Funnily enough, sustainability is one of my key business drivers and something that every business I have run has had running through its core. But...I haven't written a How To Guide with this in mind for a while.
You may not identify as a 'green' business as such, but science & the ups and downs of the last few years, tells us that we need to future proof our own livelihoods by safeguarding our own business, modifying how we approach energy, waste & community & taking care of the planet. The UK have agreed to achieve net zero by 2030 after all.
And then I realised, that for many this starts as some kind of policy or statement that helps them identify where they're up to and and communicate it to their customers.
So let's start with a How To Guide to get you started or perhaps refresh the one you have. These are ideas and not definite and you will all develop a policy that suits your business and your own areas of focus.
Sustainability isn't a destination. When I work with businesses on their sustainability journey, I'm often met with fear that somehow they can't claim to be green until their are perfect or that the public will call them out in the areas that are less green. Don't panic about perfection but rather see your sustainability as a journey that you take your business & your customers on. Imagine if everyone in the world was even 10% more sustainable. The key to a great policy is that it's alive and is shared openly, authentically and told like a story that your customers can appreciate, be inspired by and learn from.
Check out the UN SDGs. The 17 UN Sustainable Development Goals have been created to guide the world to focus on some key areas or objectives for a more sustainable world. Although they are about the world, we can learn so much from them to help us understand that its not just energy, waste & single use plastic but also about communities, equality and avoiding poverty & hunger. Take a look at these to be inspired but also to map what you already do to some of them. For example, you might feel you aren't very green because you drive a diesel van but you have strong links with your local community food bank (eliminating hunger, stronger city communities for example) & you've banned single use plastic (protecting life in water or on land). It's really an eye opener and a great way to start. Read them now.
Start today. What I mean by that is that any good policy starts with understanding where you are now. Maybe start with a brain dump of all the things that you do do in your business already. You might think about the SDGs you've just read and wonder at all the areas of your business that you've already made improvements with. Don't forget everything counts! This could be that you're paperless already or that you avoid single use plastic. You might already be streamlining your journeys to save on fuel or actively seeking plastic free packaging. Start with a piece of paper and get it all down - take a few days too, as you remember every little thing.
Create a vision. We can't get there if we haven't got a destination so now that you know what you already do (even if the list is short - don't worry!), you can start to think about where you'd like to be. Be ambitious as you set these goals...there will be a way to achieve it. For example, you might say that you will have stopped using any single use plastic in the business by the end of the year or you might make a pledge to reach net zero by 2030.
Create a framework. To get all these different actions & ideas into order, I like a framework to help keep me focussed. Using an ESG can be useful. Often used by big business to show off how great they are, it can be useful for us too. E - environmental - what we do (or plan to do) that benefits the planet. S - social - what we do that impacts our communities, people & society. G - governance - how we measure, evaluate and make decisions within our policy. Here are some examples:
Environmental - reducing energy use, switching to a green energy provider, reducing single use plastic, reducing waste, recycling everything, avoiding unnecessary travel by car, changing all lighting to LEDs, chemical free cleaning, increasing insulation etc.
Social - paying a living wage to staff, creating clear equality, diversity and inclusion policies, giving back to a local food bank, educating customers about sustainability, avoiding fast fashion, choosing fair-trade etc
Governance - screening all your suppliers, changing your bank to an ethical one, pledging to get to net zero, measuring your energy, waste & water, gaining sustainable accreditation for your business etc.
Communicate. You may now have a long list of what you do and where you're headed and this may be complex and internal. However, a big part of our sustainability journey is to share with the world. Your business can lead from the front, you can inspire your customers, you can show others how simple steps matter and it doesn't have to be tricky. Create a page on your website with your pledges and actions. Remind people that your packaging is plastic free. Let clients know why you offer Zoom calls instead of travelling every time or create contracts with Docusign. The more we share, the more we inspire.
Resources. I hope that this How To Guide has been useful but here are some inspirational websites to help you on your journey or inspire you more:
UN SDGs - 17 goals for the world that we can tap into.
Business Climate Hub - a place to learn and make a pledge
UK Government Climate Hub - full of tips, ideas & free ISO accreditation
Ellen MacCarthy Foundation - ideas to help us create a circular business
Kate Raworth's Donut Economics - a great book & inspiring leader
The Carbon Trust - helpful ideas to get to net zero
WWF Footprint Calculator - a great way to understand your carbon footprint today.