Sustainability matters: better working practices for a better tomorrow
Businesses today are expected to take sustainability seriously. This is certainly an ethical responsibility at a time in which society is running headlong into the irreversible effects of climate change. It is also demanded by consumers across generations.
Despite the popular emphasis on Millennials and Gen Z at the forefront of green initiatives, there is evidence to show Baby Boomers are increasingly adopting environmentally-conscious commercial activities.
One of the great aspects about building a startup now is you don’t have to play catch-up with sustainability in the way that existing companies are. You have the opportunity to incorporate sustainability into the core of your business model and develop green protocols that both boost your company profile and do your part for the planet.
Let’s take a moment to review some of the key areas you should be focusing on when developing sustainable working practices for your startup.
Flexible working practices have been getting a lot of attention as of late. This has largely been through the lens of the COVID-19 pandemic and how it has helped businesses to be productive while maintaining a safe distance.
But it has a role to play in sustainability, too. When you’re designing your startup, building the framework for activities not dependent on rigid in-office processes allows you to create operations optimised to be both productive and environmentally friendly.
Remote and hybrid working arrangements are perhaps the most flexible operation forms. This approach is in some ways innately sustainable. You’re not expending a large number of finite resources by maintaining a bustling office space. Waste isn't being produced by staff. Workers aren’t consuming fuel and generating emissions in their daily commute.
If you’re still designing your startup business model, it’s also worth considering which industries mesh well with this way of working. Software as a Service (SaaS) enterprises tend to thrive in this environment.
This is evident both from the perspective of running a team using remote software tools and also in the increased adoption of SaaS services by businesses shifting to remote operations themselves. In fact, in supporting the flexibility of other companies, your business can have an extended impact on sustainability.
However, it’s important to note the presence of remote or hybrid operations alone doesn’t make a business sustainable. It is still the actions of employees while they’re performing these flexible operations that make a difference to your company’s carbon footprint.
As such, you should spend time developing protocols for workers’ behaviour while they are outside of the office. Standards for minimal unnecessary use of power during work hours, rules around generation and recycling of waste, and methods to source used home office furniture should be among them.
Efficiency is one of the key priorities of any business. After all, it helps to minimize capital spent on tasks and can boost productivity. It also has a key role to play in maintaining sustainability. Reduced use of finite resources - whether power, water, or ink -puts less pressure on the natural environment.
It also tends to result in fewer carbon emissions and waste that harms the ecosystem during the production of these elements. By building efficiency into your startup from the outset, you can minimise your negative effects.
Some of the most basic forms of efficient actions can come down to the purchasing decisions you make within your business. Computers, lightbulbs, and even break room equipment, like refrigerators and televisions, come with an energy rating sticker to show the level of efficiency. If you’re purchasing from the EU or US, you need to ascertain whether your appliances are determined to be efficient under the Energy Star program. It can also be wise to look into smart control systems to automatically adjust heating and lighting for efficiency.
However, you can go further than this. The advanced tools of our digital landscape can streamline your business activities for maximum efficiency. The growing accessibility of artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) software can allow you to minimise the need for human interaction with repetitive tasks.
While there are distinct differences between ML and AI, both use the data collected by your organisation and your industry to automatically analyse processes and utilise algorithms to establish the most efficient action. This serves the needs of your business and also reduces the energy expenditure used in menial but usually labour-intensive tasks.
Implement sustainable culture
Tools and processes designed to enhance sustainability in your startup are certainly useful components. However, these don’t tend to be effective if they’re not supported by a strong adoption across your organisation. Sustainability needs to be a core part of your culture, rather than a series of superficial actions you tack on to your activities. When you’re just starting your business this can be a good time to develop your company around such ideas.
This should begin by solidifying sustainability as part of your company’s values. These will be the principles that guide all the decisions, both overarching and day-to-day, and will be evident in everything from marketing to the employee handbook.
It can even be effective to design the components of your brand around the cultural principles and imperatives of sustainability. This makes it clear to employees, consumers, and supply partners alike that environmental responsibility is a vital element of your company.
One of the impactful ways you can implement sustainability as a core of your culture is through your hiring practices. Alongside your standard interview questions, make environmentally-focused ideas part of the conversation.
Seek to onboard people that already demonstrate a willingness and enthusiasm for sustainable practices. Indeed, look for those who have greater knowledge and ideas in the area than you do — this can help to push your business in innovative and sustainable directions.
Sustainability doesn’t just matter, it is an essential element from ethical, environmental, and commercial perspectives. When you’re just creating your startup, it can be wise to take the time to consider how you can build environmentally-conscious practices, like flexible operations and streamlining tools, into the daily functions of your company.
Most importantly, incorporating sustainability as a part of your core company culture can help to ensure these efforts can be not just maintained but can have the most positive impact.