26th February 2021
Sustainability is the topic of the century. It’s a serious issue for people across the globe, and as climate change continues to affect our lives, we are constantly trying to find new ways to increase our sustainability and do our bit for the planet.
Contrary to belief, sustainability isn’t just environmentalism. It also addresses concerns for social equity and economic development. But what does it mean? Well, sustainability means to meet our own needs without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.
By adopting sustainable practices (however big or small they might seem) we create significant impacts in the long run. For example, did you know that if every office worker in the UK used one less staple per day and replaced it with a reusable paperclip, 120 tonnes of steel would be saved in just one year?
What does Sustainability in Business Mean?
Business sustainability means to operate without negatively impacting the local and global environment, which allows it to support the community and economy dependent on a healthy planet.
For business owners, leaders and administrators, sustainable business practices are becoming imperative. Human industry is a big part of the climate change problem due to its reliance on land, resources, fossil fuels and non-stop production and consumption.
The first step to business sustainability starts with businesses being aware of the issue and understanding how and why they need to make changes.
For a business to be environmentally aware, it needs to consider more than just profits. A sustainable business adheres to what is known as the triple bottom line. According to this concept, a business earns its profits by being socially responsible and protecting our use of the planet’s resources.
Why is Sustainability Important in Business?
According to an article published by worldbank.org in 2018, global waste is set to grow by 70% by 2050 unless urgent action is taken.
In fact, it’s thought that we’re on track to produce around 27 billion tonnes of solid waste in this time as a result of a business environment that heavily prioritises rapid production and turnover in favour of maximum profitability.
Not only that, but the current level of CO2 emissions are projected to contribute to a two-degree Celsius temperature increase by 2050, which will cause sea levels to rise and catastrophic weather events to increase.
Shockingly, a 2017 study found that a mere 100 companies are responsible for 71% of global emissions. This is a clear indication that businesses need to be a part of the solution by cutting down on emissions and waste and contributing to nurturing and maintaining our planet.
Aside from the obvious implications that ignoring the responsibility we have to our planet have, there is an increasing demand from employees who want to work for a meaningful and responsible company. In fact, 64% of millennials are reported to turn down a job offer from an employer if they don’t demonstrate strong corporate social responsibility (CSR) practices.
Who can Improve Business Sustainability?
We all have a part to play in our personal and professional lives to become more sustainable. However, when we look at business sustainability, there are some who are in a prime and unique position to drive forward and effect change.
- Business owners and organisational leaders – those who possess organisational skills are in a great position to make strategic and sustainable top-down decisions that will benefit the business, its staff, customers and in the long term, the planet.
- Business administrators, managers and supervisors – these people have unique insights into the day-to-day running of the business. Having a different perspective to those who sit higher up in the senior management of the business can offer an understanding of how to improve its sustainability in a way that will work for the company.
- Human Resource Professionals – HR is essential to building and maintaining sustainable businesses as it plays an important role in creating, developing and implementing company-wide sustainable policies.
- Employees – since staff are the ones doing the work, selling/using the products and communicating with customers, they are in the best position to let their managers know what works and what could be improved.
How can HR be More Sustainable?
Amongst other functions, human resource management (HRM) is critical in supporting a business to:
- Improve the effectiveness of policies and procedures.
- Manage corporate governance and ethical issues beyond economic performance.
- Support the realignment of the company’s future direction.
HR can be a business’ moral compass by promoting policies and best practices that are sustainable both for people (in and outside of the company) and the environment.
These goals aren’t easy to achieve, but good HRM can facilitate communication between managers and employees, as well as contribute to culture change within the organisation.
Human resources link ethical principles, CSR and HR functions together, creating a map to sustainability. HR professionals can support and embed sustainability in ways such as:
- Engagement techniques focused on open and transparent communication.
- Motivational theories based on extrinsic and intrinsic values.
- Regular meetings in accordance with the principles of respect and understanding.
- Applying analytical ability to best align them in the direction the company is headed.
The aim is to embody a sustainable environment that doesn’t just focus on economic factors, but also on HR and their relationship with the surrounding environment. Therefore, the above people-focused skills are crucial to a sustainable business.
There are many other ways in which HR can support a sustainable business, both environmentally and economically. Below are just a few ideas that can help your business to improve its sustainability.
Going green often starts with going paperless, and while this isn’t the complete solution to the problem, it’s a great start.
Human resources can get on board with digitalising processes by implementing an HRMS to:
- Manage employee data.
- Maintain company policies and procedures.
- Distribute payslips.
- Manage other company documents.
- Process absence requests.
- Perform other HR functions such as recruitment, onboarding, keeping track of job information, running appraisals and running expense claims etc.
Invest in Reusables
Introduce permanent solutions to single-use plastics. If you stock up your staff room fridge with bottled water, try distributing reusable bottles to staff.
A great example of this initiative is a company called ResumeGenius. They provide their new starters with a welcome package that includes company-branded Tupperware, cutlery and a metal straw. Not only will it have created a responsible company culture, but what a way to make new employees feel welcome!
Make Use of Leftover Foods
Some companies are happy to provide their staff with free food, whether that be fruit or other snacks. But the reality of this nice gesture is that, often, there’s food leftover at the end of the week.
That’s no excuse to let it go to waste, though. Ask staff to take things home with them. If they don’t want to, then find ways to get creative – make fruit juice ice pops in the summer or use leftover snacks to make cake bars.
Or course, most companies have now adopted a remote working set up, with special thanks to the COVID-19 era. But regardless of where your staff are physically, they still must eat. So, even if you can’t get the food in at the office, encourage your staff to minimise food waste at home.
Recycle and Compost Waste
If you simply can’t reuse food or leftover resources, make sure to recycle or compost them. Reducing waste means fewer resources have to go into producing more materials, which is overall much better for the environment.
Define your Company’s Social Purpose
Once you know what your social purpose is, you can use it to create your company’s code of conduct. Note that having a purpose doesn’t mean that you can ignore all your other sustainable goals, it just means that you have a focus.
Review your Workplace Practices
Are your processes and workplace practices in line with your sustainability goals? If there are any areas that aren’t up to scratch, these need to be addressed and a code of ethics should be developed and shared with all employees.
Develop a Sustainable Recruitment and Onboarding Process
Your sustainability goals should be a key factor in your recruitment and onboarding efforts.
Discussing your sustainability goals with a candidate during the interview process allows you to be clear from the onset and also puts you in the best position to find the right cultural fit for your business.
Provide the Appropriate Training
Specialised knowledge is key to many sustainable measures – for example, talking to suppliers about sustainable sources or fair wages.
If each individual is going to understand how they can play their part in achieving your company’s sustainability goals, you need to ensure that training is provided where needed.
Incorporated your sustainability goals into performance reviews and include them as an objective for employees with clear incentives attached to them.
Offering a reward programme will not only deliver tangible and measurable business gains but will send out the message that your sustainability goals are just as important as any other KPI.
Clarisse works as the Lead of our Customer Care Team to provide our customers with the very best care and guidance when using their HR software and is responsible for our day-to-day marketing activities and strategies.