Three Steps To Building A Sustainability Plan That Produces Business Results

Head of Strategic Business Development and Global Sales Officer at ams OSRAM in the U.S.A.

My dad began his career at a car manufacturer testing the safety of vehicles. Later he developed circuit breakers that would protect people from electrical shocks. Hence, safety was always an important concern in our home. I realized early in life that it was a critical part of product development and that minimum requirements for safety were necessary.

Today, sustainability is what safety used to be in the 1960s. Most companies know that sustainability is an important consideration but do not realize that it may soon become mandatory. Consumers are already increasingly choosing to support businesses that make sustainability and environmental values a core part of their mission. And, customers are asking their suppliers to have a plan to become carbon neutral. The Paris Agreement was signed in 2015 by 195 nations to prevent dangerous climate change by limiting global warming to below 2 degrees Celsius. This is likely to include regulation of CO2 emissions, which could create new business opportunities for environmentally-friendly companies.

Why is green business good business?

Energy giant Exxon Mobil is a perfect case in point of what happens if you’re late to adapt. At the company’s most recent shareholders meeting, two activist investors with a climate agenda were elected to Exxon’s board of directors — despite opposition from Exxon itself. This victory for climate proponents sent a clear message to Exxon that its shareholders are unhappy with the company’s approach to climate change and that, going forward, Exxon’s stock performance will be inextricably linked to its carbon footprint.

The reality, as companies like Exxon are discovering, is that green business is good for business. Indeed, a 2019 survey from Aflac found that 77% of consumer respondents are more willing to purchase from a company with a Corporate Social Responsibility pledge, while 73% of investor respondents agreed that corporate efforts to improve the environment and make the world a better place ultimately contribute to financial returns.

Sustainability is neither a passing fad nor a mere buzzword. For many leading-edge organizations, sustainability and ethical production are now a core part of their business and woven into each and every decision they make.

While sustainability may not be a slam dunk for every business across every industry, there are ways for almost any company to improve its environmental footprint and make its business practices more ethical and sustainable. Here are three ways to have positive impact on the planet by making sustainability a part of your business.

Create a sustainability plan.

To tackle the most urgent environmental and social challenges facing the planet, businesses must first implement a sustainability strategy that is aligned with the overall company strategy. Start by identifying the environmental risks facing your business, and then figure out ways to mitigate those risks — as well as ways to potentially reduce costs or drive new revenue streams along the way.

Of course, it can be hard to determine the sustainability initiatives that make the most sense for your company. Find ones that best match your business model and the market characteristics of your industry.

It’s also important to keep in mind that sustainability is not an isolated effort that is only considered by the management team. Any sustainability plan must be embraced by cross-functional teams and implemented across the entire organization.

Don’t just go through the motions.

Sustainability can’t be an afterthought or a mere tweet on Earth Day. It can’t be something you pay lip service to and then never follow up on. Businesses don’t need to be fanatical about corporate social responsibility, but they do need to believe in the inherent value of sustainability practices and their business impact. By looking at your business decisions through an environmental and societal lens, you can start to make sustainability a part of your company’s DNA.

Once you’ve put your sustainability plan in action, you’ll find that it almost becomes second nature to consider the impact on the environment and community when making business decisions. It will also become clear to your customers and partners that you are doing a lot more than going through the motions. They’ll take notice of your commitment to sustainability and reward you for it by bestowing you with greater trust and approval — and ultimately more of their business. Job seekers will also likely take notice, making it easier to attract high-quality candidates.

Be adaptable to change.

Sustainability is an ever-evolving, ever-advancing idea. Both consumers and corporations are growing more sophisticated as they dive into sustainability initiatives and learn more about this space. As our knowledge of sustainability grows, so should our efforts. It’s essential for all of us to keep pace with new and emerging challenges and opportunities to better manage our environmental and social impact.

In fact, going forward, the best and smartest companies will realize that sustainability is becoming the next frontier for innovation, resulting in the creation of exciting new products, technologies, processes and business models. For example, my company Osram (now part of ams Osram) publishes a detailed sustainability report every year. The Canadian research company Corporate Knights ranked Osram among the top sustainable companies in the world. We also recently received the GreenTech Award for our climate-friendly and energy-efficient technologies. The award honors companies based on their number of patents that support mitigation or adaptation to climate change. By embracing sustainability today, businesses can develop competencies and competitive advantages that will last for many years to come.

My father’s passion was to create safer products that would improve people’s lives. For decades, companies have been required to make safety a top priority. The same pressure is being felt by companies today in terms of sustainability and climate change. Nobody wants to be associated with a business that harms people and our precious planet. My personal ambition is to leave this planet in better shape than when I entered it. I thrive to work for companies that contribute to this same goal. Sustainability is not only good for the planet, it is also good for companies and for you.

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