Understanding the basics of sustainability is the first step towards making direct bottom line benefits.
Someone rightly remarked that we haven’t received this world as an inheritance from our forefathers. It is a legacy we will leave to our grandchildren. It is then time to seriously think what we want to leave behind – a world full of pollution, depleting resources, scarce water bodies and damaged ecology, or a sustainable world with enough resources and good living conditions.
As a businessman, you might want to take a more sustainable approach to business due to any of the factors like pure philanthropy, profits or cost saving. You may truly want your workers to be educated, reasonably paid and to have decent living conditions. Besides, being more sustainable brings tangible business benefits.
Even if the primary aim of a business is to concentrate on profitability, it doesn’t mean they can’t put in efforts into sustainability. In fact, following a sustainable route can aid you into achieving a ‘privilege to expand’ your business and gain benefits.
For example, something as simple as reducing energy use cuts down on depletion of rare resources and reduces the emission of greenhouse gases. It saves your company good amount of money as well. It’s not just about warm feelings, it’s about hard cash, too.
Secondly, there is the long-term need that makes sustainability the only logical approach. Just imagine, if you use up a natural resource faster than it can be replaced, there will be no resource left to make products out of. It is simple self-preservation. It becomes necessary to ensure that the raw materials for manufacturing your products continue to be available. You can do so either by reducing the demand, ensuring resources are renewed or switching to a less scarce or renewable raw material.
Thirdly, customers are increasingly becoming aware of the environmental impact. Hence, they support more sustainability, and so do other stakeholders like shareholders, local community, government regulators and so on. They would appreciate if you are more environmentally friendly and more responsible in the treatment of staff, suppliers and community. You will particularly need to take sustainability as an integral part of your business if your company is a big brand, is a regulated business, makes a big footprint, has a bad reputation of damaging the environment, makes heavy use of fossil fuels or is valued for ethics.
Any business involves risks. When you decide to go green, you will encounter two types of risks: those associated with making changes to be more sustainable; and those that spring up if you do not take up the sustainable approach.
If you take a more sustainable approach, the risks would be mostly money-related. For example, increased cost because of better pay and conditions for workers, increased cost of new manufacturing processes, increased cost of new packaging, increased cost of maintaining, monitoring and reporting on sustainability.
However, if you avoid sustainability, you can still face cost implications. But other risks can come from the following areas as well:
- Employees: you might lose your best employees to other companies, or cause harm to employees with the potential for law suits and damages.
- Customers: their increasing awareness can reduce the market for unsustainable products and services.
- The media: it will expose companies undertaking unsustainable activities like using child labour to damaging the environment. It can lead to legal proceedings and great damage to reputation.
- The industry: competitors who take a more sustainable approach can definitely put your business at risk.
- Suppliers: don’t think that if suppliers act in an unsustainable manner, it is their problem. You will also face the consequences of their action and reputation.
- Processes: your activities might bring health risk to employees and the local community, lead to legal action and fines, or environmental risk.
- A product or service: examine the lifetime impact of a product, from raw materials in a product to disposal.
The cost factor is very important to any business. The costs incurred towards sustainability should be seen as a necessary operating cost rather than an added expenditure. Even though, there is an upfront cost involved, the net result will often be a positive one. It will have associated benefits in the form of financial gains from reduced waste, reduced energy use, better productivity and sales and improved image. Costs include the following:
- Some sustainable raw materials are more expensive than regular ones.
- Initial capital costs of setting up new plants or buildings. But it will lead to many years of improvements in running costs and other financial benefits.
- Maintenance costs would mean keeping your plant and buildings operating well.
- Better design of processes and products.
- Extra costs from production to packaging and disposal.
- Increased costs for salaries, better working conditions and bonuses for you workforce. etc.
Taking a sustainable approach to business has its own rewards including financial, operational and human. You can reap financial benefits in the form of increased revenues, lower costs (operational and capital), less administrative overheads, reduced cost of defence against litigation, improved stock market performance etc. besides, it can give you operational benefits like better earnings from resources, reduced waste, higher productivity, better management of risk etc.
Moreover there is also customer and employee satisfaction, enhanced reputation, new opportunities in the ‘green’ markets, greater market share, different and better products, better planning applications for growth as a result of better support from the community.
Undertaking a sustainability impact assessment can make clearer your need for greater sustainability. it is important to realise that although taking a more sustainable approach has inherent costs, it can also result in cost savings and increased revenue. It is not enough to look at risks and added costs alone.