- Positioning your company as sustainable without “walking the walk” can do more harm than good because savvy consumers will see through any attempts at greenwashing.
- Enterprises that implement sustainable business practices can become more efficient, and consumers feel better about patronizing firms that demonstrate a concern for the environment.
- Although countries like India and Pakistan are not the primary contributors to climate change, they are experiencing the brunt of its effects.
By Eve Padula
Earlier this week marked the first official day of summer—another school year has ended and everyone is gearing up for nicer weather and more daylight to enjoy the great outdoors. Of course, everyone understands that caring for our planet must be an integral part of ensuring that the outdoors can be enjoyed for generations to come. Businesses and consumers alike are becoming increasingly conscious about the detrimental impact that certain processes can have on our environment, so it’s more important than ever for brands to position themselves as being sustainable and environmentally sound.
Today’s buyers want complete transparency into how businesses operate, so simply being conscious of the environment or promoting your business as eco-friendly is not enough. In fact, positioning your company as sustainable without “walking the walk” can do more harm than good because savvy consumers will see through any attempts at greenwashing. They know when they’re being misled, which will erode the trust they have in your company and might prompt them to take their business elsewhere.
Even though most organizations understand the importance of sustainability, getting started might seem overwhelming. Fortunately, there are many earth-friendly practices that most companies (regardless of size or industry) can implement right away to reduce their impact on the environment.
Starting Small Can Yield Big Benefits
Although there’s no single definition of “sustainability,” it starts with relying on “green” technologies and practices that limit greenhouse gases and minimize waste. It builds on environmentally sound production processes and the use of recycled materials. Eco-conscious firms pay attention to their energy use and take advantage of renewable energy resources. They also concentrate on the proper disposal of waste materials and recycling as much as possible.
Embracing more sustainable business practices might seem like an insurmountable task, but even small changes can make a big difference. In addition, becoming more eco-friendly is a win-win situation for companies as well as their consumers. Enterprises can become more efficient by implementing sustainable business practices, and consumers feel better about patronizing firms that care for the planet that we all share. The 2021 Global Sustainability Study by Simon-Kucher and Partners reveals that sustainability is becoming increasingly important in consumers’ buying decisions. Today’s consumers see themselves as agents of change, and businesses must respond in kind to ensure that their customers remain loyal and satisfied.
A focus on sustainability can also serve as a differentiator in today’s competitive marketplace. According to Statista, most consumers expect the firms that they do business with to implement more eco-friendly practices. Almost 90% of consumers believed that brands should be doing much more than they already were to reduce their carbon footprints.
Figure 1. Agreement with Company/Brand Sustainability Behaviors
N = 3,001 Consumer Respondents on a Global Basis; Multiple Responses Permitted
Sources: Wunderman Thompson/Statista 2021; Chart Recreated by Keypoint Intelligence
Climate Change Is Everyone’s Business
In addition to making good business sense, becoming more environmentally friendly is simply the right thing to do. A rapid growth in the human population and a heightened focus on carbon footprints have raised concerns about our natural resources—not just in our own backyards, but on a global basis.
A recent article in The New York Times points to an unfortunate paradox with the climate crisis. Wealthy, industrialized nations like the United States and many European countries release many more greenhouse gases than nations like India and Pakistan, but these poorer, less industrialized countries are feeling a greater impact. According to the article, “India has contributed little to climate change. Home to 18% of the world’s population, it has emitted just 3% of planet-warming greenhouse gases. Over the past three months, a heat wave has devastated North India and neighboring Pakistan. Temperatures surpassed 110 degrees Fahrenheit. It is so hot that overheated birds fell out of the sky in Gurgaon, India, and a bridge in northern Pakistan collapsed after melting snow and ice at a glacial lake released a torrent of water.”
Although countries like India and Pakistan are not the primary contributors to climate change, they are experiencing the brunt of its effects. In addition, these poorer countries (many of which are near the equator and are therefore prone to soaring temperatures) have fewer resources to adapt to extreme heat waves. Less than 10% of Indians have air conditioners, and a widespread lack of electricity limits the use of fans, too. It’s likely only a matter of time before the effects of global warming make hotter weather more common on a worldwide basis, but the less industrialized countries that did little to contribute to the problem are currently suffering the most.
Making a Difference with Your Own Business
Caring for the planet is an ongoing process and not something that should only be thought about periodically. There’s no shortage of options for firms that are hoping to support a more eco-conscious society. Here are some everyday actions that businesses can take to support sustainability in their own communities:
- Understand your energy requirements and reduce energy use where possible. These might be things that any business could do, including running an energy audit to ensure that your heating and cooling equipment runs efficiently as well as making sure that your building is adequately insulated.
- Pay attention to your energy sources. Eco-friendly businesses also work to acquire their energy from renewable sources like solar and wind power. Some companies have taken this to the next level by meeting a portion of their energy needs with solar panels and/or wind turbines. For example, Cox Printers (Linden, N.J.) has solar panels and wind turbines for energy. The company also has a beehive as well as milkweed to attract butterflies and encourage native pollinators.
- Focus on carbon neutrality. Some companies offset their carbon footprint (particularly related to shipping) by purchasing Renewable Energy Certificates (RECs) to offset their carbon generation. In this scenario, a renewable energy site makes the energy, and a business, by purchasing the associated RECs, gains the property rights to that energy.
- Reduce the use of any hazardous materials and choose more sustainable technologies. This might involve reducing or eliminating the use of processes that produce carbon dioxide or result in hazardous chemical waste.
- Encourage recycling. Create awareness with your customers around the importance of recycling. Advertise your recycling efforts and make a point of including “how to recycle” information with anything you ship.
- Plant trees. If you’re in a document-intensive industry, platforms like PrintReleaf enable users to calculate the amount of paper consumption in a printed product and equate that with forest impact (measured in trees). Users can then compensate for their paper consumption by planting trees as part of a reforestation project.
- Properly dispose of waste. Waste is a fact of life in any industry, but much of it can be recycled or reused. Sending waste to a landfill should be a measure of last resort. Take advantage of local recycling programs and turn to waste management businesses that specialize in eco-friendly disposal.
- Encourage sustainable commuting. According to the EPA, transportation accounts for 27% of all greenhouse gas emissions. Seek opportunities to encourage carpooling within your organization. Shared rides are more eco-friendly, and they can also reduce the number of miles, fuel, and maintenance required for personal vehicles. Businesses can also cover the cost of public transportation—providing passes for trains and buses may encourage employees to prioritize cost savings over convenience.
The Bottom Line
Businesses and consumers alike have an obligation to protect the planet we all share and ensure that it can be enjoyed for generations to come. In addition, an eco-friendly strategy can be an important competitive differentiator on many fronts. Consumers feel better doing business with firms that demonstrate a concern for the environment, businesses want to align themselves with like-minded partners who share their values, and prospective employees want to work for firms that are striving to make difference.
So start today—consider what your business is already doing to be eco-friendly, then think about the things you might be able to do to take those efforts a step further on a daily basis. Your customers, employees, and fellow businesses will appreciate it, and the long-term benefits to the environment and its people will be well worth the effort.
Eve Padula is a Senior Consulting Editor for Keypoint Intelligence’s Production Services with a focus on Business Development Strategies, Customer Communications, and Wide Format. She is responsible for creating many types of content, including forecasts, industry analyses, and research/multi-client studies. She also manages the writing, editing, and distribution cycles for many types of deliverables.