Although sustainability has been around for a long time, only recently has business become focused on its application.
There are a variety of reasons for this, but we’ll start with the most commonly used definition contained in the Brundtland Report released by the United Nations in 1987.
Sustainable development is defined as: “Development which meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs”.
Sustainability encompasses mainly environmental impacts but also includes social impacts.
A truly sustainable business should consider economic, environmental and social implications equally when making any decisions. This is known as “triple bottom line” consideration.
In terms of small business and start-ups, sustainability is really about efficiency in all areas. But the benefits go far beyond saving money on energy.
Sustainability is important because economic costs attributed to environmental and social outcomes that have historically been externalised are increasingly being realised by business. Consumers are demanding better performance from their goods and services and governments are regulating to prevent businesses from damaging the environment and society.
Current trends also show that future regulation will most likely reward organisations that minimise their environmental impacts and punish those that don’t.
As a business owner, it is therefore in your best interests to minimise these impacts. As we put costs on environmental impacts, the dollars start to add up.
A good example of this, and one of the current areas of major business change, is energy usage. While individual appliances, light fittings or machinery may not use a lot of energy, when combined they can result in high monthly energy bills.
The more energy you use the more it costs you and the more carbon dioxide your business generates directly. The creation of carbon dioxide through energy generation is considered as an impact that has environmental and social implications through climate change.
Markets around the world have or are trying to put a price on this through emissions trading, carbon taxes and the like. It is almost certain that in the future all goods and services will have a carbon cost attached somewhere.
Another benefit of practising sustainability lies in reputation. Consumers, employees and clients increasingly look for organisations that outperform their competition in these areas and often they are prepared to pay a premium for a more sustainable product.
Many potential clients now demand environmental and/or greenhouse inventory reports as part of tender submissions.
The last benefit I want to mention relates to your staff performance and job satisfaction. How do you empower your staff to meet and exceed expectations in all areas of their work?
There are lots of ways to do this, but encouraging staff to actively get involved with making your business more sustainable gives them a real sense of job satisfaction, which usually translates to better performance and loyalty. This is a whole blog topic on its own which we can explore later.
So, why should a start-up or small business worry about any of this to begin with?
Incorporating sustainability into your business decisions is a good habit to form that will pay dividends now and into the future. Some of the initial benefits a start-up will realise include:
- Lower operational costs through reduced energy, resource and water usage.
- Having a reputation as an environmentally conscious operator.
- Having good systems, information and thinking in place for when new opportunities arise.
Some of the problems with leaving it all until later are:
- It becomes a very large task.
- It is very difficult to implement.
- The culture and practices that have developed within the organisation may not encompass sustainability and are often very hard to change.
A lot of entrepreneurs can feel overwhelmed by the notion of implementing sustainability into their business but, like most things, if you just take one step at a time it will happen and you will be amazed at the results.
I will be looking at individual steps you can take to put your start-up on the path to becoming truly sustainable. Keep an eye on this blog and together we can make a difference and a buck or two.
Richard Nicol is the director of Building Green Business, which consults with small businesses and householders in implementing sustainability measures that save you money and make your space more comfortable.