In light of the urgency of global climate change and other sustainability issues, it is critical that we shift our national policies from a focus on economic growth to a focus on ecological health. This should also prompt businesses to shift from profit maximization to sustainability as a primary goal. To accomplish this, the greatest challenge is to find ways to transition businesses toward sustainability in a manner that doesn’t jeopardize their market value or even threaten their existence.
1. Identify your company’s strengths and weaknesses.
In order to transition your business, you need a firm understanding of what your company does well and what it could do better. Take a systematic approach to this task, perhaps by distributing surveys or holding focus groups with employees and customers. Make sure that all parts of the organization participate in the process because the greatest opportunities for change often come from the most unlikely places.
Identifying weaknesses opens the door to new opportunities and may even uncover some strengths that you had not previously realized. For example, a company might find that it is doing an excellent job on some things, such as its product quality and reliability, while failing miserably on others such as customer satisfaction and responsiveness. By understanding where your company falls short, you can develop a plan for improvement by leveraging those areas where it already excels.
2. Research what sustainability means to you and your business.
The first step in changing the way your business operates is to know what you hope to achieve by doing so. This will require some research, which you can do by talking with colleagues and outside experts who are familiar with corporate ecology issues. You can start with hiring companies like At Your Disposal, LLC that puts recycling in the forefront, or switch to more sustainable alternatives when using electronics and plastics in your business. It also helps to look at what other companies (both within and outside of your industry) are already doing to improve their sustainability.
3. Communicate the benefits of sustainable business practices to your employees and customers.
In order for a company to have a long-term commitment to sustainable operations, it must convince its employees and owners of the value of these practices. If they see no benefit to them personally, they will not be willing to make the sacrifices necessary to achieve your sustainability goals.
Customers are also an integral part of the company-wide commitment to sustainable business practices. By showing them how they benefit from these new approaches, you can convince them that it is in everyone’s best interest for your business to act in a sustainable manner. This will increase customer loyalty and may help you attract new customers as well.
4. Invest in alternatives to traditional, unsustainable business practices.
You don’t need to make every single change overnight, but you should start implementing those initiatives that will have the most benefit for your company and its stakeholders (employees, customers, suppliers, etcetera). The best place to begin is by investing in sustainable alternatives to conventional business practices that use energy, raw materials, and other resources.
5. Decide how to measure your progress towards a sustainable business model.
In order to know whether or not you are succeeding, you should establish a system for measuring your company’s progress toward sustainability. Make sure that these measurements are easy to understand and doable on an ongoing basis (daily is best). For example, you might choose to measure the amount of water that your business uses and reduces over time, or perhaps you will gauge how long it takes for a service request to be fulfilled.
6. Keep up the pressure by monitoring progress and adjusting when necessary.
Any plan is useless without proper follow-through. Make sure that you establish a clear path for change and then monitor that path on a daily basis. Also, be ready to adjust your plan as you learn more about new and better ways of achieving your objectives.
7. Educate yourself and others along the way.
The best sustainable businesses use an ongoing learning process to help them make the changes necessary to become more environmentally responsible and operate in a way that benefits everyone. This means that you should focus on learning new techniques and then teach them to your employees or find a mentor within the business community who can share their knowledge with you as well. In addition, keep up to date on what other businesses are doing so that you can adapt those practices which make sense for your situation.
Making the decision to transition your business to sustainability can be daunting, but it is worth it in the end. By following these seven steps, you can make the changeover as smooth and successful as possible. Remember to communicate with employees and customers about the benefits of sustainable practices, invest in alternatives to traditional methods, and keep up the pressure by monitoring progress on a daily basis. Most importantly, continue learning along the way so that you can always improve upon your company’s sustainability efforts.