How to Make Your Organization More Sustainable

How to Make Your Organization More Sustainable

Sustainability is no longer a niche reserved for ‘green’ businesses; it is increasingly a necessity for any organization to succeed. Showing a commitment to sustainability isn’t just an ethical approach, but good business sense, with a recent BCG/MIT study showing that 44 percent of investors divest from companies with poor sustainability performance.

Professor Knut Haanaes of IMD Business School defines sustainability as: ‘a business approach to creating long-term value by taking into consideration how a given organization operates in the ecological, social and economic environment’. With a rise in CSR and transparency in organizations, this long-term value has never been more important.

Many large companies are showing an increased commitment to sustainability, such as sports retailer Adidas creating a greener supply chain and eliminating plastic bags. Similarly, car manufacturer Volvo have announced that as of 2019, all new models will be electric or hybrid.

Sustainability on a macro level

It’s important to consider sustainability in your organization on a macro level, as sustainability needs to be integrated throughout the business’ strategy to have any chance of being successful. A sustainable business model helps your company comply with regulations as well as make savings by using raw materials more effectively, for example.

Try to avoid working in silos, as all levels and departments of an organization need to be aligned in a sustainability strategy. Take responsibility for the business as a whole, particularly supply chains, asking yourself the following questions:

  • Are your materials sustainable and sourced from suppliers committed to sustainable development?
  • Are your suppliers’ employees treated fairly and ethically?
  • How much energy is used in producing and delivering materials to you, and delivering products to customers?
  • Can your products and packaging be easily recycled or reused?

You also need to assess the impact your business has on the environment and society, particularly in terms of energy usage and the use of raw materials. It’s also important to consider the waste and pollution your business produces and the impact it has on employees and the local, wider and international community.

After you’ve assessed the environmental and social impacts of your organization, develop a sustainability action plan describing the changes you will make and how you will implement them. Carry out regular audits and monitor your plan to see how you’re achieving your goals. Public reporting is a good idea as it clearly shows stakeholders what you’re doing, demonstrating your commitment, and holds you accountable.

As well as focusing on environmental impact, you should also focus on the social impact of your business. Ways to do include: employing local people, purchasing from local suppliers and getting involved in community initiatives, such as supporting a local charity or giving staff time off to volunteer with charitable organizations.

Ensure the company’s strategy and its sustainability efforts are aligned – this is the responsibility of higher-level management. Don’t forget to engage the board: in a recent MIT/BCG survey, 86 percent of respondents agreed that boards should ‘play an active and strong role in sustainability’, but only 42 percent report their boards being actively engaged. Remember, boards can be critical in sustainability collaborations with key stakeholders like NGOs, governments, and international organizations.

Sustainability on a micro level

Although the bigger picture is vital when making an organization more sustainable, there are several things you can do on a more micro level to ensure you’re as green and ethical as possible.

Practicing green procurement is a good place to start – review your procurement policies when looking for suppliers and choose to source goods and services that have been produced sustainably and don’t require excessive packaging. Make sure these supplies don’t contain toxic or harmful substances and they can be recycled or reused when possible. Finding local suppliers can also be helpful, as is finding logistics companies committed to carbon-neutral delivery methods.

Of course, attempting to make your physical office space as sustainable as possible is also key for ensuring your business is sustainable. Try and power your office with alternative energy generated from sources such as wind and solar power – this can often even be cheaper. Where possible, go paperless, and keep an eye on stationary usage. In the US, over four million plastic disposable pens are thrown away daily, so it may be worth considering investing in refillable pens.

You can also make a huge impact on sustainability when considering technology usage. Running all the internet servers in the US is equivalent to running five nuclear power plants, so consider switching to green hosting companies like GreenGeeks or InMotion so at least part of your energy comes from a renewable power source. You can apply sustainability to hardware too, with companies like HP and Dell offering asset recycling programs which will buy back your old computers when you upgrade.

Individual actions are important so encourage your employees to leave cars at home as much as possible, encouraging cycle to work schemes and public transport use (perhaps providing bike lockups, cycle to work schemes, and subsidized travel passes). You can also provide refillable water bottles and coffee cups for employees and encourage the use of a compost bin for food waste and have it picked up by local growers.

Making an organization sustainable isn’t always easy, but it is necessary. Engage the organization broadly, ensuring all employees can engage with environmental companies and initiatives that support local communities. A sustainable organization does good for the planet and is often better for your bottom line. Why wait to go green?

Written by Julia Gilmore

Julia is a writer for TopMBA.com, publishing articles for business students and graduates across the world. A native Londoner, she holds an MSc in Marketing Strategy & Innovation from Cass Business School and a BA in Classical Studies & English from Newcastle University.

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