9 Critical Questions to Profitable Sustainability

If you are ready to create a sustainable business or take your business further on that journey here are the 9 critical questions you need to consider to have the big picture before you begin working on the details of waste reduction, energy minimisation, suppliers, packaging and distribution etc.

1.  Get really clear on the bigger questions.

Have a long term perspective.  Your business must be consistent with your real aspirations and values.  If it is not consistent you can easily get distracted by possibilities and short term profit at the expense of your long term intentions.   Here are some ideas of questions to get the bigger picture.

  • What do we want?
  • What’s the real purpose of our business beyond profit?
  • What kind of world do we want to live in, what qualities such as satisfying work, happy staff, and healthy customers do we want to create in our business?
  • What is motivating us to be in business?
  • What is our bigger reason, what do we want to put right/ why are we doing what we are doing?
  • What are our core values?
  • What will be the core operating values of the business – that is what will we always stand for?

Getting clear on the bigger questions is important because you will then know which suppliers you will and will not use, what raw products you will use, how they will be delivered.

2.  What do we want to offer?

Next set of questions determines the specifics of our product or service.

  • Are we solving a problem we see, or offering a better product or service than our competitors, or offering the same product or service just doing it in a sustainable way?
  • What is wasteful or annoying about the services delivery or product packaging in our industry?  How can we do it better or smarter and incorporate the life cycle of the product or service?
  • What will break the mould and create the opportunity to be seen as a trailblazer and gain customer loyalty?

3.  Once you are clear on what you want to offer the next step is to ask who needs or wants what we want to offer.

Again here are possible questions that will guide you to knowing exactly who your ideal customers are.

  • Who are your prospective customers?   Is this a new market, are you converting people from other unsustainable offerings, how big is the potential market?
  • Will the market potential support our business aspirations?  If not you need to go back and reconsider your offer.

4.  Step 4 is to ask what our customers want.

Not just what do they want right now, but what are their concerns, what is motivating them and why are these things important to them?  Discovering the concerns of your potential customers is important because it helps you prioritise your sustainability strategies.  Are social issues important, or environmental issues?  Or maybe they are motivated more by price, or quality or longevity.

Some of the concerns might be waste and land fill, or safe foods, or the impacts on poorer countries of the extraction and depletion of their natural resources, or the working conditions of the people who supply the raw product or the welfare of the animals involved, or what happens to the product after it has ended its useful life, what toxic substances will leak out into the environment?

5.  How will they know about us?

  • What will we tell them?
  • What is our story?  Thinking through this question gives a further nudge to the issues around your customers’ motivations.  What do they want to know about you and your product or service?
  • How will they find out this information?

6.  Where are your customers located and how will they get our product or service?

So who will our distributors be, and what are their credentials as sustainable businesses?

7.  What is the current market situation?

What is the opportunity you see?  Who are your competitors, what do you need to do differently to win over your ideal customers?

8.  What does the future look like?

  • What are the trends and issues that are arising?
  • What impact will they have on your business?
  • Consider things like the rising cost of fuel and transport, the climate changes we are seeing more and more of, the unstable financial markets, the increasing demand for organics and ge free.  Think horizontally and vertically about this question.  Again see the bigger picture.

9.  How will our business respond to the trends?

  • What do we project for the future?  What is changing around us and where do we see ourselves in the future?  What do we anticipate we will be doing in 5 or 10 years?

When you have answered these questions fully and comprehensively you will be able to write a business strategy that tells you:

  • what you should do
  • how you should do it
  • in what order you should tackle things
  • how it will work and how you will market it
  • where you are going to take your business

“The way to get started is to quit talking and begin doing.” Walt Disney


Sometimes it is helpful to get some support or advice and I certainly recommend this. But some caution is advisable here.  There are a lot of consultants who offer sustainability consulting.  Some good questions to ask when considering a consultant to assist you in developing a sustainability strategy are:

  1. Do you promote or sell a particular product or system such as a measurement tool for waste reduction, or carbon emission etc.  Sometimes a consultant uses a particular product or system and it may not be appropriate for your business?
  2. Do you take a strategic or whole picture approach?  If not they may want you to start on one area of your business without considering such things as what your ideal customers value most.
  3. What will it cost me to work with you?
  4. Are you affiliated with a reputable organisation such as the Sustainable Business Network or the NZ Council for Sustainable Business Development?  If they aren’t ask why not.  If they are you can go to the organisation and get references.
  5. Can they give you the names of customers who have used their service and achieved the gains they were looking for?
  6. What is the focus of the work of the consultant – is it whole business development or working specifically on one aspect of sustainability?

There are many people that can help you create a sustainable business strategy.


You can use an outside business development specialist like me and you can also do all the work yourself.

You can also do some of the work yourself and get other people to help with some of the work.

All these options are good.


If you use someone like me it will usually be done more quickly.

  • I like to work weekly with my clients with a structured planned approach.
  • Another advantage of using someone like me is that I’ve already created numerous business strategies and know how to get you thinking about the important questions.
  • I’ve also completed a masters degree in business strategy and spent over 28 years in management and leadership positions in many different industries so creating strategy is easy and simple for me to do.

There is no reason why you can’t create a lot (or even all) of the content yourself.

The advantage of creating all the strategic content yourself is that it is a lot cheaper than working with an outside expert like me.

The biggest disadvantage is that doing it yourself can often take a very long time and clients have come to me frustrated with not completing what they really want to do. And that’s if you actually make time to do it at all.

Here’s what a couple of my clients had to say about working on their critical questions with me:

"I cannot begin to explain how important and transformational the exercise of creating values and vision was to us. Everything we do from the way we relate with our team, our clients, our proposals and customer service is aligned now with our values. It's so simple. We can measure directly the benefits from working alongside Bridget by the quality and the size of the projects we are now taking on."  Leanne Fleming Creative Director Lero9

“As director of realchangejobs.co.nz, I engaged Bridgets services to help me gain a more intimate knowledge of our core purpose, values and offering as a new start up business. During the course of a few months we worked through many obvious and not so obvious issues in an extremely engaging and creative manner and to be honest the results and "moments of truth" were simply mindblowing. The outcome is not only of staggering benefit to realchangejobs but it has impacted my own outlook personally and professionally and has naturally overlapped into my primary business Talent Capital. Thanks Bridget, you have done extremely well to keep me in line and I think you are amazing at what you do.”   Brad Stewart Owner and MD Real Change Jobs and Talent Capital October 6, 2010

My belief is that an average quality sustainability strategy, with average quality marketing to promote it, is still 100 times better than not recognising the trends and not getting ahead of the pack and receiving the benefits of being a market leader.


The opportunity offered by taking the sustainable business path is massive.  Business owners who do not recognise this will be regretting it when they are forced to make changes by supply chain or regulation.

I highly recommend you work out your sustainability strategy for your business as soon as you can and wish you all the best with it.

You can request a “Sustainable Business Growth Consult” by emailing a request to admin@creatingwthatmatters.co.nz and simply typing in “SBGC” in the subject line

To take the next step simply click “reply” and type “SBGC” into the subject line and someone will be in touch to arrange a time for us to talk … just to make sure this is the right thing at the right time for you.

Great ideas are really only great when we take action on them … and wouldn’t more clarity about what steps to take be a great idea?


Go well, go sustainably

Bridget Marsh