News to business owners: sustainability is no longer a fad or a trend. Sustainability is becoming necessary to compete and succeed in today’s business world. Consumers, especially millennial shoppers, are willing to spend more money to purchase the same or similar goods and services from eco-friendly companies. You may be just beginning to take steps to shrink your carbon footprint, or maybe you’ve been working sustainably for years. Either way, how can you showcase those efforts to make sure your customers know about them?
1. Make a sustainability plan
If you haven’t started your sustainability journey yet, your first step should be to create a plan for your company to follow. Start by taking a look at your existing processes. What is already sustainable, and where could you use some improvement?
Figuring out your baseline gives you an idea of where and when you can make changes. Look at things like water and power usage, recyclables, energy efficiency, waste generation, transportation habits and ecological impact to give you a place to start. From there, you can set sustainability goals and work to achieve them.
You may think you need to file sustainability or corporate social responsibility (CSR) reports. While a CSR report can help you emphasize things like volunteer hours and charitable contributions, it doesn’t focus exclusively on sustainability. These programs can even be detrimental to your company if you’re not careful. If you want to showcase your sustainability, skip the CSR. Sustainability reporting, on the other hand, can keep your customers in the know when it comes to your environmental impact and carbon emissions and make it easier for you to share your green business choices.
2. Communicate both internally and externally
Business sustainability isn’t something you can do by yourself, even as a business owner. It’s something that will require the concentrated effort of everyone in your company, from the highest-paid CEO to the newest employee. With that in mind, communication should be your most important skill. You’ll need to keep open lines of communication both internally and externally.
Within the company, make it a point to create a culture that focuses on sustainable initiatives –recycling, compostable packaging, zero waste, reusable coffee mugs, eco-friendly stationery and office supplies, staff carpooling, green electricity, carbon offsetting– and talking to your employees and letting them know what your current expectations, environmental priorities and sustainability goals are. This is also a good time to talk to your suppliers; if hey don’t mesh with your vision, it might be time to seek new ones.
Externally, you need to talk to your customers — and that’s where our next step comes in.
3. Utilize content marketing and social media
You can’t run a successful business without a strong online and social media presence in today’s primarily digital world. The thing about social media is that it thrives on storytelling — you need to be able to tell a compelling story to catch the eye of the average and digitally impatient reader. From ethical and sustainable sourcing of raw materials, acquiring globally recognised certifications such as Fair Trade, Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS) and even B-Corportation through to partnering with environmental organisations, if you employ this tool correctly, it can be invaluable for getting your message of sustainability out there and showcasing your efforts.
The challenge with social media is that you have to find a balance between communicating your sustainability efforts and spending too much time talking about them. You don’t want to make your entire social media campaign about your plans to be more environmentally friendly. People will only see that, and won’t read about anything the product or service you’re offering.
4. Make your product or service more sustainable
This might seem like a no-brainer, but you’d be surprised how many companies miss this step. Don’t start talking about sustainability on social media if you’re not actually doing what’s needed to make your company greener. That is just plain ol’ greenwashing and in this politically and socially charged social environment, you will be called out faster than you can say, sustainable. So make sure to follow through with your commitments and make active changes, like switching your home office to solar power, reducing water use by planting native flora in your landscape, paying sustainable and living wages or replacing single-use plastic packaging with recyclable or compostable alternatives. If you have the resources, make sure to have an independent auditor quantify your claims. This will show your customers you’re not just full of hot air.
Actions speak louder than words, and that goes double when you’re trying to show customers you’re reducing your carbon footprint. Don’t just say you’re using solar now — show them. Write a blog post about your panels and how they’ve reduced your monthly utility bills. Post images of them across your social media platforms as proof you’ve actually invested in them and had them installed. You can even take screenshots of your power bills before and after the switch to show just how much money it’s saving you. In short, the more evidence, the more transparent you are with your business, the better.
5. Be open about your business journey
It’s important to openly share your commitments, actions and even mistakes in your business journey towards sustainability. Don’t keep customers in the dark; they are far more willing to support your business if you’re open, honest and admit to not knowing, not being perfect, but are trying. Furthermore, in a highly competitive business environment, you will need to differentiate your business from others and transparency is a great way to do so.
In addition, bringing open and honest qualities to your brand reminds customers that your business is not some faceless, profit-seeking enterprise, but a brand that at its core is driven by humble, conscious but imperfect humans just trying to do good and do better.
We can’t just talk about sustainability and expect customers to come flocking to our doors. True sustainability starts with a quality product and service that customers are willing to buy (because a product that customers aren’t willing to buy is a waste of resources, and thus, unsustainable!). But if you’ve got a great offering, remember that actions speak louder than words, and it’s not enough to just say you’re working toward a goal. Show your potential customers proof of your commitment to sustainability, develop a great brand story and ensure that your marketing efforts is embraced with by your target market, and they’ll be happy to switch their brand allegiance to your company.
Let us know how you go!
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Feature image by You X Ventures.