What comes to your mind when you hear the word “sustainability”? For many, this word conjures up images of the typical sound bites you might hear on the news (recycling symbols, solar panels and windmills, etc.). Defining sustainability succinctly is challenging because it is more than just a word – it is a multi-faceted concept that can have very different meanings depending on business context, business maturity, your strategic goals, or even your location. Sustainability also encompasses more than just environmental protection; rather, sustainable planning can incorporate other measures to maintain a company’s long-term viability, including resource use, maximizing value chain, stakeholder engagement, talent management, and site health and safety.
Layered explanations like this, however, can discourage companies from incorporating sustainability into their core business plans. After all, who has the time or the budget to sift through the many facets of “sustainability” and implement a business appropriate strategy, especially when “business as usual” is working just fine?
Generally speaking, sustainability isn’t as obscure, overwhelming, or daunting as it may seem, and most companies have already built sustainability into their business plans in some way, shape or form. As an added bonus, many sustainability solutions will ultimately lead to long term monetary savings. For example:
- Maintaining compliance with local, state and federal regulations is one step towards sustainability. By monitoring emissions, treating wastewater, conducting industrial hygiene sampling, or reducing total effluent, your company is demonstrating a concern for internal and external environment, employee health, and prevention of violations/fines.
- Reducing energy and water use reduces a company’s environmental impact and usually results in short- or long-term money savings. Implementing first step changes - like installing automatic light sensors in office areas, repairing leaky water or heating fixtures, or installing energy-efficient light fixtures –not only impact short-term sustainability goals, but can pave the way for longer-term initiatives on a larger scale.
- Vetting the value chain to better understand supplier sourcing and other business practices also contributes to sustainability goals. Using local sourcing can result in shorter shipping routes (potentially less carbon emissions and cost savings) and helps to sustain the local community’s economy.
Simply put, sustainability drives better business for companies through environmental and social benefits and improved competitive advantage.
But what if you haven’t considered sustainability yet, or would like to do more to develop your sustainability program? To determine if your company is ready to incorporate sustainability into core business strategy, ask yourself and your colleagues the age-old question – “where do we see ourselves in five years? Ten years?” Then, take three steps to determine your plan of action:
- Consider the challenges you face today, and potential challenges in the future. Example –plan to expand bottling line and install a new cleaning process, resulting in more resource usages.
- Review your list of challenges and identify both short- and long-term initiatives that can resolve or lessen the blow of these challenges. Example – in the short-term, optimize cleaning cycles to minimize required water and energy usage. In the long-term, consider installing other energy-saving measures and conducting conservation awareness training.
- Identify the costs/benefits associated with these initiatives and plan next steps. Example – based on a recent energy audit, optimizing the cleaning line can save $4,000 in energy costs during Year 1. Schedule a meeting with the manufacturer to determine the best way to program the system.
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