Environmental concerns are continuing to grow, and many businesses are responding to these by adopting a business sustainability strategy. Customers want businesses to take action and are aligning their purchases with those who are addressing climate change. According to The Sustainable Agency, 93 percent of consumers maintained or increased their sustainability purchases in 2022.
The purpose of these business sustainability strategies is to aim to minimise a business’s negative effect on the planet and boost its positive impact instead. At its very centre, strategy is all about choices. We are living in a world where we have limited resources and time.
Therefore, a sustainability strategy allows us to decide what to do and what not to do. It gives us a clear vision of what we hope to achieve and creates a roadmap to climate action for businesses. Continue reading to learn more about what makes a strong sustainability strategy and how to create a successful one.
What is a sustainability strategy in business?
We’ve all heard the phrase sustainability strategy, but what exactly does this look like in practice? A sustainable business strategy can be simplified as a set of actionable steps. The purpose of these steps is to help businesses improve their impact on the planet and the community. A sustainability strategy takes time to create and implement. However, when done correctly, it can greatly benefit the business and its team members.
Sustainable business strategies have boomed in popularity over the last number of years as environmental concerns continue to grow. The strategy is unique to the specific business and how it operates. Some businesses have smaller goals because they have less of an impact currently, while other organisations have bigger goals due to how much their operations affect the environment. Additionally, these goals could have various timelines.
Benefits of creating a sustainability strategy
A sustainability strategy has benefits for the community, the environment, and all working within the business. Below are some of the main advantages that come with implementing a sustainability strategy.
A sustainability strategy boosts business growth
Implementing a sustainability strategy brings about a host of advantages to the business. Some of these include lowering business expenses and operating costs, improving overall financial performance, increasing sales, and enhancing reputation.
With a sustainability strategy, businesses can also attract more dedicated employees with similar values and increase their retention rate of current team members. Having this strategy also enhances a company’s reputation for sustainability and improves its internal operations. It is important to note, however, that the sustainability strategy must be implemented correctly to expect the above benefits.
It helps the environment and drives sustainable development
The entire purpose of a sustainability strategy is to help the environment so it should not come as a surprise that this is one main benefit of implementing it. When a business implements a sustainability strategy, they are focusing on reducing the impact their operations have on the planet.
This includes reducing emissions and pollution, increasing the number of materials that can be recycled and reducing waste, and adopting circular designs. However, the ecological advantages of a sustainability strategy will depend on the enterprise and its specific goals.
A business sustainability strategy encourages companies to give back to their community
A final but very important advantage of implementing a business sustainability strategy is that it encourages businesses to reassess their relationship with their community. Businesses often increasingly give back to the community, as a result, which helps both parties experience immense growth.
Organisations also often create initiatives specifically designed to empower their community. Some of these may include participating in volunteer work, creating suitable products, or charitable donations. Businesses can become involved in community education and activism, too, and create programmes that directly help specific groups and members within their community.
Important elements of a sustainability strategy
A sustainability strategy can be rather complicated, but several elements will ensure you create a successful one. One important element, that is non-negotiable is to set clear targets and a plan on how to achieve them. Setting targets is no easy practice because sometimes it is hard to determine the right ones. A lot of businesses set 2030 or 2050 targets, however, they must stay focused on the immediate needs of running a business too.
Therefore, setting shorter-term goals can help businesses drive change whilst staying on track. It is also essential to be agile and embed sustainability in your corporate strategy. The greatest business sustainability strategies are those that push for sustainable development and ignite real change. In a perfect world, an organisation’s business plan is focused on creating long-term environmental, social, and financial value, and ultimately, making a separate sustainability plan redundant.
Achieving a philosophical consensus throughout the business is also vital. In other words, the same sustainability ethos should be maintained across teams and departments. If you have a strong corporate sustainability plan, but your government relations strategy is not aligned, this weakens the enterprise’s overall effectiveness for achieving its environmental ambitions. Finally, you must push for data quality over data quantity. Instead of focusing on collecting as much information as possible, focus on the right data.
How to build a strong sustainability strategy
Creating a business sustainability strategy takes time, and each strategy will be different as it depends on the specific business. The first step in doing so is taking a look at your current business practices and assessing how environmentally friendly they are. Once you understand the genuine impact your business has on the planet, you can begin to address the specific issues.
Your strategy will be a plan where you can address them. Some of the areas you could improve may be more obvious than others. Additionally, a number of the solutions for these issues may be straightforward enough. Others may be harder to tackle, but possible. For example, if your business is not very engaged with its local community, trying to build this relationship back up might take some time and dedication.
Just as it is vital to identify areas of improvement, it is also essential to get your stakeholders involved in the process of establishing a business sustainability strategy. You may be wondering why but the truth is, your stakeholders can be an incredibly valuable resource. They are knowledgeable and experienced individuals who could have certain ideas about how to better engage a specific community or other ways you can have a genuine impact.
After all, they are invested in the company’s success and will recommend changes that will push for exactly that. Another vital group to speak to is your employees as they both work for the business and live in your local community. Therefore, they may have a greater understanding of the community’s needs but also have some interesting ideas on how to enact change.
The next step is to set goals that are both realistic and attainable. Likely when you assess your operations, a lot of issues will come up. However, you need to prioritise which ones are the most important to address. This will be dependent on which issues have a greater impact on the planet and your business, as well as which are more time-sensitive. It’s vital to ensure goals are attainable, but also to make sure that they can be tracked and measured.
This keeps the business accountable. Following the setting of your goals, it is time to engage in sustainable business planning, focusing on strategies to achieve these objectives. This plan should be realistic and actionable for your business. Set a timeline for implementing each of the initiatives or business changes in your business sustainability strategy, and also create a budget to allow for the changes to happen. Remember, too, that if the goals are too big, you can break down the process of reaching them into bite-sized steps.
The final step involved in creating a business sustainability strategy is to track your progress. Doing so will enable you to reach your goals. If you realise you are not making as much progress as you would have liked, you can reevaluate your business sustainability strategy and make the changes necessary. However, do keep in mind that change does not occur overnight. Implementing sustainability and taking climate action requires time and energy.
Sustainability is about much more than simply limiting or enhancing an enterprise’s environmental impact. A robust business sustainability strategy will also consider the economic and social footprints of the business. It will touch on things like sustainable economic growth and employee well-being. Having a business sustainability strategy is becoming a non-negotiable nowadays as concerns for the environment increase.
This kind of strategy can help businesses better understand how their operations affect the planet and offer a roadmap of steps to replace the negative effects with positive actions. They take time and energy to create and do not ultimately mean that change will happen overnight. Ultimately, these kinds of plans should be created with your stakeholders in mind and should be the beginning of you making sustainability a part of your business’s DNA.
If you want to learn more about how to create your business sustainability strategy, our online course in business sustainability covers this topic in-depth.