How to overcome sustainability challenges your business may face.

Like many executives and leaders in business, you’re aware of the need to move towards a more environmentally sustainable business model and practices; you understand why it is important for the planet and you can see the benefits to your business. You’re committed to change but perhaps a bigger leap than making that initial commitment is the one required to overcome the obstacles in your way.  

We asked business executives what the biggest challenge was that their business faces when pushing towards sustainability. Half of the people we polled said that it was costly. 45% of business people cited supply chain issues as a leading barrier to change, and the third biggest consideration was a lack of resources. These universal challenges in the bid for a low carbon footprint are not insurmountable and can sometimes even be turned into opportunities for your business.   

Before jumping right in and making change on a hunch, we recommend that you build up a data-driven understanding of your business’s environmental impact. This could include a lifecycle assessment, auditing single-use plastic usage, measuring waste volumes, and carbon emissions. This knowledge will empower you to prioritise the areas where you can make the most impact early on for some quick wins, and also identify more complex, longer-term projects which will require greater stakeholder buy-in and refocusing of resources.   

How to become a sustainable business

Cost-conscious transition 

‘You get what you pay for’ as the saying goes, and often the more environmentally conscious option is more costly. If you’re considering increasing prices to reflect the costs of materials, it’s important to communicate clearly why you have made this change and how it benefits your customers and stakeholders. A phased-in or tiered approach to change could help to bring your customers along with you, and encourage them to adopt the new materials of their own accord.  

Another approach would be to reevaluate what you’re purchasing and why- inline with the waste reduction philosophy of ‘the three R’s’. Seeking ways to reduce, reuse and recycle within your own systems and processes could result in the elimination of superfluous packaging, or see you move to more targeted direct mail communications. It could be that you’re able to identify opportunities to design more sustainable processes which are also more cost-effective, such as paperless billing. The three R’s can be applied in many ways and will look different for every business, but whatever industry you’re in, a reduction in the need for resources translates to a reduction in costs. 

Improving the supply chain 

The first step in addressing concerns around barriers to achieving sustainability goals within supply chains is to adopt a supply chain traceability and transparency policy. By acknowledging where and how your goods are produced, and communicating this to your stakeholders and customers, you are creating accountability within your business, which can act as a catalyst for change. You can utilise your buying power with suppliers to improve sustainability within your value chain. Aim to work with your suppliers and corporate partners to ensure they are in a position to continue providing services and products that meet your sustainability goals. Another consideration is to create an infrastructure of local providers to reduce mileage in the value chain.  

Utilising existing resources 

If the knowledge and skills of the people in your existing team are yet to meet the needs of your new, more sustainable direction, then consider ways to upskill through training schemes, secondments, and mentorships.  

Set realistic goals so that your shift to sustainable practices is achievable. Whilst there is an urgency to the need for carbon emission reduction, the steps taken towards net zero can be incremental, giving you time to embed the change effectively within your business in a way that is not disruptive or detrimental.  

It is unlikely that a new pot of money will materialise for the purpose of addressing sustainability goals so a dynamic approach to existing budgets will be necessary to free-up funds to implement change. That said, some interventions are cost-saving and will create a financial benefit for your business.  

Engaging stakeholders  

Changemaking requires bringing others on board, and there are several practical things you can do in this area. We recommend that you launch your sustainability strategy by building communities and networks within your own organisation. Sustainability goals need to be built into the KPIs of senior leadership in order to embed them within your organisation. 

Whilst leadership needs to come from the top, you can create sustainability leaders at all levels and within all departments of your business by creating an organisation-wide sustainability council or working group. These eco-enthusiasts will serve as representatives connecting the whole organisation and ensuring that everyone is working together and moving in the same direction. Similarly, if you wish to bring your external stakeholders along with you on this journey, you will need to embed your goals in your marketing and communications strategy.  

We hope that you take forward even one or two of these points into your projects and that these interventions can lay the foundation of your corporate social responsibility strategy. When you come to measure the impact of these changes on your business, we can support you with our SROI services. Our behavioural insights team are experts in assessing social, environmental, and economic impact. We operate within robust methodologies with integrity and transparency. Our evaluation services can be scaled to meet the needs of a wide range of projects.  

To find out how our services can help you, get in touch.