Sustainability is key to driving a better, healthier, and more equitable future, as it involves making responsible decisions and actions that will benefit the environment and society in the long run. Almost all (90%) of businesses agree with this.
And yet, only 60% of them have a sustainability strategy in place.
What does it take to go from "yes, we need to do this" to "we're on it"? We dug a little and asked business and HR leaders how they managed to build a culture of sustainability in their workplaces, and here's what we found out.
- Sustainability is not just “nice to have”, it’s a must, and for many reasons
- Being sustainable can bring business benefits, make you more competitive, and catalyze innovation
- It can also be a great way to engage
- To build a culture of sustainability, you need a solid plan (with goals, directions, and progress reports) Focusing on value and the positive side of implementing sustainability will help you stick to your plan
- For sustainability to work in your company, everyone needs to be on board: from management to every employee
Sustainability Mindset in the Business World
Sustainability isn't a button you can switch on before you take your Monday morning cup of coffee. Nor is it something you set and forget, like the alarm you set for tomorrow.
It's a process -- one rooted in a healthy business mindset. Like marketing, HR, or any other business function, sustainability is a continuous journey that requires patience and consistency.
To make sustainability more than just a second thought but an integral part of your organizational culture, you need to build a mindset that permeates all areas of your business. You need to look at it as:
A Competitive Advantage
Sustainability can give you a competitive edge in your industry. It's no secret that sustainability is increasingly important to customers and investors, so having it as part of your business strategy can win more people (and investments!) on your side.
A Long-Term Investment
Sustainability is like a long-term investment: it may not yield immediate returns, but its effects will eventually be felt in the long run. Investing in sustainability-related initiatives such as renewable energy or water-saving technologies can pay off in the form of lower operational costs and improved brand image.
A Collaborative Approach
Successful sustainability initiatives require a collaborative effort. To build effective policies and programs, you need to get the stakeholders involved -- from your employees to your customers and suppliers.
A Catalyst for Innovation
Sustainability can be a catalyst for innovation. It's an opportunity to find new, creative solutions to existing challenges and look outside the box, so you can come up with new products, services, or processes that can benefit both your business and the environment. For example, Microsoft committed to switching to 100% renewable energy in their data centers and buildings by 2025. This has pushed them to find better, greener solutions to their energy needs.
An Employee Engagement Driver
93% of employees think companies should be led with a purpose. Adopting a sustainability-focused mindset is one of the best ways to engage employees and make them feel more connected to their work. It also serves as a great motivator, since employees can see the direct impact of their work on the environment.
"Sustainability is not just a "nice-to-have" for many organizations. Sustainability is a core value in the world today, and it has to be actively cultivated and nurtured in order to make a difference.
As we are a green company, we've taken many steps to integrate sustainability into our culture and operations. Aside from our product itself, we work diligently to instill the importance of sustainability among our employees by educating them on best practices, and involving them in the community, like shoreline clean-up initiatives, donation drives, and green initiatives. As they say, walk the talk – and our employees do just that."
-- Ryan Mckenzie, Co-Founder & CMO | Tru Earth®
Sustainability as Part of Your Workplace Strategy
Your workplace mirrors your organizational culture -- so if you want to focus on being environmentally friendly, you need to create a sustainability-focused workplace strategy.
- Utilizing energy-efficient technology and equipment
- Offering green benefits to employees, such as sustainably-sourced office supplies
- Developing waste management processes and offering recycling options
- Implementing green workplace policies
- Educating employees on the importance of sustainability
By taking a proactive approach to your sustainability strategy, you can make a major impact on the environment and your business. Change doesn't always have to be a big gesture -- it can sometimes be comprised of small, but significant, steps.
"I suggest implementing eco-friendly practices in your office, like setting printers and monitors to sleep mode, turning off machines and devices at night, using energy-efficient lighting, and adjusting the thermostat for optimal cooling and heating.
Also, I highly encourage implementing a comprehensive recycling program that deals with all types of waste in the office. Start with a waste audit and provide convenient recycling options for items like print cartridges, e-waste, coffee capsules, and mail satchels."
-- Omer Usanmaz, CEO and Co-Founder of Qooper
5 Stages of Workplace Sustainability Journey
Sustainability doesn't just happen. You can't storm into the office on a Friday evening and tell everyone, "Folks, we're going sustainable, effective today." You need a plan, a timeline, and a well-thought-out strategy.
