By Chris Kemper, environmentalist, capitalist, minimalist, and founder and CEO of Palmetto
For me, it's a natural fit. You see, my business is clean energy. I'm also passionate about leadership and educating people about the importance of climate change and the environment. But the environment is just one aspect of sustainability.
While rooted in an environmental focus and outcome, sustainability has evolved to incorporate many aspects of a business, including its social and economic impact. And, much like compound interest, the sooner you start saving (or doing in this case), the sooner your efforts will take on a trajectory that can transform your entire company and have a positive impact on the world.
Sustainability is based on three core pillars: people, planet and profits. These pillars are of equal importance and feed off each other.
When I founded Palmetto in the U.K. over a decade ago, it was the first company in the U.K. to be a certified B Corp. Although we chose not to formally structure the company as a B Corp here in the U.S., our triple bottom line of people, planet and profits has lived on through the operating principles Palmetto still embodies today.
So what are the benefits of focusing on sustainability? They are multifaceted and reach far beyond building a good public image and "doing the right thing." In fact, when executed properly, a sustainability strategy can impact all areas of your business, from employee engagement and retention to reducing operating expenses and environmental impact, not to mention increased investment. And, yes, even driving more sales and positive press.
Here's how to get there.
1. Know where you're going.
Whether you are at the start of your sustainability journey or ready to take the next step, there are free resources to help you along the way and consulting agencies that specialize in partnering with larger companies to deploy comprehensive sustainability initiatives and analytics.
B Lab, a nonprofit that certifies companies leading the way in sustainability (known as B Corps), is a great resource for identifying where your company stands in terms of social, economic and environmental performance. Benchmarks are based on key impact areas that contribute to sustainability, including governance, workers and community.
B Lab offers a free "B Impact Assessment" tool that more than 50,000 companies have used to measure their impact on workers, community, environment, and customers and benchmark against thousands of other businesses. Companies earn points for practices that go above and beyond standard business practices, so in theory, any score is a good score. According to B Lab, most companies score between 40 and 100 points out of the 200 points available. Your score is a reflection of your commitment to improving your sustainability practices.
2. Create a plan.
Like any initiative, it is important to identify a long-range plan and then break it down into actionable steps to get there. Get buy-in on priorities, and develop time-bound, measurable and attainable objectives. Assign owners, and develop an action plan.
For example, if your goal is to achieve a greener workspace, you may evaluate your use of printed materials, offer recycling, encourage more remote-friendly virtual meetings, bring in guest speakers to educate your employees, or direct philanthropic efforts such as fundraising and volunteerism to environmental causes.
The beauty of building a sustainability plan is that you can align your initiatives to your company's mission and values and direct attention and resources in categories that matter most to you.
3. Get your people on board.
Once you decide to embark on your sustainability journey, it's important to engage your employees throughout the process. It all starts with culture. Educate your team, make sure they know what you stand for, what impact you want your company to have, and be thoughtful about how you continually communicate that and align every team member's work around that.
A key part of transparent communication is defining goals, measuring against them, and reporting back. In other words, do what you say you are going to do. And get your team aligned with the plan before you communicate any efforts to the broader community.
Whether you start by focusing on one pillar or approach a plan in a holistic way, investing in a sustainability strategy is a business move that is guaranteed to pay dividends.