A playbook on building sustainable businesses

Businesses today are in a constant quest to bring to the fore innovative solutions that not only satisfy the needs of consumers, but also bring about ease and convenience to match the pace at which lifestyles and behaviours are changing. We are living at a time when there is progressive change—the extent of human innovation, consumerism and rapid industrialisation has resulted in severe environmental disharmony. We as a community of business owners and consumers can foresee the consequences of accelerated climate change, rising average temperatures, and poisoning of natural resources. The onus of saving these resources from further damage lies upon businesses and their leadership, being the drivers of change.  

Whether into products or services, businesses have a significant and scalable opportunity to run sustainably and influence planet-conscious behaviours among their internal as well as external stakeholders.

Here’s a 3 step framework that you can help you make your business sustainable as one continues to scale up. 

Step 1- Create awareness

Awareness begins with the self. Therefore, it is important to analyse whether your product or service is causing environmental degradation in any form and find out sustainable alternatives to the processes involved in manufacturing, logistics, operations, marketing, or promotion. Speak to your teams, vendors, customers, and distribution channel partners to gain research material and an understand these challenges. Whether you are a clothing brand, a software services business or a food and beverage startup, figure out whether your business is planet-friendly and if there is  significant scope for change in the methods and practices adopted by your business.

One could also conduct surveys to understand if the larger team is aware of the concept of sustainability. If they are, what are their thoughts about environmentalism? Creating awareness internally is the first step towards creating a change.

Large organisations do this through awareness programs and workshops to cultivate planet conscious cultures and eco-friendly behaviours. Small businesses can start with weekly/monthly awareness discussions, newsletters, internal mailers, thereby making environmentalism a part of core values of the organisation. Make your external stakeholders, i.e., customers, clients, investors aware. This can be done by making this the key messaging of ads and social media campaigns.  

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Step 2- Become a beacon for change, set an example

As a sustainable business owner, it is important to set sustainability goals within your organisation along with your revenue projections and planned profit margins. This can be done with small and important steps like going paperless, recycling electronic waste responsibly, replacing single use products like cups and cutlery with sustainable alternatives, holding workshops to educate your staff on home composting, and dry and wet waste segregation.

In the long term, there may be a need to take larger steps like reducing wastage in the production process, recycling waste water, harnessing renewable energy for your business needs, checking on the fleet of vehicles used for transportation to minimize or eradicate the usage of fossil fuels.

As a business owner, you could progress gradually towards larger sustainability goals. However, defining these goals is critical for the transformation to take place. Set milestones that are suitable to your circumstance and size, eventually build larger goals in the medium to long term.

Step 3- Be an enabler of change

Sustainability is the need of the hour and scalability, the need of your business. Whether your business provides products or services to end consumers or institutions, there is a growing market of planet conscious customers, with a small number of players currently catering to its demand.

There is a huge opportunity for businesses to build product lines or service suites that cater to this segment and bridge the gap. Whether you build a suite of energy efficient software for industrial production, or create daily use consumer products using recycled raw materials, or manufacture sustainable clothing, there is an ocean of opportunities to provide value, while serving the major purpose of saving the environment by enabling consumers to be sustainable. 

With this framework, businesses should be able to  drive sustainable innovation within your organisation and industry, making the world a better place one step at a time. 


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