10 ways to make your business more sustainable. Level: Easy.
Welcome to a three part blog series, all about how to inject real, genuine sustainability into your existing business. I’m over the greenwashing BS you see everywhere, but I also understand that retrofitting sustainability into your existing business is a scary, potentially overwhelming subject to tackle.
So let’s start easy, with the first installment.
Here are ten ways to embed sustainability into your business, level: easy.
1. Carbon measurement & offsetting.
I promise, this isn’t as scary as it sounds. But if you haven’t started voluntarily doing this, in some countries this will start to become a government mandated requirement, so you may as well get ahead of the curve.
The first step in your emission management is measuring. As you can’t tackle what you haven’t measured. I highly recommend you use an external independent agency for this. Not only does this make it easier (as they do all the analysis for you), but it’s also more robust. We use EKOS at Ethique, but there are now literally hundreds of agencies who will do this for you. All you need to do is provide them with raw data, like flights, freight documentation, power bills and so on, and they will do the heavy lifting for you. They report back to you with a figure.
Then comes step two. Offsetting. Offsetting is not a silver bullet – as we all know. But it’s an excellent first step whilst you figure out how to lower your emissions (that’s the next blog post in the series). You can usually offset through the same agency you’ve used but there are a few things you want to watch out for.
a. Ensure the offsetting company you work with has certifications and independent auditing.
b. Find a company that works with ethical projects. Offsetting is much more than just tree planting, and really should involve things like renewable energy investment. At Ethique, our ~400,000 trees strong forest is in addition to our carbon offset, not the actual offset. We use ecologi to manage this for us.
c. If you go the tree planting only route, ensure the trees they are planting are native species to the area, as some exotic species do more harm than good in some areas. I love what the Eden Reforestation Projects do, as not only do they plant native species, but they pay and work with local and indigenous communities to source seeds, plant trees and pay them for long term forest guardianship, promoting economic empowerment and habitat regeneration.
2. Go paperless.
This one is in every ‘how to be sustainable’ blog post, but it’s worth repeating. Eliminate as much office waste as you can. I once knew a consulting firm who would email files between internal staff, then each staff member would print the file, physically annotate it, scan it, email the file to the next staff member and bin the paper they had used for all of two minutes. Learn how to do things digitally and save yourself time and money, and the planet resources.
3. Turn things off.
Another obvious one, but still, how many office buildings do you drive past in cities which have no one in them but are still fully lit with the air conditioning on? (Okay, you can’t tell that last bit from the street, but it’s very common practice). Air conditioning uses about 20% of all energy used in buildings, and is responsible for about 6% of global energy use. That is pegged to rise to 13% if global air conditioning use reached the same level as what it is in the USA right now – and as global temperatures rise, that’s highly probable. Make life easy, set timers on your air conditioners to turn off at night, and start 30 min before people are due in. That way you still have your comfy office environment, but save energy and money.
4. Ship responsibly.
Ship a product? Planet-friendly freight is something we will get to in depth in the next two installments, but an easy win is to scrap plastic, or excessive box sizes and get efficient with what you use to ship in. Yes, ‘unboxing’ is a social media phenomenon, but do you know what looks terrible on social media? Bubble wrap bobbing past on ocean currents as you try and find a fish on a dead coral reef. Ditch unrecyclable plastic bubble wrap for recycled, compostable paper, or better yet, get boxes that fit the product so snugly they don’t bang around when being freighted. There are specialists who can help you with this one, but it usually just needs a little bit of thought and it’s an easy win.
5. Outfit your office sustainably.
A super easy one is to use your company dollars for good. Tea, coffee, paper, pens – all consumables that your office uses, try and find a (genuinely) sustainable, or at least more ethical option. Fair trade tea and coffee, plastic-free tea bags, offer plant based milk options, recycled and recyclable paper (with certifications), or even find refillable pens. This is the bare minimum, so it’s a really easy one to implement.
6. Waste not.
Another thing you need to start measuring is your waste. Office waste, factory or warehouse waste, whatever you throw in the bin, start paying attention. At a minimum you should start to separate them out into recyclables, unrecyclables (landfill) and compost. And if you don’t already, start composting – it’s really easy to do in an office environment. If you have a special pick up, they already measure it for you. Once you have a couple of months data, you can start seeing what a realistic goal is. The long-term goal you are aiming for, is less than 5% to landfill.
7. To merch, or not to merch.
The desire to slap your logo on stickers, bottles, t-shirts and everything in between is all-consuming as a brand owner. You are proud of what your business does and you want to tell the world. But business merch is a huge waste of resources. I cannot count the number of reusable drink bottles I have unwillingly taken home from well-meaning entrepreneurs (and conferences…). So unless it’s mission critical, say no! If you want to wear a branded t-shirt to an event like a conference or a pitch, at least ensure the t-shirt is made by people paid a living wage, with resources that don’t pollute the planet. I don’t need to go on about how bad the fashion industry is, but we really don’t need more t-shirts, 50% of which will end up in the bin (landfill) within the year…
8. Are your products necessary?
This is a bigger question in general for many businesses, but we’ll leave that for a future post. But a good practice checklist to have in place for those who create products is one that focuses on necessity. In the purest terms, the most sustainable product is the one you didn’t buy, but of course, people are going to buy things they need to live, work, have fun, raise kids and so on. But not everything we’ve been told is necessary to do those things, is necessary.
To give an example, our NPD checklist at Ethique has a ‘is this necessary’ question, where we have to decide if a) the product displaces a more wasteful alternative, if b) can we do it in a way that is fabulous for the consumer, but doesn’t contravene one of our values, and c) is someone else already doing it and if so, can we do it better? If the answer is no to any of those, we don’t do it. If we are just creating stuff for the hell of it, it doesn’t matter how sustainable the ingredients are, it’s inherently an unhelpful product.
So put some checks and balances into place for what you create.
9. Travel policies.
I say this as someone who travels extensively, but only when I have to. Whilst people focus on travel too much in terms of carbon emissions (in my opinion, there are far easier, bigger pieces of the puzzle to focus on like food waste), regulating travel is an easy way to lessen your impact on our planet.
Put policies into place requiring travel by train where possible, car sharing, biking to work, and that travel must tick some boxes before it’s approved. Ensure it’s necessary, not just a jaunt. Can you do more than one thing whilst you’re there? Make trips efficient, as direct as possible and pack light. The idea that zoom calls are the same as an in-person meeting are unfortunately just not true. You will struggle to build a truly great relationship with an investor, or buyer if you never meet them face-to-face. Sure, we found out we could if we really needed to with the pandemic, but business travel has rebounded very quickly, due to the reality – sometimes you need to see people face-to-face to really get stuff done. And of course when you fly, make sure you offset it. Most airlines allow you to do it directly in the booking platform, or again, have a look at Ecologi.
10. Sustainability is also about people.
I left the biggest to the last. Sustainability is also about people – all people, across your supply chain, all the way to the end user. If you don’t have diversity, equity and inclusion policies in your company, you need to. Commit to ongoing education for your whole team about how to ensure those policies don’t just stay on paper, but become part of your culture. Your team should feel safe to bring their authentic selves to work. Beyond that, we’ll tackle supply chains in the next two installments, as that gets trickier.
Hopefully you have already got some of these in place, and those you don’t, you can start ticking them off.
Stay tuned for next week; level: medium coming up!