Practical tips on being a more sustainable business

At our recent People Puzzles conference, we invited Green & Black’s founder Jo Fairley to talk to us about ESG – that is, how to improve the Environment, Social and Governance impact that we have on the world. In it, she outlined some of the ways in which smaller businesses can make small but important steps towards becoming more sustainable.

Get accredited

It’s helpful to get outside accreditation so that you can prove you’re doing what you say you’re doing. You don’t need accreditation to start taking ESG seriously – but if you choose to, what accreditation you get will depend somewhat on the nature of your business; Jo suggests B Corp certification, as ‘it has a good structure and is seen as gold standard.’ But other standards like Organic and Fair Trade also show your commitment. Cocoa Life, a standard borne out of what Jo did at Green & Black’s, is monitored by the Fairtrade Foundation.

Offset your environmental impact

If your business is a manufacturer and by its nature has a high carbon footprint, why not offset that impact by planting trees? There are organisations such as Ecologi who will measure the net impacts for you.

Don’t forget the ‘S’

The Social aspect of ESG can sometimes be overshadowed by the Environmental aspect. But it is easy to address. If your business is more service- rather than product-based, why not partner with a social enterprise, such as microfinancing women in business in India, for example? Or a charity like Water Aid. If you’d rather keep it local, you could partner with a food bank or a homeless charity.

Assess your supply chains

Look at your supply chains and make sure there is no exploitation going on anywhere up or down it. Look for any relevant accreditation and give credit where it’s due. Treat people in your supply chain well by paying them on time.

Treat your staff well

We’ve mentioned flexible working in previous blogs as something that can help staff. But you might want to go further and consider something like a 4.5 day week. ‘It’s the most people thing we’ve ever done,’ Jo says. ‘We found that people were more productive with their time – they really motored to get stuff done by Friday lunchtime!’

Steps you can take right now

  • Measure and reduce your carbon footprint (Ecologi/Carbon Trust)
  • Focus on energy efficiency (a positive move given rising costs of energy)
  • Eliminate unnecessary business travel
  • Find and support a cause and get everyone on board
  • Collaborate – logistics, procurement, recycling. Collaborate with rivals if you have to – no-one can do this in silo
  • Use local suppliers – as sustainable as possible. This makes everyone feel good
  • Remember the Social aspect of ESG (see above)
  • Save resources and save money
  • Watch the film ‘An inconvenient truth’
  • Celebrate your small wins

No matter how small your business is, we all have a part to play, and as Jo Fairley told our conference, says, ‘This is a journey that begins with a single step.’

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