Every day, we make a lasting impact on our environment. We all like to think of our positive impacts, but picture this legacy: rising oceans swallow shorelines, cities and houses. Non-renewable resources vanish, leaving us with little widely adopted options to power our lives. Waste piles up in landfills reminding us of what we’re doing wrong.
I think business, and business leadership in particular, plays a huge role in sustainability. We’re a massive part of our community – we employ people, help shape trends, create stuff and take up 40 solid hours of mindshare every week for a large part of the population! We need to play our part.
Over the past decade, companies have been looking for ways to become more sustainable to help boost their image as a “green brand.” Sustainability experts push businesses to play the starring role in the future of sustainable change for our world. But so far, I feel we, as businesses, have been playing around the edges with “little physical steps” that help us meet “going green” hype goals – like replacing light bulbs with LEDs. Sure, they make us feel good for a fleeting moment, but we can do so much more if we move beyond the physical steps and think about PEOPLE.
During the last 18 years of growing my business from its original state to what it is now, I’ve come to realize the path to true environmental sustainability lies in purpose-driven people, framing the ROI and building habits by closing the feedback loop. This way, our wins don’t stop at the workplace, but also flow into home and our communities. Winning in environmental sustainability is just like winning in business. Let’s see why:
In Good Company
Good people inspire great things. Without a like-minded team to help propel everything forward, your ship is going to sink. What does a great team have to do with environmental sustainability? The keyword I mentioned earlier is “like-minded.” We’ve already begun to see a new generation of purpose-driven people join the workforce. Take millennials for example.
According to a Brookings study, millennials will make up 75% of the workforce by 2025 – and that’s just in the U.S.! Of those, three-quarters will consider a company’s environmental and social strategy when deciding where to work. Being committed to sustainability now helps our companies attract and retain top talent. In turn, this momentum moves our sustainability strategy even further forward. Remember, success breeds success. And let’s not forget to mention purpose-driven people help build cultures money simply can’t buy. That’s good for our businesses, too.
Framing the ROI
Not all sustainability changes will cost you. If we can link your sustainability goals to the bottom line, then that’s a win-win – for our business benefits and also the environment. This makes for a strong message! Success will embed in the minds of both those who are sustainably and business aware. Linking the two will help a wider group of people connect with the cause.
There will be so many opportunities to find these win-wins. Challenge each area of your business to find them. Often, the simple obtainable changes are best. I get to see this every day when people install our software, which helps save paper and reduce waste. IT managers come to us looking to introduce a solution for one of three reasons – it could be to secure print documents, save time or reduce their environmental impact. No matter which one is the primary reason, success is always shared across all three. The environment is always a winner! The best kind of environmental change happens when everyone at every level in a business realizes how it moves the company forward.
Forming (Good) Habits
You’ve crossed major hurdles, but the most difficult one of all may just be cementing the new sustainable habits. As Mark Twain said, “Nothing so needs reforming as other people’s habits.”
Here, businesses can take one of two paths: We can go the easy route and use techniques like an email to remind people to use the recycling bin. These initiatives are fleeting. The passion may last a week or even a few months, but old habits are bound to slip in. Or we can take the more difficult, but more rewarding, path: we can use our business vision and leadership skills to provide “the why.” If you can provide a strong understanding and purpose for change, a sustainable future is more likely to happen. Always, always close the feedback loop. It’s one thing to say the project has been done to serve a certain purpose. It’s another to show the tangible impact. We’re hardwired to remember impact.
When your business is on a path to truly going green, realize there’s so much more to it than small, physical changes to the workplace. True long-term sustainable change is about people. Focus on shifting purpose, mindset and forming habit. A change in people at our businesses flows into the home and into our communities. And remember, sustainability is just like business… we need to win the long game.