The term “sustainability” came about in 1713 and was used by Hans Carl von Carlowitz in the context of forestry (now: sustainable forest management). But the concept itself was relevant long before that. For example, the indigenous Māori in Polynesia have historically believed in links between healthy ecosystems and people’s cultural and spiritual well-being.
Businesses can learn a lot from the Māori approach, too. The way an organization operates in the environmental, economic, and social environment now affects its competitive advantage and how consumers view its long-term value. As the expectations on corporate responsibility increase, you can take action now — with the eight methods described below.
1. Reduce waste
Printing meeting agendas or presentations has probably become nothing more than a habit, and most handouts are left in the conference room. Whenever possible, use a projector and laptop, encourage workers to take notes digitally, and email whatever you thought needed to be printed.
If you have to print:
- Reduce the font size
- Switch to double-sided printing
- Print in black and white
- Recycle toner cartridges
Another area of waste that is often overlooked is tech. When you’re expanding your office, consider buying refurbished electronics. When you’re downsizing, donate or recycle.
2. Make energy-efficient upgrades
Conduct an energy audit to identify the biggest opportunities to save energy. Perhaps you’ll find power-consuming things that you can simply cut out.
- Switch energy providers: Your local providers might be offering energy plans that support renewable energy. You’ll reduce your greenhouse gas emissions and support the renewable energy industry.
- Install energy-efficient lighting: Choose compact fluorescent or LED bulbs over incandescent or halogen lighting. LED lights use up to 90% less energy than regular bulbs, so they’ll cut costs, too.
- Buy energy-efficient appliances: Look out for the energy rating label and consider the size.
- Make your office “smart”: Equip the space with the latest technology that helps the environment, like devices that automatically adjust heating/cooling. But only install what you need.
3. Work with local and sustainable suppliers/partners
It can be difficult to trace the entire supply chain, considering many businesses source ingredients and materials from thousands of suppliers and use many distributors. But it’s important to make the extra effort here. Supply chains account for more than 80% of greenhouse-gas emissions and more than 90% of the impact on air, land, water, biodiversity, and geological resources.
Take advantage of the opportunities available in your local area so that you can work closely with your suppliers and ensure they adhere to environmental and social standards. And if you also foster cross-sector partnerships, you’ll minimize the number of players and improve traceability.
4. Invest in the future
Managers should be aware of the present bias and consequences of instant gratification. The present bias refers to the tendency of people to go for a smaller, immediate reward rather than a bigger reward in the future. When choosing between a payoff today and a payoff in the future, choose the future.
Evaluate current processes and see how you can optimize them, i.e., how you can do more with less, consume less effort and less energy to complete the task.
While you change a process to make it more efficient, you also risk disturbing it. So, make sure to engage the people who understand those processes the best. These people will also help you identify properly where the real wastes are coming from.
5. Make charitable contributions
Charities and non-profit organizations play a significant role in addressing sustainability problems around the world. And while it’s critical to make your impact locally and when the need arises, green organizations are more strategic about sustainable development.
When seeking a charity to support, start with a cause that aligns with your company’s values. It can be an organization protecting threatened ecosystems and preventing deforestation and other environmental threats, a charity dedicated to habitat restoration and human/wildlife conflict resolution, or a project promoting ethical labor practices.
6. Foster a healthy work-life balance
Work-life balance is also fundamental to a sustainable business and requires commitment from both the employer and the employees. If you’re in a decision-making position, here is what you can do
- Ask workers about their struggles, needs, and suggestions.
- Promote health initiatives like employee fitness activities and groups or discount gym memberships (offer alternatives to be inclusive of all employees).
- Monitor employee stress levels and mental health. Check who skips lunch breaks, works excess hours, and spends weekends at work.
- Be flexible with work arrangements, especially for working parents and employees with special needs.
- Encourage breaks and vacations.
And set the example to show that personal time matters!
7. Offer remote work
Develop work-from-home policies. Depending on their position and responsibilities, perhaps employees can switch to remote work on all working days or only certain days of the week.
As a former atypical form of employment but now a familiar workplace model, remote-hybrid work has proven its benefits for many industries. This is an excellent solution from all perspectives: a better work-life balance, a more diverse workforce, less commuting, less office building space, and lower fuel emissions.