Ask Us How: Sustainability in Business

Posted by Michael Derin

Published on October 16, 2013 under NSW Business Chamber Partnership

Making sustainability improvements does mean investing your time and energy. To get good results that are sustainable you need to analyse your operations and measure performance. This will help you decide in which areas to apply sustainability in order to support your business goals.

You will need to choose the most effective sustainability strategies for your business and then plan how to put them into practice. You may need to factor in capital expenditure, allocating staff or developing particular workforce skills. Or you might be able to make real improvements by updating daily procedures and establishing a culture of sustainability in the workplace.


Most enterprises see direct benefits from their investment in sustainability in terms of cost savings, energy efficiency, staff engagement and other business benefits. You can find benefits from sustainability activities whether you choose to focus on big ticket technology and product improvement projects or low cost efficiency drives that deliver productivity gains and a better carbon footprint.

Benefits reported by businesses include:

  • A whole of business view that supports innovation and improvement ideas from all levels in the enterprise
  • Reduced energy and fuel costs
  • Skilled, knowledgeable and engaged workers who perform consistently to deliver quality products on time
  • Reduced waste disposal and trade waste costs
  • Improved processes and efficiency
  • Avoiding or reducing the number of incidents, emergencies or injuries
  • Reduced risks of costs from legal proceedings, compensation, rehabilitation, clean up, environmental mitigation
  • Improved profile and reduced risk of negative public opinion
  • Opportunities in ‘green’ markets which are estimated to reach a value of $US2.7 trillion per year globally by 2020.


You can apply activities that support sustainability through almost any aspect of your business. For example you might want to focus on day to day operations and energy efficiency. Or you may develop business strategies at the corporate level and implement them through your procedures and workforce development plans. In some situations it might be important to target your supply chain decisions and your marketing campaigns to let the community know about your sustainability improvements.

Depending on your business goals and current needs you might choose to focus on different areas of sustainability. But like any other business decision your strategy should be based on a review of the options and how they support your business goals.

A good start is to look ‘behind the scenes’ at how your business currently operates.

This will help to identify:

  • The full cost of your processes and products, business strategies and activities
  • A whole of business view (or even whole of value stream) so that savings in one area don’t result in costs in another
  • All opportunities to improve productivity and efficiency
  • Opportunities to reduce the hidden costs generated from unnecessary energy use and waste
  • How to manage any risks to the environment to avoid, minimise or mitigate damage
  • How to position your business as a ‘good corporate citizen’ in the community to promote a positive profile and public support
  • Strategies to improve customer satisfaction and loyalty
  • A customer base that will buy on value including the value of sustainability features, rather than just price
  • How to manage your workforce capabilities and culture to balance your business needs with staff engagement.


There are a number of best practices that foster business sustainability, and help organisations move along the path from being behind to being leaders. These practices include:

Stakeholder engagement - Organisations can learn from customers, employees and their surrounding community. Engagement is not only about pushing out messages, but understanding opposition, finding common ground and involving stakeholders in joint decision-making.

Environmental management systems - These systems provide the structures and processes that help embed environmental efficiency into a firm’s culture and mitigate risks. The most widely recognized standard worldwide is ISO 14001, but numerous other industry-specific and country-specific standards exist.

Reporting and disclosure - Measurement and control are at the heart of instituting sustainable practices. Not only can organisations collect and collate the information, they can also be entirely transparent with outsiders. The Global Reporting Initiative is one of many examples of well-recognised reporting standards;

 Life cycle analysis - Those organisations wanting to take a large leap forward should systematically analyse the environmental and social impact of the products they use and produce through life cycle analysis, which measure more accurately impacts.

Businesses that are sustainable have been shown to attract and retain employees more easily and experience less financial and reputation risk. These businesses are also more innovative and adaptive to their environments.


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