According to Whatis.techtarget.com, the definition of Business Sustainability is as follows:
“Business sustainability, also known as corporate sustainability, is the management and coordination of environmental, social and financial demands and concerns to ensure responsible, ethical and ongoing success.”
They further explain that social, environmental and economic demands are considered the three pillars of sustainability, sometimes referred to as the triple bottom line.
Traditionally, businesses focused on the financial bottom line, which evaluated all efforts in terms of their short-term effect on profits. And, social and environmental concerns were viewed as being in conflict with financial goals and profits.
But now businesses are quickly realizing that the three are not mutually exclusive and that focusing on all three together contributes to long-term sustainability.
Naturally, creating a sustainability plan is the best place to start.
What is a Sustainability Plan and Do You Need One?
A sustainability plan is an outline of how your organization plans to achieve goals that create financial, societal and environmental sustainability.
Businesses don’t operate on an island. They impact their communities and our natural resources, so taking these steps to sustainability is in the best interest of the environment, the business owner and the consumer. And, businesses that see sustainability as bigger than just their organization are the ones that won’t have to worry about their survival.
So, why do you need a sustainability plan?
Because a sustainability plan provides a guide for any business seeking to better itself over time. If you understand your sustainability goals, how to measure them and the milestones that demonstrate success, you’re that much likelier to achieve them.
Does everyone need one? Not necessarily.
Smaller organizations and startups may wish to wait a little while before devoting resources to this endeavor. However, any business at any stage can make strides in this direction by determining its goals and implementing strategies to help attain them.
Creating A Sustainability Plan
Before you create your sustainability plan, it is important to know the following about your business:
What is the mission of your business?
What are your goals?
What have you accomplished so far?
Have you gotten any publicity for your efforts to date?
How is your business structured or organized?
Do you have the right staff?
Do you have sufficient financial resources?
What obstacles do you need to overcome and how can you do that?
Once you have assessed what your starting point is by answering these questions, you can move forward with a plan. Asking yourself these questions will also highlight specific areas that will need attention.
Step 1: Identify What Needs To Be Sustained
Outcomes - Which ones would you like sustained over time?
Strategies - Which ones need to be sustained to achieve your outcomes?
Resources - What parts of your business will need to be sustained by outside resources?
Step 2: Identify What Resources Are Required
What resources are needed to sustain your outcomes and strategies?
Step 3: Create Case Statements
Create case statements that do the following:
- 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
Your case statements should build interest, create urgency and have a call to action.
Step 4 : Determine Financing Strategies
How does the organization plan to fund its planned business strategies?
- Business Profits
- Business Loans
- Lines of Credit
Step 5: Identify Potential Partners
Do you have partners that you are currently working with that can help you?
- Strategic Partners
Step 6: Create An Action Plan
- Describe each task, who will do it and when it should be done
- Describe your communication strategy
- Determine if you need publicity for your efforts and how that will be done
How Do You Garner Environmental Support?
Environmental support refers to assistance and advocacy from those around you. Many sustainability plans are bigger than your organization alone. They may require you to gain resources from local, state or federal organizations.
Perhaps you need licensing, must use their facilities or count on funding. Perhaps there is an environmental impact. Maybe you need a certain number of signatures to put your plan in place.
Most likely, you’re simply not the only stakeholder. That means you need everyone on board before you make a change that requires time, effort and money from the organization, board or partners. This requires you to:
- Explain your plan clearly and succinctly to the uninitiated
- Provide clear benefits of putting new procedures into action
- Target the right decision-makers to avoid spinning your wheels
This last one is especially important. If you don’t know whom to contact about your new plan, the Program Sustainability Assessment Tool advises you first to conduct a Stakeholder Analysis to identify which decision-makers to put on your list.
How Will You Fund the Plan?
Funding can come from many directions. One of the most obvious is from your own organization’s budget. Often, though, that’s not enough even if your company is very willing to help foot the bill for a new initiative.
Once you exhaust the ability of your own company to provide backing, it’s time to turn to other sources. Before you do, though, you’ll need a clear program plan that states what you’ll use the money for and how you’ll measure Return On Investment. No one is going to donate or loan money to a business that is planning to “wait and see.”
Work with your accountants or analysts to determine what constitutes success. Where will you save money or materials? How can you close more loops in manufacturing processes? Will you reduce waste or chemical inputs, or increase recycled materials by a certain amount?
Once you answer these questions, you can apply for grants, appeal to foundations, solicit individual donors and more.
Where Should You Look for Sustainability Plan Guidance?
Nothing operates in a vacuum, and that includes your organization. If you want to succeed by keeping your sustainability plan in place far into the future (which is, after all, the entire point of sustainability), you need some good role models. Where do you find them, though?
The answer is different for everyone. If you produce significant amounts of waste, for instance, then you might consider looking to other organizations in your industry and asking them how they manage theirs as environmentally as possible. Or, you can even ask your waste removal company itself.
If you work with close ties to your community or legislative body, those are good resources as well. Head to the Chamber of Commerce to see which businesses are getting rave reviews for their commitment to ecology, or talk to organizations with whom you have a direct relationship. Nearby universities often have a sustainability plan in place, so you can ask them as well.
Getting the right role models will take time. More than likely, you’ll end up picking and choosing the inspiration that suits your company best. The most important point? Don’t give up.
Even after you have the plan, be willing to revamp, revise and be flexible to meet your business needs. Pivoting is what sustainability is all about, so this is your chance to practice true sustainable values.
To recap, your sustainability plan involves several factors, which you should work through systematically in order to craft the best result. These factors include:
- Understanding what a sustainability plan is and what it can do for your company
- Exploring your options for sustainability plans and determining whether you actually need one in your organization
- Funding your plan now and in the future
- Taking your cues from successful sustainability plans at other organizations