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What does it mean to be a sustainable business?

Updated: Oct 18, 2022

Being a sustainable business means shifting your strategic thinking to the long term or, put simply, how your actions today will help your business to be more climate resilient in the future.

Although demonstrating your environmental credentials to customers is important in the ‘now’, there is more to sustainability than appearing to be ‘green’ or ‘eco-friendly’.

It’s about making changes to your business on an operational and behavioural level. Sustainable decision making can improve your reputation and marketing, as well as increase sales, profit, productivity, and staff retention.

The market

The Ethical Consumer Markets Report 2021 shows that ethical spending has now broken the £100bn mark, and that consumers are increasingly discerning when it comes to environmental credentials. Ignoring this trend isn’t an option. It is now essential for business survival to have an Environmental Action Plan that details how you plan to transition to more sustainable operations. Adapting your business now and becoming recognised as a sustainable brand will prepare you for these changes, as well as allow you to increase prices and your profit! A win-win scenario.

How to become a sustainable business

The first step for any business looking to be more sustainable is to approach an expert. This will ensure you are taking a methodical approach that is based on tried and tested frameworks for environmental impact assessment. It also vastly improves the validity of green claims to work with a third party.

There are five key actions we carry out with our clients, and would recommend to any business:

1. Review your current environmental impacts to identify opportunities for improvement

2. Set some goals for the short and long term and document in an action plan

3. Engage suppliers, and invite them to share their environmental action plans

4. Conduct a Climate risk assessment

5. Book a site audit with an environmental consultant if necessary

Being a sustainable business means shifting your strategic an thinking about the long term and how your actions today will help your business to be more climate resilient in the future.

This should all be reviewed annually and updated throughout the year to reflect progress.

Impact reporting

Calculating your carbon footprint is a good way to measure impact reduction year on year, however some SMEs might benefit more from a tick list approach of ‘easy-wins’ rather than complex calculations.

For some clients, we recommend carrying out a carbon impact assessment first to identify the most carbon intensive aspect of their operations. Once this is established, actions can be taken to bring emissions down. The impact of those actions can be reflected in energy bills, for example.

With an Environmental Action Plan, an annual review will double-up as a report based on the progress that has been made over the year.

The benefits of being a sustainable business

  • Have a direct impact on slowing climate change

  • Increase profit by minimising inefficiencies and operational costs.

  • Increase sales by appealing to the growing demand for sustainable products and services.

  • Improve staff retention by valuing them and creating a supportive culture, which in turn will reduce recruitment costs.

  • Attract talent by communicating your core values effectively, offering a great working environment and enabling staff to progress and share their ideas.

  • Decrease sick days by making sure your staff have a happy and healthy working environment, which in turn increases productivity.

  • Be resilient to change by understanding the data and trends, enabling innovation, and creating a collaborative and supportive team environment. Your business can weather any storm!

  • Become a trusted brand by communicating your commitment to sustainability. This will improve your marketing messages and customer loyalty and in turn reduce your customer acquisition costs.

  • Access new opportunities that may otherwise not have been available. Business funding and investment is often now aimed at sustainable business. You’ll also find that other businesses want to collaborate and jump on your success whilst helping to spread the word about you and your good work.

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