Around the world, sustainability is an increasingly important selling point for consumers. They want to shop with businesses whose values align with theirs — and who offer products that make them feel good about their purchasing decisions.
Most customers don’t want to just hear businesses say that they are committed to green principles, however. They want businesses to prove it with sustainable practices.
These four principles are some of the most important to observe. Integrating them into your business can help you prove your commitment to eco-friendly operations.
1. Net-Zero Carbon Emissions
A growing number of businesses are making net-zero pledges — committing to zeroing out their carbon emissions at some point in the future. Typically, they do this by finding ways to reduce their energy consumption or cancel out carbon production.
For example, a business may upgrade to a fleet of electric vehicles or use a smart office thermostat to reduce energy spent on heating and cooling.
Some businesses may also invest in carbon offsetting, or offer options like carbon-offset shipping. These are projects, often reforesting initiatives, that help to generate natural carbon sinks as a way to reduce their business’s net carbon footprint.
A net-zero approach does have some limitations, however. If you live in an area where you depend on fossil fuel-fired power plants, there may be a hard limit to how low you can bring your business’s emissions.
For this reason, some businesses also pursue a strategy of net contribution — in addition to cutting down emissions, they also look for ways to contribute renewable energy and reduce total energy consumption.
Office roof solar arrays and energy storage systems for example, can help a business contribute renewable energy back to the grid, further reducing their net carbon emissions.
While these renewable energy investments may require some serious upfront costs, they’re a great way to cut down on your business’s carbon footprint. In many cases, they’ll also start to pay for themselves over time.
2. Recycling and Sustainable Materials
Sustainability in packaging and manufacturing can help a business reduce waste, energy consumption and the impact that day-to-day operations will have on the environment.
For example, a business that manufactures furniture may start to offer items made from more sustainable materials — like bamboo or recycled wood.
Making this switch can be an especially important principle for businesses that sell physical goods. Choice of packaging material, for example, can have a real impact on the sustainability of your business.
Switching from plastic to a recycled paper product or other sustainable packaging option is a great way to cut down on use of plastic and provide an alternative for your customers.
Making it easy for consumers to recycle the packaging they receive can also be a serious selling point.
You can also take steps to promote recyclability within your business. For example, modern businesses tend to produce large amounts of e-waste — broken or outdated electronics that typically go to landfill. This e-waste is terrible for the environment, but it can be avoided if you recycle used electronics.
Adopting a business e-cycling program can help you ensure these electronics are properly recycled. Offering these e-cycling services to employees can help your further minimize electronic waste.
3. Reuse and Circular Business Models
Most traditional business models are linear. A business manufactures an item and sells it to a customer, who uses it until they no longer need it. At this point, some customers will find a way to reuse the item or pass it onto another consumer — but most will just toss the item, which will go to a landfill.
A circular business model provides an alternative. Rather than throw out used items, customers are encouraged to reuse their items or return them to the business, which will help keep them in circulation and reduce waste.
This approach is becoming popular among eco-minded fashion companies, which have started to make selling used and returned clothes part of their normal business model. Many of these businesses have also started designing clothes that will last as long as possible, ensuring that they’ll start in the fashion economy for longer.
Not every product can be reused easily. However, finding ways to make your business model more circular than linear can help cut down on waste and provide your customers with valuable options. Investing in product durability and creating programs that encourage customers to return used goods they no longer need are great places to start.
4. Accountability and Supply Chain Sustainability
The suppliers you work with will say a lot about your business’s commitments to sustainability. Finding business partners who can help you with your sustainability mission may also be key to developing a truly eco-friendly business model.
This is why many eco-conscious businesses are starting to work with suppliers who prioritize sustainability and green principles themselves.
These may be packaging manufacturers that offer green packaging options, for example, or suppliers who can source sustainable raw materials.
For example, a number of food and beverage companies have started to team up with sustainable cocoa farmers, or create sustainable cocoa farms of their own. These farms are built from the ground up to prioritize sustainable farming practices and better living conditions for farmers.
In some cases, these sustainable farms are totally farmer- owned, unlike the cocoa farms that many larger food and beverage companies depend on. Similar suppliers in your niche can make it easier for your business to offer green product options. They may also be able to provide advice on how you can make your business operations even more sustainable.
Choosing to work with these businesses can also help you rest assured that your business’s entire supply chain is becoming more sustainable — including the parts you don’t control directly.
The Essential Principles Behind Green Business Operations
Sustainable business practices require strong green foundations.
Committing to the right principles is a great way to ensure sustainability at every level of your business. Committing to lower carbon emissions, recycling, promoting reuse and working with the right business partners will help you keep your operations green.