Over the last few years, sustainability has become more than just a catchy buzzword. Improved sustainability may be the key to a more prosperous future, for individuals and businesses alike. According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), prioritizing sustainability is a noble endeavor that will allow humans and nature to productively coexist over the long term, to better “support present and future generations.”
Many businesses feel conflicted about adopting sustainable product design because they don’t want to negatively affect their business model or profit margins. Although some businesses hold back from green decisions, they should be stepping forward with all the benefits that sustainability offers. You may even find that prioritizing sustainability helps bring in new, eco-conscious customers while retaining existing ones and building brand loyalty.
Make no mistake: Sustainability is an increasingly high priority among consumers, many of whom are willing to shell out a few extra dollars for sustainable products. A recent study found that nearly 70% of consumers in the U.S. and Canada actively support sustainable and eco-friendly brands. To stand out from the competition, no matter the products or service you provide, corporate responsibility is thus more important than ever, and sustainability is at the heart of the movement.
Naturally, corporate sustainability takes on many forms. Anything from marketing and product design to staffing can help build your brand and create a better Earth simultaneously.
Incorporating Sustainability into Your Business Model
For starters, consider the motivations behind your push towards greater sustainability, and strive for authenticity. Sustainability initiatives within your company shouldn’t feel forced, and eco-savvy consumers will be able to see right through it. As sustainability has become more important, some companies have resorted to the unscrupulous practice known as “greenwashing” — that is, falsely presenting a product or brand as eco-friendly when it isn’t.
To keep your company’s reputation strong as you build sustainability initiatives, avoid falling into the trap of greenwashing, even inadvertently. Further, keep in mind that sustainable business models can vary significantly from company to company. Don’t fall into the trap of following the latest trends or modeling your company’s sustainability initiative after that of a competitor. Being inauthentic, even in the name of environmental stewardship, is likely to undermine your company’s integrity, rather than boost it.
One of the first steps in the process is to recognize and address any glaring, company-wide issues related to sustainability. The task may be a lofty one, so consider filling in the gaps by creating job positions related to sustainability within your company, and hiring eco-conscious professionals who understand what’s at stake. Many forward-thinking companies now employ some sort of corporate responsibility officer to build and maintain sustainability initiatives.
From Packaging to Marketing: A Sustainable Supply Chain
Corporate responsibility goes well beyond a single position or department. Business leaders must consider the environmental impact in every aspect of your company, including your suppliers and partners. Corporate responsibility officers and similar professionals must take a variety of factors into account when developing sustainable initiatives, such as energy needs and sources, waste production, worker rights and wages, and ingredient sources.
Marketing and packaging should also be considered in terms of your company’s carbon footprint. To effectively utilize sustainable marketing to your advantage, it’s important to have a keen awareness of how your products are manufactured and packaged. Work to utilize sustainable suppliers as often as possible, while remaining transparent to your customers and employees alike.
If you make a mistake, say by unknowingly partnering with an unethical company or supplier, own up to it. Consumers are more likely to respect and continue patronizing a company that fully admits when they’re at fault on an environmental level, rather than simply glossing over or greenwashing the situation. Finally, allow customers to achieve a more personal connection to your company’s sustainability initiatives by encouraging feedback and suggestions.
Building a More Sustainable Business into the Future
Indeed, your customer base may ultimately serve as your greatest ally as you work to bring sustainability to every corner of your business. Today’s eco-conscious consumers are typically excited to spread the word about trusted brands and companies that truly embody sustainable principles, especially via social media. Generally speaking, customers that value eco-friendly products rely on social media along with mouth when making mindful online purchasing decisions.
In many ways, sustainability is the embodiment of true corporate responsibility, and successful change agents should be ready to do their part. Prioritizing sustainability as the core of your business can help you get a leg up over the competition, and elevate your brand’s reputation well into the future. Yet it’s not enough to simply create a sustainable business model and implement it; you must also work to maintain sustainability in everything from your hiring practices to marketing, packaging, and the supply chain as a whole.