As our ice melts, our forests burn, and our homes flood, the concept of sustainability has become not just important but critical. We know business is at the top of the list of perpetrators of injustice against the planet and its inhabitants - think fossil fuel companies, fast food, and big-box retail with their extractive and damaging environmental practices. But that also means business has the opportunity to be the change that’s needed in the world!
We are excited to see a trend towards impact-driven companies that are proving it’s possible to treat stakeholders (employees, clients, communities, and planet) well and still run a successful operation. While these social enterprises may experience slower growth trajectories than traditional business, in the long term, the benefits are cumulative and regenerative. Switching to a sustainable business model can afford a company these two main benefits:
Higher Employee Engagement and Higher Profitability
People want to work for companies where they can be proud of the work they do and find purpose in their efforts. According to this NY Times article, employees who derive meaning and significance from their work were more than three times as likely to stay with their organizations. These employees also reported 1.7 times higher job satisfaction, and they were 1.4 times more engaged at work.
That engagement has a direct connection to profits. In a 2012 meta-analysis, Gallup found that companies in the top quartile for engaged employees, compared with the bottom quartile, had 22 percent higher profitability, 10 percent higher customer ratings, 28 percent less theft, and 48 percent fewer safety incidents.
Higher Trust + Loyalty From Customers
According to one social impact group called B Lab, 64% of adults in the US believe consumers can impact social or political change through their purchases. While the Edelman Trust Barometer shows that people are 6.5x more likely to believe business should be doing more on climate change, economic inequality, and healthcare access, and 80% of the public supports a company that discloses its impact.
Clearly, social impact has an influence on consumer purchasing decisions. But let's say someone is brand new to the concept of a sustainable or carbon-neutral business. Where do they even begin? We’ve made this guide to help:
1. Understanding The Importance of Your Carbon Footprint
Before a business can implement sustainable practices, it must determine what about its current business operations are unsustainable and really comprehend why it matters. Let’s start with defining a carbon footprint.
According to The Nature Conservancy, a carbon footprint is “the total amount of greenhouse gases (including carbon dioxide and methane) that are generated by our actions.”
If you’re interested in calculating your personal carbon footprint, you can use their calculator here. Why do we care about greenhouse gases? These gases allow sunlight to enter the Earth's atmosphere, but when sunlight hits the Earth's surface, it converts into heat that gets trapped by greenhouse gases and results in the rise of global temperatures or ‘global warming’. The buildup of these gases over the past century has caused the Earth's average temperature to rise, leading to the extreme weather patterns and fires across the globe that we are seeing today.
By assessing its carbon footprint, a business can identify areas where it can make the most impactful change. This can include reducing energy consumption, making adjustments to transportation, implementing better waste management practices, and more. There are various carbon footprint calculators available online that can help a business measure its carbon emissions and identify areas for improvement. For instance, HigherRing is certified climate-neutral by Climate Neutral, a nonprofit organization used by leading businesses to identify and mitigate their impact on the environment.
2. Assessing Current Practices
The next step in achieving a sustainable workplace is to assess current workplace practices. This involves conducting an audit of operations to identify areas where sustainable practices can be implemented. A business can start by evaluating energy consumption, waste management, water usage, or even transportation methods. For example, departments can track energy consumption, waste diversion rates, and carbon emissions on a monthly or quarterly basis. By measuring and tracking progress, the team can identify areas for improvement and make informed decisions to further enhance sustainability initiatives. Third-party platforms like Climate Neutral can be incredibly helpful to easily begin the process of tracking a business’ impact. HigherRing became certified in March of 2023.
3. Setting + Implementing Sustainability Goals
Once you have assessed your current workplace practices, it’s time to set your goals for the future. This can include a wide range of initiatives, such as reducing waste, promoting recycling, implementing energy-efficient solutions, encouraging sustainable transportation options, switching to remote work, and reducing digital waste. No matter what you choose, it’s important that your goals are specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound (SMART). Let's look at an example of how to take a goal and make it SMART. Say your goal is to reduce waste headed to landfill for a marketing agency that operates in-person in a shared office. A SMART version of this goal might be:
We aim to reduce waste that goes to landfill by changing all office snacks to 100% compostable or fully recyclable packaging with the support of Terracycle and Ridwell by January 2024.
It’s specific and relevant because you’ve zoomed in on a particular aspect of waste that makes sense for an in-person team (the snack room). It’s measurable and time-bound because you’ve indicated how much (100%) and given a date (2024). The goal is clearly achievable because you’ve shared that you’ll partner with successful and well-known recycling platforms to coordinate your efforts (Terracycle and Ridwell).
4. Employee Engagement and Education
Employee engagement is crucial for the success of any sustainability initiative. You should plan to provide training and educational resources to employees to raise awareness about and encourage active participation. Getting employees to become active in the efforts can be easiest if you allow them to have input throughout the whole process. For example, you might survey the team about the sectors of sustainability they are most passionate about and then build your goals around their areas of interest.
Employee engagement can include workshops, seminars, and online resources that educate about sustainable practices both at work and in the home. Additionally, you can consider establishing employee-led green teams or committees to drive sustainability initiatives within the organization. Keep in mind that extra time should be made available for this additional work, or these roles should be compensated in addition to an employee’s regular workload. Asking a person or team to fit a committee into their regular schedule can lead to overwork and loss of interest in the initiative. Offering compensation and other incentives to start green teams is a great way to increase team retention and increase engagement in the initiatives.
Employers can also provide education to support sustainability in employee’s homes as well. 40% of US carbon emissions come from five basic household activities we do every day. Companies can search out platforms like Bright Action that educate employees with the latest conservation ideas, products, and solutions to save money and reduce employee household impact.
5. Measuring and Tracking Progress
To ensure the effectiveness of your sustainability efforts, it is important to measure and track your progress. This can be done by establishing key performance indicators (KPIs) and regularly monitoring and reporting on them. This is another great area where an employee-led green team will help your efforts. Having a group established helps maintain accountability around implementing and measuring your efforts, but will also support your leadership team when it’s time to share the results for your annual impact report or to stakeholders. HigherRing is proud to partner with Unit of Impact to publish our impact report, but if you want to make a big splash, you can also produce a video about your efforts like Apple did. Bravo Apple!
Now it’s Time to Take Action
We’re proud of our investment to be a sustainable company which is why we are a certified B Corp, certified with Climate Neutral, and a member of 1% For the Planet. We love to support other brands that are doing their part to use business as a force for good. Reach out to us if we can support your sustainability journey or provide ethical outsourcing options for your open roles in:
supply chain, e-commerce, and wholesale operations
bookkeeping and financial operations
Now that you’ve got the guide to get you started, it’s time to take real action! As one of our favorite sustainability influencers (@shelbizleee) says, “You can not do all the good the world needs, but the world needs all the good that you can do.