As the level of human impact on the planet grows ever more critical, sustainability goals are being widely adopted across numerous industries. More and more organisations are looking to uphold social responsibility, pledging their commitment to this cause in light of consumer preferences.
The data behind this is formidable: Deloitte’s third Sustainable Consumer report shows that 40% of consumers are actively choosing to support/buy from brands that have environmentally sustainable practices and values. A survey by IBM in February this year similarly found that in the wake of COVID-19, 93% of global respondents had re-evaluated their views on sustainability. According to the data, 51% claimed sustainability is more important to them today, with 49% of consumers having paid an average of 59% more for products from more sustainable brands.
Sustainability is no longer a buzzword limited to ‘green’ companies — every brand and business needs to improve their sustainability efforts, not just because it's the right thing, but because it’s important to their audiences. Businesses are offsetting carbon, reducing single-use plastic and finding renewable energy sources, but there are still many that haven’t cracked it. They’re in an early stage of sustainability yet they’re feeling increasing pressure from consumers who are more likely to opt for cause-related companies.
To make matters worse, greater public awareness about the climate impact of corporations has intensified the amount of ‘greenwashing’ in marketing. Lots of time and money is being spent on meaningless ‘carbon offsetting’ that paints a dishonest picture of companies' sustainability efforts in order to neutralise negative PR. Moreover, PR and comms plays an important role in ensuring a brand is communicating their sustainability credentials in the right way, at the right time, without greenwashing.
So, in short, it’s vital that businesses think hard about avoiding greenwashing and building honest sustainability practices. The question that remains is: how exactly can they do this?
How to build sustainable business practices
It can be daunting for some firms to think and align their business with sustainability ambitions — especially during the startup phase. After all, the historic motivation behind greenwashing has been that it’s cheaper to sanitise a brand’s public image than it is to make credible and tangible changes to its business model. In the early stages of a business, growth is weighted much greater than sustainability.
The following measures are neither exhaustive nor exclusive to tech firms. However, these actions are the best starting point for incorporating environmentally-friendly, carbon negative initiatives into the business model as early and comprehensively as possible.
As a starting point, a popular strategy for many companies at the moment is to tackle the carbon footprint of their staff. Cycle-to-work schemes are adopted across numerous industries as a way of incentivising clean, carbon-free travel. This is especially relevant to startups that tend to operate within cities, where traffic congestion is not just perceived through the lens of employees’ punctuality, but pollution.
Other initiatives that can boost morale while organising staff around shared climate goals could follow the example of Paths for All, where teams from different workplace departments engaged in friendly competition to see who could walk the most during one month.
Conscientious office management is another way to build staff awareness of smaller actions they can take to leave the company with a negative carbon footprint. The simple strategy of placing more recycling bins around the office can work like a charm, along with giving employees desktop recycling bins and putting organic waste bins in the staff kitchen.
Looking beyond your internal team, a startup’s external partnerships should also be audited in terms of their carbon footprint. In the modern workplace, there is less need for paper and conventional office supplies. This is a notable instance of where firms can save money while greening up their business practices, as operational costs of physical paperwork, mail, printers and scanners are eliminated.
Companies still rely on catering and office equipment, but plenty of modern IT suppliers are pioneering recycling, upcycling and eco-friendly packaging for the kinds of products that end up in tech workplaces. The best practice for sourcing the right suppliers in this scenario is always to check if they are ISO 14001 certified — indicating that a company is continuously improving its environmental practices and credibility.
There’s also the option of refurbished and second-hand equipment, which is more cost-effective and generates less need for recycling, upcycling and demand for new products in the first place. This requires a discerning eye for who is supplying the used equipment — be careful to ensure that items purchased have a warranty system in place.
Green Web Hosting
For tech companies, the perks of a paperless work environment do little to counteract the problem of cloud computing carbon emissions. Forecasts suggest that accelerating demand for ICT in the current decade will constitute 21% of global electricity usage. Green computing practices have thus emerged that help reduce the intense emission of data centres, which also possess smart energy monitoring capabilities.
By tracking carbon footprint through a trusted provider, business leaders can use scientific insights to set emission targets for the whole company. The right provider will also advise emissions actions that comply with the UN’s Gold Standard, and sits within its Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) framework.
As Forbes reported in April, “the only thing rising faster than greenhouse gas emissions are regulations to track them, particularly in high technology”. For a tech startup to operate with net zero in mind, they can use management software to calculate the carbon footprint of each item from the very start. Startups and growing businesses can also exercise heat-loss control over their workplace building by using double-glazing and proper insulation. By using renewable, low-energy light and heating systems, they can also tackle wasted energy and bring down fossil fuel consumption.
Leading by example
For brands who have not started to consider at least some of the options listed above, as the saying goes, there’s no time like the present. In aiming to help reach a net-zero society as fast as possible, companies who want to be agents for sustainable change should not be afraid of seemingly cumbersome tasks. Your new and existing audiences will appreciate it, and the best talent will want to work for you because of it.
There’s even more to it — sustainability is not just key to efficient growth, but is also a source of inspiration for new eco products and services that can give a startup or existing business a cutting edge. While there are plenty of ways to get started immediately, don’t try to balance everything at once. A sustainable strategy is derived from a set of goals which are then adopted into incremental actions within a set deadline. The vital thing to remember is that, so long as a company is accountable and consistently improving, consumers will see that, and keep them in business.
Once you’ve put your sustainability practices in action, you’ll need a marketing and communications strategy that highlights your efforts and positions you as a green brand within the market. Stay tuned for key ways to make your marcomms strategy sustainability-first.
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