Driving sustainability in business for 2020

One of the big shifts in 2019 was mass acceptance of the climate emergency. Greta Thunberg, Extinction Rebellion and the revered David Attenborough have all played a role in engaging the public in recognising that we must change our behaviour to protect the planet.

As consumers change their perspectives, global organisations will also need to shift in order to retain their loyalty. So will 2020 be the year of business sustainability?

What does business sustainability mean?

Reducing the use of plastic and fossil fuels and increasing recycling are the most obvious and topical sustainability initiatives from a consumer perspective. But for businesses, the focus is increasingly on the circular economy.

This is the idea of reducing the raw materials and resources required at the start of the product journey and overseeing what happens to items once they move onwards in the supply chain. One example is for drinks companies to return to the use of glass bottles and encourage consumers to return them for re-use.

The circular economy applies in many business situations. A factory might recycle cooling water used in its processes or extract minerals or metals from waste products. For a service company it might mean a new focus on staff development and career planning so that there is less ‘waste’ in terms of employees leaving.

How can organisations become more sustainable?

The starting point for any business leader is to look at where there is waste in their model – whether it be in energy, materials, staff hours or elsewhere.

There are terrible stories of fashion retailers sending unsold garments to landfill. Here, not only is the clothing having a long-term effect on our environment, but there is vast waste in terms of manufacture, transport, warehousing and stock control. While passing the clothes to a recycling facility could be one solution, it does not address the wastage elsewhere in the chain.

Attention is moving to the big corporates, who will be expected to act more responsibly. So, the businesses set to survive are those that are prepared to embrace major change in how they operate.

Changing how we measure success

Organisations today measure their performance in financial terms. But as the sustainability wave grows in strength, governments may start to hold businesses to account environmentally.

How would your organisation score if your accounting process had to report on energy use, waste management or social impact? If there are parts of your business that perform poorly in these areas, make these a priority.

Driving change

In solving these challenges, most organisations will need to seek out new innovations. You may not need to start from scratch, however. Listen to your employees, your partners and customers. Many of them will already have ideas about how your business model can become more sustainable.

Then, once a plan is in place, talk about it. Your stakeholders will want to hear that you’re taking sustainability seriously and that new measures are underway. No-one will expect instant solutions, but communicating your intentions is a vital part of the journey.  

While improving sustainability may not deliver huge returns in performance terms, we all have a vast amount to gain.  Mark Carney, Governor of the Bank of England has publicly stated that firms ignoring the climate crisis will go bankrupt – make sure you’re not one of them.

For support in driving sustainability in your business, contact WIL Group. We have many executive interims with extensive experience in adopting circular models and reducing waste. Take the lead and get in touch today.

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