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How to apply sustainable business strategies to support business goals

A few years ago, I wrote about sustainability and the introduction of sustainable strategies to support business goals.

Now, businesses are seeing direct benefits from their investment in sustainable practices and continue to be mindful of their own carbon footprint in today's world.

At the large end of town, we have seen significant leaps forward in technological advances and sustainable practices. Take for example Tesla, who built the world’s largest proof-of-concept energy storage battery on our own doorstep in South Australia. It can power up to 30,000 homes during short-term grid energy outages and plans are now underway to introduce the same in Victoria and Queensland.

Australia is leading the charge in terms of wind power efficiency, with more than 10% above the global average to run at full power. In 2017 we invested close to $US9 billion in large wind and solar projects, up 150 per cent year-on-year. 

Whilst Australia hasn’t announced any plans to phase out petrol and diesel vehicles, electric car purchases are set to soar as people become more mindful of their own carbon footprint.

Sustainability strategy and initiatives in practice

Over the past three years we have seen a mindfulness by business leaders for introducing sustainability initiatives. People have become more mindful of:

  • Individuals in business becoming more integral to supporting innovation and improvement ideas around sustainable business practices.

  • Skilled, knowledgeable and engaged workers who perform consistently to deliver quality products on time.

  • Reduced waste disposal and trade waste costs.

  • Improved processes and efficiency.

  • Virtual meetings being held rather than extensive travel.

  • Outsourcing IT and Infrastructure reducing internal carbon footprint.

  • The Virtual Office movement, working in virtual spaces rather than expanded office space.

  • Energy efficiencies and power improvements.

So, how can you introduce even the smallest of changes to enhance your corporate sustainability?

In January 2016, the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) came into effect, which provides a common set of goals and objectives to put the world on a sustainable path to 2030. The 17 Sustainable Development Goals include such things as Gender Equality, Quality Education, Decent Work and Economic Growth, Affordable and Clean Energy, and Industry Innovation and Infrastructure, to name a few.

To get the best results that are sustainable, you need to analyse your operations and measure business performance.

Your performance measurement results will help you decide in which areas to apply sustainability to support your business goals long term.

You will need to choose the most effective sustainability strategies for your business and then plan how to put them into practice. You may need to factor in capital expenditure, allocating employees or developing workforce skills. Or you might be able to make real improvements by updating daily procedures and establishing a culture of sustainability in the workplace.

How to go about implementing a sustainability strategy in your business

1. Consider some of the practices suggested by the United Nations as a way in which you can support sustainability appropriately in your business. Namely Act Responsibly, Find Opportunities and Inspire and Advocate.

2. Look at your business from the outside in and apply activities that support sustainability across various disciplines within your business. You don’t need to go it alone. Put in place a team to become sustainable advocates and at a corporate level implement strategy through your procedures and workforce development plans.

3. Choose to focus on different areas of sustainability depending on your business goals and current needs. Like any other business decision, your strategy should be based on a review of the options and how they support your business goals.

4. Look ‘behind the scenes’ at how your business currently operates. This is a good start and will help to identify:

  • the full cost of your processes and products, business strategies and activities

  • a whole of business view (or even whole of value stream) so that savings in one area don’t result in costs in another

  • all opportunities to improve productivity and efficiency

  • opportunities to reduce the hidden costs generated from unnecessary energy use and waste

  • how to manage any risks to the environment to avoid, minimise or mitigate damage

  • how to position your business as a ‘good corporate citizen’ in the community to promote a positive profile and public support

  • strategies to improve customer satisfaction and loyalty

  • a customer base that will buy on value including the value of sustainability features, rather than just price

  • how to manage your workforce capabilities and culture to balance your business needs with employee engagement.

Best practices that foster sustainability

There are several best practices that foster business sustainability, and help organisations move along the path from being behind to being leaders. These best practices range from reporting to stakeholder engagement.

Stakeholder engagement

Organisations can learn from customers, employees and their surrounding community. Engagement is not only about pushing out messages, but also understanding opposition, finding common ground and involving stakeholders in joint decision-making.

Environmental management systems

These systems provide the structures and processes that help embed environmental efficiency into a firm’s culture and mitigate risks. The most widely recognised standard worldwide is ISO 14001, but numerous other industry-specific and country-specific standards exist.

Reporting and disclosure

Measurement and control are at the heart of instituting sustainable practices. Not only can organisations collect and collate the information, they can also be entirely transparent with outsiders. The Global Reporting Initiative is one of many examples of well-recognised reporting standards.

Lifecycle analysis

Those organisations wanting to take a large leap forward should systematically analyse the environmental and social impact of the products they use and produce through lifecycle analysis, which measure more accurately impacts.

Businesses that are sustainable have been shown to attract and retain employees more easily and experience less financial and reputation risk. These businesses are also more innovative and adaptive to their environments.

Michael Derin

Michael Derin

Australian Business Consulting & Solutions

Michael Derin has over 25 years’ experience as a qualified Chartered Accountant and Corporate Advisor across Asia-Pacific with a track record of leading multi-million dollar projects to success.

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