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In my last post, I wrote about how all businesses can take just a few small steps to save energy and become more green. This got me thinking about a larger question I am often asked: how can established businesses embrace sustainability best practices as a truly entrenched company value, and implement the changes needed without sacrificing long-term profit?
A large question indeed, but certainly not insurmountable. Ikea and Walmart are just two global giants making huge strides into better sustainable business practices, from more responsible sourcing to energy-efficient supply chains.
So, on a smaller scale, what can we learn from their progress? Firstly, it’s important to set some clearly defined, aspirational but realistic goals. For example, Walmart have named theirs as:
It is also crucial, of course, to get everyone in the company on board from the get-go, from the executive level down. One way to do this is to create an open forum allowing everyone across each division of the business to submit their own ideas for creating a more sustainable business. This can often uncover hidden gems of opportunity as well as ultimately providing greater company transparency. As well as the ability for company individuals to voice their opinion, it is also key to provide practical ways for everyone to ‘do their bit’ as my tips last week suggested.
Having the full support and commitment of the company CFO cannot be underestimated. Choosing to implement more sustainable business practices is in its very nature an enduring commitment, which often requires up-front investment before the long-term benefits can be seen. The CFO is ideally placed to articulate the financial benefits of the strategy to senior stakeholders and board members to gain their crucial support.
Another key learning from the examples of Ikea and Walmart is to extend your sustainability efforts to customers and suppliers. This makes total sense, of course – sustainability is not a one-man show. Both companies are taking a collaborative approach, helping their suppliers work more energy-efficiently. Ikea, for instance, actually goes out and trains suppliers in the areas of waste, energy and water.
Continuing the theme of collaboration, it’s also important to communicate your sustainability strategy, and the progress being made. This is increasingly a requirement in annual reports but from a day-to-day perspective it helps people stay motivated by being aware of the positive impacts of their action. And from a business point of view, communicating an industry-leading vision in sustainability practices is the smartest thing to do. Because ultimately, the company that owns sustainability in its sector will be tomorrow’s winner.
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