By: Diana Bailey, Columnist, International Director
At a time when we’re consistently breaking our own global record for hottest year, the argument for environmental awareness and sustainable development is louder than ever. It reverberates through every nook and cranny of companies all over the world, pushing business leaders to place sustainability and green technology as key priorities. The United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals, which map out the efforts governments, businesses and individuals must undertake, also underpin the need for corporations to get on the sustainability bandwagon. Yet, aside from compliance, there are still many reasons why companies should go green.
So let’s take a deep dive into how this steadily growing movement creates a positive impact on business, and why yours should get involved.
Green-light your brand with positive PR.
One of the main reasons businesses undergo sustainability and environmentally friendly initiatives is because they want to be recognized as a responsible organization, with Mother Nature at top of mind. However, not a lot of companies go beyond annual tree-plantings and fundraisers—and consumers take notice.
Consumers nowadays like to decide for themselves based on their own research, which is easy to do with just a few clicks. And with technology and social media tightly enmeshed with everything we do, people aren’t easily buying into social-responsibility and sustainability marketing gimmicks. They can search for themselves and seek the answers that they want regarding a company’s environmental efforts. According to studies, they are more likely to support companies that support environmentally friendly initiatives. A 2015 study by Nielsen further showed that 58 percent of consumers worldwide didn’t mind paying more for eco-friendly products.
What does this say about your role in the C-Suite? Green-lighting corporate environmental efforts can differentiate your brand, building it up as a thought leader in your industry. You can set a standard on how your business operates and, therefore, present an environmentally responsible image that is highly attractive to consumers.
Sustainability and the bottom line
Contrary to popular belief, going green isn’t necessarily expensive. By making small changes to how your company operates today, you set yourself up for large savings in the long run. Studies show that companies using green technology perform better financially.
As a C-level executive, you are in the best position to see the big picture. Using the Porter hypothesis developed by Harvard Business School Professor Michael E. Porter, you can go over your organization with a “quality flashlight”. Look at how design, production, delivery, customer service and all other aspects of your business can be updated to become more sustainable and environmentally friendly. You’ll see how implementing the necessary changes can go hand in hand with your financial goals.
For example, it’s easy to overlook power and water wastage in the workplace, and yet these are areas in which your company can create substantial savings. Print management, such as double-sided printing or even going paperless, can reduce both your costs and waste. Furthermore, solar power is becoming more competitive, and it may be cheaper than coal in the coming years. If those aren’t reasons enough, consider the tax benefits. Tax credits can be applied to businesses that use renewable energy.
Overall, a focused sustainability strategy can lower costs and bulk up your bottom line in more ways than one.
Lead the movement.
It goes without saying that C-level executives have a growing role in sustainability. Support for this initiative should be more than mere lip service, especially since consumers go beyond traditional marketing and do their own research on which companies are actually walking the talk in the green revolution. Once green gets a buy-in in the C-Suite, leaders must then come up with ways to integrate sustainability into executive decision-making. This is a huge challenge that many leaders face these days, but setting the case for introducing environment-focused changes in the business is more important than ever.
More than waving the banner of ambiguous corporate social responsibility, going green for senior leaders means you must have concrete plans. This will only happen once you implement strategic sustainability policies across your organization, as well as ensure short- and long-term payoffs. This is not just a matter of strategy, however. As C-Suite executives, you are responsible for cultivating a culture of environmental protection, sustainability and accountability that reverberates throughout the whole organization.
So, instead of going with the trend, leaders must consider “going green” as an opportunity to address the needs of the corporation. The change may not happen right now, but remember, it should start at the top. With small, incremental and strategic steps in the right direction, you’re sure to achieve bigger returns in the long run.
Get the rest of the top onboard.
Senior levels in the organization may have different opinions on what sustainability is and how to achieve it. Going green can mean different things to each C-Suite executive. So, if you want to get everyone else onboard, you must make everyone understand what you mean by your advocacy and get them on the same page with you. Include in the conversations tangible proof, showing hard numbers and setting realistic, achievable goals that can persuade leadership and the board.
This is, of course, easier said than done. In the real world, while there are small, low-cost adjustments that you can make in your sustainability efforts, you’re soon bound to ramp up the green crusade to keep up with the competition. And this can mean that a lot of money will be funnelled into greening the company, even replacing costly hardware that isn’t even at the end of its life cycle.
Once this happens, another hurdle begins, and you may get pushback from other executives, especially your chief operating officer and chief financial officer. You may face a dilemma between investing in green technology to get a green certification that attracts more consumers and replacing expensive hardware and systems. If you don’t adapt and get certified, however, you run the risk of getting left behind by competitors.
Consider the “bigger value”.
There’s more to going green than not being in the red. In fact, committing to sustainability and leading the movement creates a better and stronger culture within the organization, setting you up for longer-term pay-offs. From an organizational perspective, having a robust sustainability strategy also attracts a new breed of talent who have similar values and would never consider working for a company without eco-friendly initiatives. Having such passionate employees with you creates a strong sense of social responsibility among the workforce, which then reflects on business practices.
Your sustainability efforts can also permeate through your own work environment, allowing you to create a healthier workplace for employees. This creates a boost in employee morale, as they feel good about themselves and know that their leaders care about their well-being. And we all know that healthy employees are happy employees.
Furthermore, beyond lip service and public-relations stunts, your eco-friendly efforts actually contribute to the greater good of the planet, which is always a cause worth getting behind.
Going green may seem trendy, but the reality is that your business can experience a variety of benefits from it—and with you at the helm. More than going paperless or using energy-efficient devices, leading sustainability advocacy can mean making big and small changes that can significantly impact every aspect of the business.