Environmental Sustainability in Business
Sustainability is a broad concept defined as the ability to be maintained over a long period of time, and has 3 individual elements: economic, social, and environmental sustainability. Environmental sustainability has, understandably, been a huge talking point and at the centre of international politics. Its concept originated in 1987 when the World Commission of Environment and Development created the idea of ‘sustainable development’. The definition they provided was ‘sustainable development is development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs’.
All 3 elements of sustainability are intertwined, each one has an impact on the others and consequently, require an understanding of their complexity when planning sustainable practices.
What is corporate sustainability?
Businesses play a huge role in environmental sustainability. Their impact can be extreme, depending on the business. Think of the size and power of a company like Facebook/Meta or Apple, they can have a massive influence on the environment, sometimes more than entire countries.
A sustainable business is one that works in line with social and environmental goals rather than against them. Corporate sustainability refers to the strategy a business has in place in order to make a positive impact on the environment. It is similar to corporate social responsibility, where CSR is what a business does, corporate sustainability is how they do it. Corporate sustainability practices have hugely positive impacts on a business and help ensure it has a place in the future economy.
How businesses can work towards achieving environmental sustainability
Business leaders can do their part in helping the environment by acknowledging the negative impacts of their business and doing whatever they can to reduce that. This will differ from company to company but there are some general practices that businesses should be exercising.
There are small changes a business can implement that can make a big difference. Turning the lights and power to electronics off at the end of the day is a small habit that can save a lot on bills. Having zero waste break rooms (providing reusable mugs/cups, replacing plastics with biodegradable options) are simple changes that can make employees feel like they’re doing their part. Reducing the amount of paper used is also a step towards limiting printing costs and deforestation. Another sustainable choice that can be made is using window film. It reflects heat so prevents the office from getting warmer in summer which in turn reduces costs on air conditioning. It is completely transparent, cheap, and easy to apply so there are no downsides.
This is one of the easiest and most accessible sustainability practices that businesses can apply. Recyclable materials include:
If materials are unable to be recycled, they can always be donated. Some computers and electronics are not recyclable but will still make good donations if they are in working condition and can be given to people across the world who don’t have easy access to technology.
Buy from sustainable providers
Your supply chain may be something you never really thought was part of your sustainability practices. Your providers for your business needs can and do impact your carbon footprint. Buying from sustainable providers ensures that your focus on sustainability reaches further than your own business.
Water and electricity conservation
How often do you walk through an office building and find empty rooms with the lights on? Switching your lights to motion sensors can save on electricity bills and prevent wasting energy. Another simple switch is to use led lights which use 75% less energy and last 25 times longer than incandescent bulbs, making them a lot more energy efficient. Using energy efficient faucets/toilets is another sustainable practice that can save on costs.
Flexible work from home options
Allowing employees to work from home, whether it’s often or just one day a week, can reduce emissions from commuting daily. This will most likely not have any severe impact on your business as the pandemic has shown that many people are able to and sometimes prefer working remotely. If people are commuting into the office, providing information on sustainable transport options around the area will encourage employees to use public transport or active transport such as biking or walking. Organising carpools with people who live near each other is another way of promoting sustainable transport options.
Building a culture of sustainability in a work environment is something that involves every single employee. It is established and constantly reinforced by the daily practices of employees and there should be a shared opinion between all colleagues on the importance of sustainability. Making sustainability part of the company culture ensures its longevity so that if key figures leave the business, it doesn’t have a negative impact on how sustainable a business is.