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How to run a sustainable business

Updated: 18 October 2021

Business sustainability is more than thinking about your environmental impact, it allows you to be more resilient and thrive in the long term. From Nike to Nestle, it’s a key issue across industries. In fact, 90% of CEOs think sustainability is vital for success, while 66% of consumers would spend more on a product if it came from a sustainable brand.  It can also improve your business reputation, create new opportunities and reduce costs. To help you start your strategy,  we’ve put together some simple steps to make your business more sustainable.

What is business sustainability?

Business sustainability is typically a strategy that looks at all your operations and their long-term impact. You can then find ways to reduce your environmental impact, running costs, potential business risks and other weaknesses. 

Areas of focus could include reducing plastic use, having enough capital to survive a poor sales period, or reducing staff turnover to save recruitment costs. Every business is different, but be sure to look at your weaknesses as well as the areas you’re passionate about.

Have a clear goal

Building sustainability throughout your company is no easy task. It is important to have clear sustainability goals. These will enable your workforce to have targets to work towards, meaning they have a clear agenda and can work cohesively. Once you have these, embed these goals in the beliefs of your company. Be realistic about what you can achieve, it’s better to have fewer goals and really focus on them. You can always add more later.

Some examples of sustainability goals are:

  1. To encourage entrepreneurial culture and mentor young entrepreneurs in your local community.
  2. To provide employees with lots of opportunities to improve their job skills for their development.
  3. To prioritize energy efficiency across all business operations.

Engage your people

Once you have chosen your goals the next step is to embed this in your culture. In order to ensure buy-in across the entire business it is crucial to get your senior staff on board first. Make sure they see the benefit of achieving your goals.This will then feed down to the rest of the business. Also consider championing somebody internal to lead on each goal. Their role is to drive forward that goal, keep it top of mind with the rest of the company and spread the word in your area, industry or with your customers. 

Reduce your environmental impact

Going green is an important part of running a sustainable business. By using renewables and being more energy efficient, you’ll not only will you be helping the environment, you’ll save money and build a reputation as a responsible business with your customers. Here are some examples of simple changes you can make:

  1. Recycle and reuse – Make sure the bins are clearly labelled. Also purchase recycled paper products and ink carriages.
  2. Switch your light bulbs – Swap your standard light bulbs to LED lighting. LED light bulbs use far less energy and do not contain toxic materials like mercury. They are more expensive initially but last about five times longer.
  3. Reduce the use of plastic bottles – Encourage people to bring reusable bottles and make drinking water easily accessible
  4. Encourage greener travel – Think about encouraging your workforce to ride a bike to work, lift share or start “Leave your car at home days”. This will reduce single vehicle usage and encouraging your staff to pursue healthier and more environmentally friendly forms of transport.
  5. Replace old appliances with energy efficient ones – The next time your appliances need replacing, check out a more sustainable replacement. Look out for the star ratings and compare the product to its competitors. 

Encouraging a sustainable supply chain

In-house sustainability is very important but you can take it one step further. Take the time to look at your suppliers and make sure you are sourcing your raw materials from people who practice being sustainable themselves. Avoid suppliers that use substances which are toxic and harmful to the environment. You can do this by mapping out your supply chain and communicating your expectations directly with them. If suppliers fail to meet the criteria or fail to provide the information required then start researching into alternatives. Also, think about sourcing from local suppliers rather than those produced from too far away. 

Invest in your culture 

Your employees are your most valuable resource. Your success depends on them, so having a culture that helps them thrive within your business can pay you back in spades in the long run. Motivated staff who stick around will not only save you time and money on recruitment, they’ll take on challenges and drive your business forward with new ideas.

Consider hiring your next recruit from your local area. It will enable you to vet your candidates more easily, build your local network and encourage loyalty. It will also show your customers that you value your local community and you’re invested in its growth and well-being.

Plan for the bad times

Running a small business can be full of surprises, sometimes outside of your control. A sustainable business will plan for this and be prepared for the unexpected shortfalls. Here are some steps you can take:

  1. Diversify your offering – If you’re solely reliant on one source of revenue, you’re more at risk if that product or service goes through a rough patch. Consider what else you can add that would be a good fit for your business.  
  2. Expand your customer base – The wider your audience, the less reliant you are on any particular segment. Is exporting an option, or can you reach more people with a new marketing channel? 
  3. Competitor knowledge – Keep your eyes peeled for rising competitors in your industry, or new products or services from your current competition. The more you know about the opposition the better.
  4. Have a cash flow plan – Ask yourself how you’d keep the wheels turning if you had a drop in revenue, or if your peak season underperformed. Having a plan ready to roll out can help you adapt quickly. Boosting your cash flow with finance can also give you more flexibility to make the best decisions in tricky situations. 
  5. Watch out for wider macro factors – Keep up to date with the latest news affecting the economy and your industry. Look out for changes in regulations and seek advice on issues if needed..

Keep Improving

Sustainability is a journey, not a destination! Everything is a learning process and there will always be room for improvement. Once you see that running a sustainable business saves money, builds respect and simplifies operations you will constantly be looking for new ways to get better. So once you have achieved one of your goals, set yourself another, more ambitious one. 

Showcase your sustainability achievements

Don’t keep your progress a secret – shout about it! Sustainability achievements are great to share with your customers. Your employees will love it too. It shows that you don’t just value your bottom line, helping to win over an audience that is increasingly drawn to responsible brands. It will also encourage other businesses to follow suit and become more sustainable themselves. 

If you’re looking for finance to make your business more sustainable, check if you qualify for a business loan in 30 seconds at

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