The five stages of a workplace sustainability journey are:
Setting Goals and Direction
Nothing can ever be achieved without proper goals in place. To start, set SMART (sustainable, measurable, attainable, realistic, and timely) goals for your sustainability strategy. For example, don't just say you'll reduce office waste. Create a clear direction on how this will be done, how you will measure it, and when you expect to achieve it (e.g., "We plan to reduce office waste by 25% by the end of the year by implementing a comprehensive recycling program.")
"It’s one thing to commit to building an organizational culture that focuses on sustainability. It’s another to move from strategy commitment to implementation. Success means ensuring that sustainability is integrated into everyday decisions at all levels, and not just at board level.
Initiatives can be utilized so that workers and customers can see what is being done, how it is being measured and the results. Collaborating across the business to drive a common goal can not only increase results, but also employee engagement."
-- James Nesbitt, Founder of Myth Digital
Plans without action are just words on paper (or screens, for that matter). To make sure you actually build a culture of sustainability, you need to start taking action. Consistently following up on your plan and ensuring everything moves in the right direction is key to success.
For example, here are some of the actions other companies took to become more sustainable:
"First, we have implemented an environmental management system that helps us track and measure our environmental performance. This system helps us identify areas where we can reduce our environmental impact, set goals, and track our progress.
Second, we have implemented a sustainability program that focuses on reducing our carbon footprint by encouraging employees to reduce their energy and water consumption, recycle, and reduce their waste. We also provide incentives for employees who participate in the program.
Third, we have implemented a green procurement policy that requires us to purchase goods and services that have been produced in an environmentally-responsible manner. We strive to source materials and products that have been produced sustainably and responsibly.
Finally, we have implemented a green workplace policy that encourages employees to reduce their energy and water consumption, recycle, and reduce their waste. We also provide incentives for employees who participate in the program."
--Ivan Novikov, CEO of Wallarm
"At our organization, sustainability is at the heart of everything we do. We work hard to ensure that our operations are environmentally friendly and support long-term habitats for wildlife and plants. Here are some of the key ways we actively promote sustainability:
- Using sustainable energy sources – such as solar, wind, geothermal, and hydroelectricity for all major operations. This reduces the amount of gas emissions from combustion engines and ensures that natural resources are not exhausted prematurely.
- Regularly assess our recycling practices to reduce waste where possible and increase efficiency throughout the entire process chain. Recycling programs include paper, plastic, aluminum cans, and packaging materials like wood chips, etc. We have implemented a zero-waste strategy in many areas across our organization, which has led to significant cost savings while reducing our impact on landfills.
- Adopting eco-friendly processes wherever feasible – including water conservation techniques (e.g., rainwater harvesting), green building modifications (e.g., roof gardens or double glazing windows), and fuel-efficient equipment upgrades (e.g., electric cars). These initiatives help us save energy costs while reducing carbon output significantly.
- Utilizing local vendors whenever possible to further minimize air miles and transport costs associated with procuring goods & services from outside sources; this reduces environmental impacts as well as gives back to the local economy in tangible ways through mutually beneficial partnerships between us & them!
- Promoting an organic diet onsite by providing meals made with healthy organic ingredients & cooked without artificial chemicals or preservatives; this helps employees stay energized during their workday while also maintaining a healthier environment overall by avoiding pesticides & chemical runoff into soil/water systems nearby.
- Holding regular activities that focus on promoting environmental awareness amongst stakeholders like fruit tree planting days or educational seminars related to climate change etc. these events inculcate a sense of responsibility whilst helping people become better informed about how their behavior affects sustainability goals."
-- Luke Fitzpatrick, HR at Dr. Sono
"Cultivate a culture of sustainability by implementing trash segregation. Deploy different waste bins for every type of trash and educate your team on what type of waste goes to which bin. This way, your team actively participates in the zero-waste effort, creating a strong foundation for your company’s cause.
Trash segregation can also foster a sense of accomplishment and responsibility among your employees. Like cleaning your home, considering how you dispose of your garbage improves your emotional well-being. Programs like these can elevate the team's morale, inadvertently creating a healthy working environment."
-- Preston Powell, CEO of Webserv
"What worked well for us was getting everybody to understand the concept of sustainability and learning how each can do that in the nature of their work. It's important that everyone knows how each of their actions impacts the environment. It also helped that we assigned leaders in the organization that helped maintain our sustainability agenda. From implementing recycling to encouraging carpooling, our leaders are on top of that."
