Whether you run a neighbourhood cafe or a multinational company, embracing sustainability can help make your business and the planet more resilient
From the coronavirus pandemic to the climate crisis and the uncertainty raised by Brexit, businesses across the UK are facing myriad challenges while also trying to get on a more sustainable footing.
Not just for the sake of the planet. Embracing environmentally-friendly business practices is increasingly seen as a way to remain competitive in a changing world. A 2016 survey carried out in the US found that 64 per cent of millennials consider a company’s social and environmental credentials when deciding where to work, a proportion that is likely to have grown as awareness about the climate crisis has increased.
As well as attracting climate-savvy employees, businesses scoring well on sustainability are well placed to entice an increasingly conscious consumer. In short, addressing sustainability is one way to future proof your business.
The Naturesave Trust, an environmental charity funded by the ethical insurance provider Naturesave, has been assessing businesses and offering them sustainability advice for more than 25 years. The trust carries out assessments known as Environmental Performance Reviews (ERP) for Naturesave commercial customers.
“It provides a clear framework for businesses to become more sustainable,” says Alice Doyle, an independent environmental consultant, who carries out EPRs for Naturesave Trust. “We try to reduce a company’s greenhouse gas emissions as much as possible, considering every possible factor.”
For some, the EPR has provided a unique insight into the exact ecological impacts of each part of their business. “It was an impressively comprehensive report,” says Philip Koomen, owner of Oxfordshire-based Philip Koomen Furniture. “It connected the dots and allowed me to assess exactly what I was doing.”
For others, the review acted as a trusted stamp of approval. Ian Falconer, founder of Fishy Filaments, a recycling company that takes used fishing gear from fishing fleets and processes it into supplies for 3D printing, says it was a “perfect way” to demonstrate to clients that a third party has verified their processes.
Taking inspiration from Naturesave’s EPRs, here are five practical steps that businesses can take to become more sustainable:
1. Make your money matter
One of the most impactful changes a business can make is being more discerning about where they put their money. According to the campaign group Make My Money Matter, approximately £3 trillion is invested in UK pensions and much of it helps fund the fossil fuel and arms industries. Many banks and insurance companies also use their customers’ money to invest in the fossil fuel sector.
To ensure your business’s money is driving positive change instead consider switching to an ethical bank, such as Triodos UK, and pension fund, and taking out an ethical insurance premium. Make My Money Matter says doing so will enable companies to play a part in “building a future we can be proud of, economies we can rely on, and an environment we can thrive in.”
Good with Money is a useful resource for individuals and businesses seeking to drive positive change with their money. Its ‘Good Egg’ accreditation system identifies financial services companies that benefit society and the environment. “We need to understand where our money goes, then consciously direct it somewhere better,” said co-founder Rebecca O’Connor.
We need to understand where our money goes, then consciously direct it somewhere better
2. Switch to a renewable energy provider
Another impactful yet straightforward way for businesses to become more sustainable is to switch to a renewable energy provider. Big Clean Switch, a green energy comparison site that has worked with brands including Ikea and Ben & Jerry’s, says that on average customers save £270 by switching to renewable energy.
“We’ve discovered two things since launching Big Clean Switch,” says Jon Fletcher, the company’s managing director. “The first is that green tariffs are super cheap. The second is that the energy system is complicated and boring. It’s why we pride ourselves in making it easy for people.”
3. Collaborate for a company-wide culture change
Changing the culture of your company so that employees also feel invested in sustainability goals is a more complicated, but equally rewarding step.
Naturesave, which works to encourage behavioural change among staff, stakeholders and clients, offers a classic example. Since 2009, the company has offered a “no-fly” holiday incentive, meaning that staff are given additional paid leave if they travel overland instead of flying. Half of Naturesave’s staff have used the scheme at least once. Climate Perks, a campaign run by environmental charity Possible, encourages other companies to do the same.
4. Be part of the conversation
A growing global community of companies eager to foster better business practises has emerged in recent years. Many have signed up to B Corp Certification, a voluntary scheme that legally requires businesses to assess the impact of their decisions on workers, customers, suppliers, and the environment, in a new model of balancing “purpose and profit”.
Another way to be part of the movement is through Positive, a forum that Naturesave helped set up, and which enables regenerative businesses to share tools and insights. A third is to get involved in organisations that push for legislative change, such as Power for People, which drafted the Local Electricity Bill, allowing community energy projects to be easily upscaled, and the Climate and Ecological Emergency Bill, which has outlined a path to net zero emission while also tackling the biodiversity crisis.
5. Set goals and celebrate successes
Business sustainability is something to be regularly maintained rather than achieved in a one-off swoop. That’s why it’s important for companies setting sustainability targets to be reviewed annually.
“It has to be a work in progress and you have to make active steps towards change,” says Doyle of Naturesave. One tool that can be useful to measure this is the Bioregional’s One Planet Living framework, which features 10 simple principles to improve sustainability as well as advice and ideas for goals and targets to aim for.
Main image: Adam Winger