August 9, 2021

How to Become a More Sustainable Business in 5 Steps

How to Become a More Sustainable Business in 5 Steps

The present is the best time to become a sustainable business if it isn't at the core of your company's ethics already. It's never too late to begin the transition into sustainability, a circular economy, regeneration, and getting on a path to net zero. While it's true that it's not the main priority of all businesses to manufacture and distribute earth-improving products like at the heart of other companies, it is still possible and necessary that companies from all industries can do what they can to reduce climate change and contribute to the development and progress of healthy societies and ecological projects, while still focusing on their main functions and objectives and earning profit. 

According to this report by Maryville University: 

  • "Over 140 million people will be displaced from their homes by 2050 if business continues as usual."
  • "73% of Americans would stop purchasing from a company that doesn’t care about climate change."

What's good for the environment, humanity as a whole, and business in general regarding consumer trust, is that actions are taken now to not only add sustainable aspects but to make it one of the company's core values. This won't interrupt business; it will progress business. How? Because being sustainable means to future-proof your business. Being carbon neutral will improve operations, significantly reduce costs, engage stakeholders, and attract and retain important talent.

Even small business sustainability is highly achievable; it's not just for bigger firms with more financial resources. Instead of maintaining the global problems that are going on today, getting involved in carbon offsets and projects to better the environment and climate change are what is necessary to thrive. Net0 offers over 200 certified carbon offset projects and 40 can be done in one click without any preapprovals. Moreover, the record keeping and offsets are all done in one easy-to-use dashboard for analytics, data exporting, and investor-grade reporting. Colleagues and vendors alike can use their own personalized dashboards to submit their data in minutes.

Here are the 5 ways businesses can become more sustainable:

1. Investigate sources of problems

With several sustainability issues such as climate change, office energy and product waste, manufacturing and packaging issues, logistics gas and pollution, and more, depending on the industry, you may have to dig deep into the things you didn't realize were harming the environment. Others will be more obvious. Some things will be easier to cut back on and other things you will need to search for alternatives and will take time to strategize further. Creating a blueprint all around will have a huge impact on the environment and doing your part makes a difference as a company. It's never one thing, in particular, that is doing the damage and with some investigation, you will be able to measure more accurately what environmental damage is coming from where. Having this knowledge is the first step to being able to reduce, replace with alternatives, or offset the damage not only for carbon but in many different ways. 

Some examples may include:

  • Carbon intensity is a factor. Making a product can emit carbon but does the product itself help the atmosphere later on? Are various ways to reduce and eliminate carbon being calculated accurately and measured? Some of the things that cannot be replaced right away can be offset with carbon offset projects that can be done externally.
  • 100% certified organic products eliminate nitrogen and phosphorus runoff but is the lifecycle of the product being taken into account? The circular supply chain must be completed. Also, organic doesn't always mean that other factors aren't involved such as packaging and food or chemical waste later on. Being mindful about your company's circular economy where you can is important and we'll detail that more below.
  • Green commuting is more difficult in cities where there isn't ample public transportation. When possible, giving incentives for public transport or work from home days to cut down on traffic, pollution, and add personal time to employees' lives. Allowing commuters to have a safe and dry place to store bicycles in the office is another great incentive that isn't offered by all companies as many commuters complain of having only outdoor, unsafe spaces that face bad weather and bicycle theft, causing them to continuously drive to work. It's also a healthy and productive way for employees to build up energy and confidence before and after the office, improving the company ecosystem. It's a great start to small business sustainability in terms of time and cost-efficiency as well as for bigger companies with many more employees leaving a more intense carbon footprint.
Image source: Micheile Henderson on Unsplash

2. Get on the path to net zero

Although GHG emissions aren't the only problems in business, this is an important part of having a sustainable one.

After pinpointing the problems in your industry and business, it's necessary to combat them by tracking, calculating, and performing carbon offsets for emissions that can't be reduced at the moment. Net0 is a software system that can easily integrate emissions data from other sources and calculate emissions precisely, with an offsetting option in the dashboard to make it convenient for vendors as well as employees to utilize. More than just a carbon calculator, its intuitive AI core is predictive and gives actionable insights instead of only functioning as a system of record. Give it a try and see how easy and cost-effective it is to lead your carbon neutral strategy.

