Creating responsible business operations in a time of ESG

At a time when we find ourselves in the middle of a climate emergency as well as the ever-looming net-zero targets on the not-too-distant horizon, it is no wonder that environmental, social, and governance (ESG) considerations have skyrocketed to the top of the agenda for boards around the world.

What was once perceived as "nice to have" for organisations (when framed as CSR), has now transformed into a non-negotiable aspect of any business strategy.

Much of the startup scene are ensuring they embed ESG values into their brand identity from the get-go; confirming that they are operating with purpose and achieving accreditations such as B-Corp status or by following the Green Claims Code legislation.

To remain relevant to customers, businesses must adopt a regenerative mindset and integrate sustainable practices into their long-term plans.

Making that shift from a short-term profit-seeking attitude to a long-term perspective that considers the environmental and social impact of their actions is, of course, easier said than done. Concerns over greenwashing, and the “unknown unknowns” can make it a daunting task to get started.

Considering your digital carbon footprint

While our increasing awareness of the environmental impact of our domestic lives, such as recycling and smart energy meters, has made us more conscious of the energy we consume at home, there is little to bring to life on the environmental impact of our digital carbon footprint when at work.

However, there IS an environmental impact as every digital output creates carbon emissions. For example, a single email can generate as much as 26g of CO2e, and ChatGPT 'drinks’ the equivalent of a 500ml bottle of water for a conversation of 20-50 questions/ answers.

On their own, this doesn’t sound like a lot, until you consider the 347 billion emails sent per day and ChatGPT has already been used by over 100 million people to date.

Of course, the benefits businesses can leverage from digital services are huge, but it is important to be mindful of the contradicting actions that may arise in aligning sustainability values.

So, what can a typical business, big or small, do to limit its climate impact of its digital activities?

In an era where customers are used to having an abundant amount of information, visibility is key to securing trust.

Taking the online marketing industry as an example. One might not consider the behind-the-scenes technology required when sending a marketing email, the content we include in it or how the number of people receiving will have an impact on the energy needed to do all these things.

For organisations sending monthly, weekly, or even daily newsletters, promotional emails, or onboarding emails, it all adds up. That’s why we have seen Carbon Calculators increasingly pop up in recent years, helping to bring the invisible impact on the climate to life. With a carbon calculator, you can see how much carbon is created from various activities. In the case of the email marketing space, you can even see the impact depending on the size of your audience.

Providing visible evidence through tools, like Carbon Calculators, increases the awareness of an organisation’s carbon impact. Acknowledging and understanding this data is an important step towards making a change.

Sustainability strategy - what’s in it for me?

By adopting ethical practices and focusing on activities that reduce a business’ climate impact, as well as actively supporting environmental causes and striving for green accreditations to reinforce these practices, will no doubt be on the list of priorities for all businesses in the future.

Research has shown that environmentally focussed startups are twice as likely to survive as their non-conscious counterparts through their early development, and that 93% of consumers maintained or increased their sustainability purchases in 2022 – even as cost of living increased around the world.

So not only is adopting a sustainability strategy crucial for creating a better future for the planet, but it can also boost the bottom line.

A responsible employer embraces sustainability

It’s not only customers that benefit though; the good you do for the planet also ties in with fostering a thriving workplace. Unsurprisingly, a recent Sustainability Report from GetSmarter revealed that 56% of employees prefer working with companies dedicated to environmental conservation.

Offering just one additional sustainable practice or activity for employees can be the game-changer to set your business apart from competitors, and sway employees in your favour.

Creating a workplace where employees align with the company values will lead to a higher productivity, motivation, and satisfaction level. Happy employees, happy customers, happy planet.

Embracing sustainability practices in business paves the way for a promising future, and the list of benefits is long and exciting. Startups have an advantage as they are born into this era of sustainability expectations, but all businesses can benefit by continuously seeking improvement opportunities.

The key is to keep the momentum towards sustainability going, with the goal of creating a better and more responsible future for all. So, let's keep up the progress!