Sustainability may mean one thing to one company and something completely different to another. 

Yet, there’s one thing most businesses agree on...When they integrate sustainable practices into their operations, they see real benefits. 

In fact, according to a recent McKinsey survey, 70% of those who responded said their companies have a sustainability plan in place. 

And, it’s not only CEOs or business owners who are adapting a sustainable mindset to their practices. The same survey found that nearly 3,000 employees said they were motivated to adopt a sustainable mindset because it meant aligning with their company’s mission, improving their business’s reputation and developing growth opportunities for them.

But, what does it mean to be sustainable? And, how do you individualize it so you come up with your own definition of sustainability for your company? 

Creating your own sustainability definition goes far beyond putting a string of words together. It involves understanding how sustainability relates to your business practices, determining your goals respective to your company’s applications, and putting a plan in place to achieve these goals. 


What Is Business Sustainability?


sustainability definitionBusiness sustainability is the management and coordination of environmental, social and financial concerns with the goal of ensuring responsible and ethical success. 

While traditionally, businesses focus on the financial bottom line, having a sustainability plan in place helps ensure social and environmental concerns are not mutually exclusive and that focusing on the three together contributes to long-term sustainability. You can learn more about sustainability plans in our article, What Is A Sustainability Plan?

If you are a waste generator, for example, there are many areas that impact your level of sustainability:

  • The amount of non-hazardous and hazardous waste you produce
  • Waste transportation (one of the most impacting activities in the calculation of carbon footprint)
  • Disposal methods of your waste

Although among some companies there is a misperception that business sustainability can be costly and counterproductive, it’s quite the opposite. 

There are many benefits to creating your company’s definition of sustainability and implementing a plan that reflects this definition. Research even shows companies with high Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) metrics have better financial performance and a lower cost of debt and equity.

Our article, Why Sustainable Companies Have An Advantage, further explores some of the benefits to implementing sustainable practices in your business. 


How Do You Assess What It Means To Be Sustainable?


In order to define your company’s definition of what it means to be sustainable, there are some questions you should ask about your business:

  • What is the mission of your business?
  • What are your goals? 
  • What have you accomplished so far?
  • How is your business structured or organized?
  • What staff do you have to help implement your goals?
  • Do you have sufficient financial resources available?
  • What obstacles might you need to overcome in order to achieve your sustainability goals?

Because a sustainability plan provides a guide for you to improve the impact you make environmentally, socially and financially, it’s important to understand your resources, mission and what obstacles may lie ahead, especially because any plan you implement will evolve over time. 

If you have a firm grasp on your sustainability goals, how to measure them and any milestones that will demonstrate success, you’re much more likely to achieve these goals. 


How Do You Act On Your Definition?


sustainability definitionOnce you have completed this initial assessment and outlined your goals, you can move forward with defining what sustainability means to you as a company and putting a strategy in motion. 

Here’s how:

1. Identify what needs to be sustained. What outcomes do you want sustained over time, and which strategies and resources must be sustained to achieve your outcomes? 

2. Create case statements that revolve around what you have defined as the outcome you would like to see achieved. These case statements should:

  • Provide a rationale for fundraising and grant-seeking activities
  • Communicate your business’s values, purpose and mission
  • Present a case for current business activities
  • Show how your business will impact the community
  • Show how new programs and processes will benefit people and society

3. Determine financing strategies and potential partners. How do you plan to fund the process of implementing your sustainability definition? Who can help (vendors, consultants, strategic partners or donors)?

4. Create an action plan. Your sustainability plan should define the action plan down to the details. Describe each task, who will do it and when it should be done. Determine your communication strategy, and whether you need publicity for your efforts. 

Remember, your business can enhance its sustainability in many ways. Something as simple as switching out all the light bulbs in a building to LED light bulbs can dramatically reduce electricity usage, and therefore carbon emissions. 

Increasing your sustainability as a company doesn’t necessarily mean spending top dollar to implement new equipment or procedures. It’s about utilizing the tools available to you to reduce your waste and embracing advancements at any level that helps conserve resources, whether it’s implementing a small recycling program in your office or making a larger impact through cutting-edge recycling solutions on the industrial level.


Bottom Line


Creating your own sustainability definition is complex but can have significant benefits for your company, community and environment. 

Remember the quote, “Actions speak louder than words.” The same can be said for implementing a plan based on how you define sustainability for your company. 

While you may have motivation to do well and benefit the community around you, it’s not until you put your plan into motion and begin taking strides to reach your goals that you actually achieve success.

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