It can be intimidating for companies that already have so much to do to start a roadmap to net zero but it is possible with minimal distractions. First, carbon emissions need to be cut by 2050 in most nations and more are coming around to pledging carbon neutrality as time goes by. Secondly, starting now will give companies the time to go step-by-step. Transitioning into a carbon-free company isn't really feasible overnight. Planning out your net zero journey in stages is going to transform the way you approach the issues and will enable procedures that are realistic one-by-one and are simpler to execute, becoming a part of the regular company routine and not as an added burden or a complete change in company protocol that would be shocking. 

To give an example, Nestle is working to halve their carbon emissions in this decade and eliminate them by 2050 according to their roadmap. This is viable in companies large and small, not just corporations with more financial resources. Nestle's various works will include all renewable energy sources by 2025, increasing the number of carbon-neutral brands, supporting farmers and suppliers in achieving regenerative agriculture, and more. They have offered more details online to be as transparent to consumers and suppliers as possible. The point of the roadmap is to achieve what companies can across the supply chain one step at a time so that all procedures can be carried out smoothly, while still benefiting the environment, employees, and turning a successful profit.

Image source: Nestle

3. Set tangible, measurable goals

Once you have found what problems need to be solved, reduced, and replaced, then you can start building a roadmap towards your defined objectives. At first, it may be more difficult to reduce all the problems at once. Or, it may be more difficult to eliminate some of them without resources for alternatives but these will come later.

An example would be the goal to install solar panels at the company by the end of the year if it has the realistic means to do so. Some companies don't own their building or rent a suite in a high rise and this just isn't possible without further consent, landowners, lawyers, etc. It's important to take control of the things that you can at first instead of focusing on the things you can't control at the moment. Both large and small business sustainability will benefit from taking a look at the realistic options available to them.

Reducing waste and pollution is another great goal. If you can find a way to reduce waste this year by 50%, it's 50% better than what you were doing in that area last year. Over time, the goals will become easier to scale and achieve, better for setting higher objectives the next coming year.

The circular economy is changing the way waste is being handled and the transparency of that is being taken into account by conscious consumers. Linear supply chains were not responsible for what happens to a product or the waste of production once the product was shipped to the distributor or end-consumer. The responsibility was then handed off to the person or entity in possession of the product so they could take control of what happens next. In theory, all parties can contribute to the green cycle and where some details lie there is confusion. Who is responsible for the waste of packaging and breaking down of extra materials? Pallets, for instance, are reused when you ship products in between warehouses of smaller businesses so they don't have to buy new ones. But who does what with pallets when they arrive at a clothing store where no pallets are used later on to ship out goods in bulk? Breaking up the wood and tossing it isn't sustainable and is wasting a lot of pallets that could be used elsewhere, but retail fashion industries aren't in the business of pallet resale or reuse like say, at a fabrication and tile installation company. These are the less obvious things that teams in different departments can bring to light with decision-makers to improve greener procedures and form circular supply chains. 

However, the circular economy is no burden. Rather than just heaping responsibilities onto others, it is a way to create jobs and tasks in new places and is better for the environment. Where it seems to help in a small way and sometimes a big way in different businesses, as a whole it will completely transform how waste is being handled making it a more sustainable option for society as a whole. Not only will it contribute to waste reduction but to GHG reduction in different industries regarding chemicals and pollution.

The shoe company Thousand Fell has made the first recyclable sneakers for a circular economy. They are meant to last 4.2 million steps and are made from recyclable plastics and other materials like yoga mats. When customers are done with them they return the old shoes to the factory to recycle them and make new shoes. They even offer a $20 shoe credit to people who participate.

Some companies were based on sustainability from the get-go and others that are incorporating it now as it was never their key function, so the transition won't look the same of course in every company as different businesses have very different infrastructures and overhead expenses.