Josef Carmeli, CEO at If-So
Reporting on Progress
Measuring your efforts is essential to ensuring everything is on track. Use analytics to gauge your sustainability performance and make adjustments where needed. Track KPIs like energy, water, waste consumption, recycling figures, and carbon emission to see where you stand on your journey to sustainability.
Don't be afraid to use tools to measure everything. For example, at Yarooms, we have developed a Carbon Dashboard that allows you to track your progress to net-zero CO2 emissions. This kind of data will help you see where you stand -- and what else you can improve.
"Ultimately, organizations need to ensure they are doing the walk they often talk about, and embedding sustainability across all they do. It needs to be authentic, tangible, measurable & achievable - while being constantly communicated to employees. Sustainability and wider corporate social responsibility are not "nice to have", but essential to have - employees, like consumers, are demanding more and more transparency, and we have to treat our planet and resources better than we have been. "
--Jay Barrett, Founder & HR Executive at Culture Canopy
No matter how much effort you put into this, you won't get it perfect the first time. So it's important to keep iterating and adjusting your approach until you find something that works. Find new solutions, emphasize on the things you're doing well, and make sure everyone in the company is on board with the journey to sustainability.
"In my perspective, one way our company fosters a culture of sustainability is by encouraging employees to talk about the positive impact they're having on the environment. An organization is a team, even if its members are often dispersed globally. This means encouraging and enabling workers to consider the long-term effects of their actions and the best ways to integrate environmentally friendly methods into their daily routines. They have the advantage of knowing the possibilities, constraints, and requirements of their work better than anybody else."
-- Alex Contes, Co-Founder & SaaS Expert at ReviewGrower
"Create rituals where values are lived. Culture arises when a series of understood notions are validated by repetition over time and then passed on to a wider group of employees or those who are new to the organization. Therefore, you must ensure that your company's ideals are upheld, and rituals can help with that. Ensure that the company's sustainability vision is regularly recalled and acknowledged on all levels and in various ways."
-- Aliza Naiman, Marketing Manager at Oglam Life
"Managers are the ones that can advance a culture of sustainability most efficiently. As employees look up to their leaders. If a manager keeps to his words as regards company policy, the employees are certain to follow suit. Moreover, managers need to check in with their team members and ensure they are taking the necessary steps to advance the company’s sustainable
-- Victoria Kanu, Head of Marketing at OurPCB
Enabling Value Creation
Everyone says sustainability is necessary -- but if you don't focus on the real value it brings into your organization, it will be difficult to stick to your plan. To stay on the right path, focus on the economic, environmental, and employee-focused benefits associated with a culture of sustainability. Show how it will make your company more competitive, reduce waste, and attract better talent.
"I would say, that it can be challenging, but businesses must avoid negativity when discussing sustainability internally or externally. The only effect of shaming or criticizing individuals for their lack of compliance with or support for sustainability is to silence them. In order to foster a culture of sustainable success, businesses must focus on the good. Thank individuals for their assistance, promote participation, and discuss the beneficial results connected with their behaviors. Negativity and dread are the last line of defense and should be employed accordingly if nothing else is effective. But to generate momentum, people operate more effectively when they are in a good mood."
-- Tia Campbell, Director of Marketing at Practice Reasoning Tests
"Consumers are becoming more conscious of how their decisions affect the environment and many businesses are trying to meet this demand. Your organization may have an environmental management system in place, but building a culture of sustainability requires more than that. It means making sustainability part of the company’s core values and continually striving to improve its sustainable practices over time."
-- Darren Shafae, ResumeBlaze
Sustainability Mindset in a Workplace: Why Is It Worth the Effort?
In short, yes. Building a sustainability mindset in a workplace is 100% worth the effort. First, there's the obvious result (and what should be the single most important reason for building a culture of sustainability): building a cleaner, better "tomorrow" for those who come next. We need to be more environmentally friendly, and it starts by fostering a culture where this is the norm -- at home and at work.
Secondly, there are a lot of additional benefits that come with a more sustainable mindset:
- More efficiency
- Better brand-building
- Employee engagement
All in all, making steps towards more sustainable businesses will benefit everyone: your business as a whole, every department within your organization, employees, and the world. So, YES, it's definitely worth it to invest in sustainability.