21 September 2021

Business sustainability: shifting from good to great


Expansion & Improvement

The last year has brought certain issues into sharp focus. Business sustainability is something that many owner-managers have been considering more carefully, with three quarters of UK businesses now putting metrics in place to measure environmental sustainability.

Sustainability can relate to the ability of your business to flex and survive, the impact it has on the world around us and also whether it demonstrates corporate responsibility in the way it treats its people.

Even the most thorough business planning could not have anticipated the drastic changes to the way we have worked and lived since March 2020 and for many businesses it was simply too hard to overcome the challenges.

Those who were able to adapt and evolve had the best chance of survival. This ability to react and implement changes is often dependent on the mind-set of a business’s leader and its culture.

Ben Loveday discusses the importance of sustainability and corporate responsibility in safeguarding your business.


Going greener

Business owners with corporate responsibility on their agenda have been considering their environmental impact for some time now, trying to achieve targets such as paperless offices and delivering more work digitally. Back in 2008 the Climate Change Act committed Britain to ambitious goals to reduce carbon emissions by 2050 and it’s a big business issue with almost two-thirds of companies already investing in corporate social responsibility programmes.

But it is clearly easier for some sectors than others.

Some industries have greater challenges than others in terms of environmental impact as they naturally deal with more resources and waste. However, even in these industries, there are lessons to be learnt from other businesses and ways of being more efficient and responsible. For example, Waitrose has pledged that all their operational waste will be diverted from landfill by 2021. Their KPI of 99.8% indicates that they are almost at that goal.


Technology paving the way

There is exciting technology arriving and being developed every day which can help protect our natural resources. Indeed, some of this technology has leapt forward during the global pandemic. The adoption of technology that might have otherwise taken longer to become generally accepted by all is now becoming a necessity.

The increase in working from home and decrease in commuting has made many consider how else we can all reduce the use of natural resources. From talking to business owners in recent times, it seems more important than ever for people to feel proud of the businesses they work for (or manage) and to believe they are doing business in a responsible way.

Not only is it important for business owners to be able to engage with their employees on responsible business issues, it is also something many clients want to discuss. They want to know that those they are doing business with have a similar ethos. Dr Peter Jansen, principal lecturer at the London School of Business and Finance, says: “Businesses are increasingly aware their reputation depends on how socially and environmentally responsible they are perceived to be.”


A clear value proposition

When pitching for some new work or having a new business meeting, it is becoming more important to be able to talk about your green credentials and the way you look after your people in a credible way. Whether this is agile working to accommodate the other pressures in your employees’ lives or mindfulness sessions that you encourage them to do during the working day – it all shows that you take the welfare of your people seriously.

Of course, all business owners have to consider whether doing business in a more responsible or environmentally friendly way will have a negative impact on the bottom line, leaving less profit for investment or salaries. However many employees do want to know what a business stands for in current times and it can be harder to recruit and retain good people without a responsible business strategy that can be clearly communicated and understood. The next generation of the workforce are now expecting more from their employers with 62% of millennials wanting to work for a company that makes a positive impact, compared with 42% across the entire workforce. Ignoring the needs of these groups will close off a significant amount of talent when you look to recruit.

When considering how responsible you are as a business, it’s not just how you run your own business that you need to consider but also those in your supply chain and those that you invest in or receive finance from. Are these the kind of companies you want to stand shoulder to shoulder with and do you know if they have the same values as you?

A supply chain audit can be a valuable process to undertake. It can sometimes fall to the bottom of the ‘to do’ list but in these days of increased transparency, it can be easy to suffer reputational damage by being associated with a business that has been exposed for bad working practices or culture.


Small steps to achieve big goals

It can feel hard to make changes in the way you do business with our busy working lives, but just as you start small at home by doing your recycling each week or changing to a greener product on your weekly shopping list, it is all about breaking down a more responsible way of doing business into small and achievable goals.

As everyone demands more responsible behaviour from the businesses we work for or buy goods and services from, sustainability will climb further up the political agenda and bigger changes will be brought in by government. Those businesses that are considering how to be more sustainable or changing the way they do business already will be one step ahead. From 2040 new petrol and diesel cars and vans will be banned in the UK under government plans so why not plan now for electric vehicles which may have tax advantages too?

There are opportunities for many in this move towards more sustainable business. Those providing digital alternatives or greener resources and those operating in the waste and recycling sectors. There are also financial incentives for all businesses being proactive such as Research and Development grants and tax credits.

Due to the rise in development and adoption of technology, we find ourselves in an increasingly global marketplace. For those companies that have ridden the digital wave and moved services online, suddenly there are many more clients to approach and work with.

The technology will need to keep developing to stay viable as an alternative to face to face events or training, but everyone can see that these things are more than possible now.

It is crucial to have a strategy and plans in place that will keep your business sustainable able to survive whatever the future brings but you also need to consider what you want the legacy of your business to be and whether you will be able to look back and believe that you did the best kind of business you could.


If you want to talk more about building sustainability in your business, get in touch.