Image source: Thousand Fell

4. Practice transparency

Sustainable performance targets should be made publicly known. On top of communicating this important information to the public, being held accountable for a sustainability strategy will push companies to actually do it. Transparency in the global supply chain is being demanded by various local and global regulations, and consumers alike, so adding roadmaps and making community efforts that clearly communicated externally is widely recognized and appreciated.

Transparency should be part of the center of your company's ethics. It helps to have employees that share the same central beliefs about sustainability as the organization so they can be trusted to proactively make the right decisions in product development, sourcing, logistics, and more. Team members in different departments should have a clear view of decisions being made so they can assist others in processes and procedures to keep operations and products sustainable from the beginning of the supply chain. Not only should transparency be external but when they are internal from the start, it will flow more smoothly. When employees independently share the same values as the whole, the synergy is more productive.

When employee roles and parameters are clearly set, responsibilities can be fulfilled in the best ways possible without guessing who is responsible for what and what is acceptable within that role. Being honest about procedures that do and do not work is important to smooth out the bumps in the future so companies can be more proactive versus reactive about materials, sources, or logistics that have caused hindrances to sustainability. It's more about being a transparent, sustainable company instead of a company that takes measures when necessary and putting a green name on it.

Finances must also be shared as much as possible not only for checks and balances across departments but for scaling projects within that make it clear to employees and teams, not just leaders and decision-makers, what actions they should take for procurement and logistics to be able to keep quality, price, and green targets into account. Businesses can still keep private matters private regarding salaries and bonuses for the respect of others although certain organizations prefer to share that with the company and externally as well to ensure fair working practices.

Zero Carbon Coffee is a carbon neutral company in New York that reveals their sourcing practices, materials and packaging, and even dairy farms where they get the milk, on their website. Since coffee brewing and dairy farms cause so many GHG emissions, Zero Carbon Coffee has done its utmost to run a sustainable, transparent, and net positive business by reducing and offsetting more carbon than is emitted. They buy carbon offsets such as soil projects that can contribute to regenerative agriculture and reforestation projects that keep carbon sequestered, and they even make sure that each bag of coffee covers 2 trees and 90 miles driven to cover the logistics and more of the carbon emissions. Zero Carbon Coffee covers the entire lifecycle of the product and supply chain on their site to ensure that the heart of their business lies just as much if not more in the environment than on coffee. 

Image source: Zero Carbon Coffee

5. Strive for a proactive future with regeneration

Regenerative businesses give the earth back more than what the business took from it. Companies in every industry can investigate contributing to the environment in addition to being sustainable. External projects that don't cost much can be a great idea in investing in your community, or abroad, and furthering environmental progress. 

Many intriguing projects are cost-efficient and even some companies give their employees one day off per month to volunteer with organizations that are either set up with the company, or of the employees' choice, to assist with green collaborations.

Not all of the regenerative businesses have to do with a direct pollute-or-not approach but benefit the earth in different and positive ways. You can choose to have a niche like stopping global warming but you can also focus on different aspects depending on your industries or beliefs to be able to improve the ecosystem around you.

Danone North America supports regenerative agriculture which uses science-based techniques like crop rotation to enrich soil, improve animal welfare, and encourage the health of biodiversity. By "building healthy and resilient" soils and taking other measures, they can get to net zero emissions by 2050 and provide better quality food in the long run. 

"Healthy soil is a carbon sink, storing a vast amount of carbon withdrawn from the atmosphere by plants via photosynthesis. That is why we promote agricultural practices which enhance soil organic matter content and help sequester more carbon, such as limiting chemical inputs, rotating crops, reducing soil tillage, and using crop residues as compost." - Danone NA

Image source: Danone

Regenerative agriculture is a proactive rather than reactive choice for the future, is going to transform society in regards to health and corporate food practices, and reduce carbon emissions as a whole.

In closing, becoming a sustainable business isn't an impossible task or burdensome if you haven't started off as a sustainable business from the very beginning. Having all employees contribute ideas and pinpoint various, less obvious factors will result in building a roadmap to environmental success within your organization and for the environment altogether.

Sign up for Net0 today to request early access to an accurate and comprehensive system of record to see all of your emissions data in one place with the insights to offset your carbon emissions. Taking this step will result in more sustainable outcomes for your company and the world.

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