITY CULTURE
Sustainability should be an ongoing process, and embedded and prioritised across all of your work and thinking. The awareness and buy-in of all staff and key stakeholders is crucial, so consider how you can use internal and external communications and engagement to reinforce this and empower your people and partners. Consider how you can support your people, partners and their communities to be more sustainable away from your sphere of work, and keep sharing what you’re doing, being honest about the need for going further. Creating a sense of pride in being a sustainable business will help to keep this at the forefront of people’s minds.