Profit through Sustainability

10 Ways to Quickly and Easily Profit from Becoming a Sustainable Business

Becoming a sustainable business is a strategic decision…. When you choose to turn a blind eye to the benefits of becoming more sustainable you are putting your business at an immediate competitive disadvantage, and quite possibly setting yourself up as a target for regulation in the longer term. That’s because the larger players in the market are being required to take on some sustainability initiatives. This is happening through either NZ or overseas government regulation (e.g. Fonterra has been forced to look at sustainability because in Europe the food miles issue meant their products were questioned by consumers and the big supermarket chains) or consumer demand.

So what is a sustainable business? That’s the question that came up very often at the Sustainable City Showcase in November. There are a lot of definitions, some that focus on the environmental impact of a business or its ecological footprint. But I prefer to think of it very broadly.

A Sustainable Business is a business that:

• makes every decision as if it is going to be around for hundreds of years
• considers the impact of every decision on all parts of the system in which it operates which means it considers the impact on the health and well being of its owners, staff, its customers, and their children and children’s children. It considers where it will source its materials and whether that is a sustainable source. What the impact of taking those materials from there is – whether it is a local supplier or a village in the pacific.

• uses materials that are reusable and recyclable so no waste goes to landfill

• creates quality products and services so that the need to use resources making new products is limited

• creates real value for its owners, workers and communities

• recognises itself as part of the ecological system

You’re probably thinking this is sounding very lofty and high handed – you’re right!! But if I don’t think like this I’m continuing to add to the problems we currently face. And its far more fun to be working towards something exciting like an environmentally sustainable, socially just and spiritually fulfilling world in which everyone can enjoy health, and well being.

And its about taking a step. So here’s 10 ideas you can consider.

1. It’s just good business sense

Consider sustainability not just because it is the right thing to do, but because it makes good business sense. Consider each initiative and look at it from a strategic, financial, operational, marketing, or employee recruitment/retention perspective, and work out the benefits, if there aren’t any don’t do it. I guarantee that in almost every corner of a business there is a fundamental business reason for being more sustainable i.e. looking for how things can be done more efficiently and effectively with less resources. Energy savings alone can cover any of the costs involved in becoming more sustainable. Green focussed products also enhance the brand image, improving sales in other areas. If you’d like some help to work out these benefits there are people who can help you, specialists in each area. Your business will look much healthier financially as well as in other ways when you are courageous enough to take steps towards sustainability.

2. People want to work for a business that is interested in more than bottom line and profits for the boss.

The latest Colmar Brunton research conducted this year 2011 shows that an increasing number of New Zealanders want to work in a business that’s socially and environmentally sustainable. Put this initiative in place and your staff will work harder, give more of themselves and stay longer.

3. There’s money to be made from reselling used products and materials

You might find you can resell used products and materials that were formerly considered waste. When Paraoa Bakehouse focused on creating more sustainable operations, they reduced their weekly waste to less than a netball (less than 1 kg) saving thousands in waste removal costs.

4. It’s for big small and large companies

Sustainability means being lean (reducing wastage everywhere in the business including staff time ) resourceful (ensuring the whole team is contributing in significant ways also ensures that work is more fulfilling for everyone) and nimble – seeing opportunities as they arise and making the most of them.

Bigger companies do have an advantage when it comes to influencing their supply chain to be sustainable (Marks and Spencers and Tesco are prime examples in the UK that are affecting NZ exporters), and in influencing policy at the government level, but smaller companies can be just as effective, if not more so, at almost everything else.

5. People are asking for it

Who makes purchase decisions at companies? No points for the right answer. We are hearing from an increasing number of large B2B companies that their customers and prospects are asking about their sustainability efforts. You will find it put explicitly in purchase criteria of an increasing number of companies and organisations e.g. RWC official suppliers that preference will be given to sustainable organizations, and Councils.

Your customers care who they buy from, whether they are consumers or million-dollar companies. 78% of NZ’ers have some level of commitment to a sustainable lifestyle and it is not limited by age, socio economic status, or gender. But 72% when asked to name a sustainable business couldn’t do so. This simply means if you can show how you are becoming more sustainable and helping them do likewise you can increase your share of the market simply by doing that.

6. Become more transparent about what you do with your waste, how you are affecting your environment, what your policies are with regard to working conditions. This increases the level of trust – and is the biggest and easiest marketing opportunity around today.

As I just said in point 5, 72% of people can’t name a sustainable business but want to live more sustainably. Tell your customers and prospects about what you are doing. Need some help?

7. Don’t be afraid of Greenwash.

When you set meaningful goals, and achieve them, you have every right to tout your successes and the media takes note increasing profile and exposure – for all the right reasons.

Transparency becomes an important element in this process not just for achievements, but also for failures. There is nothing better for building the credibility of your success like admitting to your failures; and how you are rectifying them. And as the next item illustrates, partnering with NGOs can help build credibility about some of your claims.

8. Partnering with Non profits and NGO’s adds to opportunity

If you think of NGOs as adversaries, and are quite content if you are not approached by them I believe this is a missed opportunity. The opportunity is to benefit from their expertise in material sourcing, water treatment and a host of other issues. Organizations like Forest and Bird serve as partners to advance many leading companies’ sustainability efforts.

Bonnie Nixon said that HP realized many years ago that an adversarial relationship was counterproductive and now partners with several NGOs.

9. Even if you don’t make things – it makes good sense

Some companies we have worked with claim that because they don’t make things, they don’t buy much, and hence don’t have much of a carbon footprint. Or that their products don’t consume much energy, so their environmental impacts are minimal.

Westpac bank is a prime example of a company that doesn’t make things, yet has been named NZI Sustainable Business of the Year 2011 in this year’s Sustainable Business Network Awards.

You will find that businesses that don’t make products spend millions of dollars on its suppliers, on everything from computers to office supplies to utilities. When large companies aspire to be a leaders in sustainability, they have a tremendous opportunity to influence the supply chain and reduce their (indirect) environmental impact. This is where the opportunity is for suppliers.

10. If you don’t do it now it’s likely that regulation will force you to do it and regulation is always more costly.

If you’re ready to look at some of the financial benefits your business can achieve by taking steps towards more sustainability and would like to talk about what that might look like, give me a call. I’m passionate about finding ways to support business in this initiative, because it makes the world a better, happier and more fulfilling place for everyone.

phone me 64 9 412 9485
email bridget@creatingwhatmatters.co.nz

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