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What is a sustainable business?

Do you want to make a difference to the impact your business has on the natural world? Learn all about sustainable business and how to sharpen up your best practices.

Woman shops at a sustainable business

Companies and consumers are starting to recognise the importance of sustainability and give it a lot more attention. In fact, 92% of consumers admit that they’re more likely to trust brands that are environmentally or socially conscious.

This means that businesses around the world are pouring millions into developing sustainable business practices – all jostling to win the hearts and minds of their eco-conscious customers. 

If you’re left wondering how and why businesses are prioritising sustainability, then you’ve come to the right place. In this article, we take a look at what a sustainable business is, why it’s important, the benefits, and how to create a sustainable business strategy. Throughout the article, we’ll also highlight some expert courses to boost your knowledge, from business strategy courses to general sustainability courses.

What is sustainability in business?

A sustainable business ensures that it’s able to conduct its business activities without negatively impacting the environment, communities, or society as a whole. Just about any business activity will impact the environment in some way, so it’s important businesses recognise this and honour a commitment to be more sustainable.

Sustainability in business can be split into four pillars:

  • Social 
  • Human 
  • Economic 
  • Environmental

A sustainable business should aim to make a positive impact in as many of these pillars as possible when making business decisions. Not only is this for the benefit of wider society but also to ensure a sustainable future for the business and their customers.

Sustainable business practice examples

No organisation is the same, which means that their sustainable best practices are likely to differ as well. While sustainability measures are unique to each business, there are some sustainable business practices that are used more often than not. They include: 

Find out about five online courses to make your business more sustainable here.

Why is sustainability in business important?

Climate change, fewer natural resources, a growing population, and other major disruptors are all impacting society and the way businesses operate. Therefore, companies must ensure they’re doing their bit to care for the environment and the people they sell their products and services to.

It’s more important than ever that businesses rethink the way they operate. By implementing a sustainable business strategy, they’re able to become more resilient in an ever-changing world, while also helping to preserve the planet and contribute to a greener future.

Those companies that don’t embrace this change will get left behind, as 88% of consumers will be more loyal to a brand that supports social and environmental issues. This means that sustainable business practices are essential when building a relationship with consumers and generating goodwill.

Put simply, business sustainability is important for consumers, organisations, and wider society. Without businesses buying into improving their sustainability measures, it’s unlikely we will ever see an improvement in how we treat our planet.

Want to learn more about sustainability? We answer 50 of the biggest sustainability questions here.

The benefits of sustainable business practices

As we have already mentioned, not only will sustainable business practices benefit society as a whole, but they can also lead to valuable benefits for an organisation. This is why implementing sustainable strategies is a win-win for all concerned.

Some of the main benefits include:

  • Increased sales and profit. By minimising inefficiencies and operational costs, businesses are able to improve their sales performance. This, coupled with making their brand more appealing to customers, will lead to better profit margins.
  • Competitive advantage. Being a sustainable business can improve brand awareness and set a business apart from the competition. Customers are more likely to buy from a brand that takes sustainability seriously. 
  • Support from investors. Sustainable best practices also look good when it comes to winning over investors. If you can showcase how a business is making a positive difference to society, investors are more likely to part with their cash.
  • Satisfied consumers. Increasingly, customers expect businesses to be able to show that they’re committed to sustainability and limiting the damage to the natural world. Failure to do so might mean a company loses their business.
  • Better talent and staff retention. If a business can build a reputation as being sustainable, it can attract and retain some of the best talent within its industry. The best employees no longer want to work for brands that don’t take sustainability seriously.
  • Reduced costs. Not only can sustainable solutions help to reduce electricity and other operational costs, but they can also lead to businesses qualifying for government subsidies and grants.

How to create a sustainable business strategy

Before a business starts its journey to being more environmentally friendly, it will first need to come up with a sustainable business strategy. Here’s how to do it in four quick steps.

1. Define objectives

Working with other members of your team, consider what sustainability means for both the business and your customers. This helps you to target key areas and create a more focused approach.

You might want to think about areas like how much waste the business currently generates, what impact operations have on the local community, and whether you can make your supply chain more efficient.

Answering these types of questions as a team will help to define your objectives and give everyone a clear goal to work towards.

2. Establish a mission statement

It’s now important to discuss why you want to make the proposed changes and how you’re going to go about achieving this. A good mission statement should ascertain what your organisation’s values are and the overall purpose. Consider the five Ws of who, what, when, where, and why. 

The mission statement should act as a reliable guide for everyone in the business and ensure you’re now ready to discuss the specifics of the strategy itself. 

3. Create a strategy

Now for the main event, creating a sustainable business strategy. You’ll need to think about profit, people, and the planet when producing your strategy, as there is very little point in making drastic changes to your sustainability best practices if it’s going to put you out of business. You need to take a sensible, measured approach.

66% of global consumers are willing to pay more for sustainable goods, so don’t be afraid to plan for a rise in prices in order to accommodate the sustainability measures you plan on implementing. 

Basically, you want to create a strategy that will improve your operational efficiency and drive profits, while improving your business’ environmental and social impact. Try to get a good range of team members involved in the sustainable business strategy process, ensuring you’ve got a diverse range of individuals collaborating to develop new and inspiring ideas.

4. Implement the sustainable business strategy

Finally, it’s time to roll out your strategy and achieve your company objectives. A lot of businesses talk about making sustainable changes, but not as many actually enforce those ideas. 

Throughout the implementation of the strategy, make sure you revisit your objectives and mission statement to ensure you’re making good progress and remain on track. After a while, you should hopefully start to enjoy some of the benefits we discussed earlier in this article, as your business reaps the rewards of your sustainable outlook.

Fancy yourself as an environmental entrepreneur? Take a look at this excellent course about strategies for green business by the Adam Smith Center.

Sustainability in business challenges

It would be remiss to talk about the benefits of sustainability in business without also looking at the challenges. Here are a few challenges you may need to overcome when improving your sustainable best practices as a business:

  • Additional costs. When implementing your new sustainable business strategy, the upfront investment is likely to be high. You’ll need to make sure that this initial investment will eventually lead to long-term profitability. 
  • Lack of expertise and knowledge. The drive to make businesses more sustainable is still a relatively new phenomenon, which means there aren’t many experts on hand to help. You may need help externally in order to ensure you have a safe pair of hands at your disposal – perhaps a sustainability consultant.
  • Customer hesitancy. Sometimes, customers don’t like change, especially if this leads to higher prices. However, there is a momentum shift in people’s views towards sustainability. As long as you’re able to demonstrate why these changes are being made and the associated benefits, you should find that your customers are supportive.
  • Not enough time. Implementing changes can take time. If you rush your sustainable business strategy, you may find that it acts as a major disruption rather than a power for good. The key here is to be patient.
  • Greenwashing. Businesses have to make sure they can substantiate their claims and don’t oversell their sustainability efforts to consumers while marketing, otherwise, they could be accused of greenwashing.

While there will inevitably be some difficult hurdles you’ll need to jump over, this shouldn’t deter you from trying to do the right thing. Like with any change, there are some challenges that can make life difficult, but ultimately your business should be able to benefit from being more sustainable in the long run.

Online sustainable business courses on FutureLearn

Nobody said that understanding and improving sustainable business practices was easy, but hopefully, this guide will move you one step closer to implementing positive changes. 

The relationship between sustainability and business is complex and multi-faceted. That’s why we recommend enrolling on some additional courses in order to deepen your understanding and fine-tune your expertise in this area.

If you want to learn more about what sustainable business is, corporate social responsibility, and other ways of tackling climate change, then check out some of the courses we offer below. Help make a difference today.

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