To say that the past few months have been financially stressful for businesses would be an understatement. Impacted by the COVID-19 crisis, businesses are struggling to make ends meet and, apart from IT, which has thrived thanks to digital transformation, most industries have to cut corners to survive this challenging period. Those companies that didn’t close down during lockdown have to manage their budgets carefully, lay off personnel, press pause on their growth strategies, perhaps even pivot in order to survive.
Where does sustainability fit into all of this? Before the pandemic, most businesses either had already implemented sustainability into their corporate strategies or were considering doing so. But as they had to make budget cuts and reorganise their spending, sustainability was no longer centre stage.
One study from BSR and Globescan found that 40% of professionals believe that the COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the importance of corporate sustainability. At the same time, 50% expect their sustainability budget to drop in the next year, as they have to prioritise their survival.
In this context, sustainability may seem a confusing subject to tackle. Consumers have the same high expectations from brands and want to be just as committed to corporate responsibility. But how can you do that on a tighter budget?
Sustainability and profitability do not exclude each other.
People assume that going green is a luxury that only the corporations can afford, but that is a myth. The first thing you need to understand if you want to balance sustainability and profit is that the two aren’t opposing notions. You don’t need to splurge if you want to help the environment. In fact, you have to do the complete opposite: take mindful decisions that boost operational efficiency, while at the same time reducing your company’s carbon footprint. Sustainability is about optimising resource use and eliminating waste, both of which can save you money. When they’re implemented right, in accordance with your business size and budget capabilities, sustainability doesn’t cost you more. It helps you save money and even make a profit. Before the pandemic, companies with a robust sustainability culture were more likely to attract investor interest and get higher customer demand. That still applies today. You shouldn’t cut sustainability from your list of goals; instead, you should think of new ways to incorporate it in a way that doesn’t put immediate pressure on your budget.
Discover smarter ways to recycle
Most businesses are getting good at selective recycling and are trying to reduce waste by putting recycling bins on each floor and instructing employees how to use them. But did you know that the traditional bins aren’t the most effective way to recycle?
Let’s consider the example of a warehouse that produces a lot of paper and cardboard waste. When all this cardboard is disposed of traditionally, waste handling can become very expensive because cardboard is voluminous and takes up a lot of space. As a result, that company pays more in taxes on waste handling costs because the recycling company has to pick up the waste more often. To avoid these costs, you can switch to a specialised baler designed to compact waste. Not only does it save space because the cardboard is neatly packed and creates a safer work environment, but also saves up to 50% on waste handling and 80% on labour. Besides, if you’re worried about making a big upfront investment, you don’t have to. You don’t have to buy balers because they can be rented or hired instead. By recycling this way, you’re also reducing the amount of waste that goes to the landfill.
Get rid of wasteful office consumables.
Some office supplies have been around for so long that people no longer think about them. But did you know that these supplies, who take up a considerable chunk of your office management budget, also have a high carbon footprint? All those tiny items, such as post-its, plastic cups, single-use plates and forks, straws, are wasteful and unnecessary. And the bigger problem with them is that they seem inexpensive until you add them up at the end of the month. For example, why spend twice as much on individually packaged sugar packs when one bulk sugar bag costs less and doesn’t produce as much paper waste?
Small steps, such as prioritising consumables based on how much waste they generate, can help you save money whilst protecting the environment. Getting rid of straws might not seem like a big deal, but remember that the commercial sector is one of the biggest pollutants and one single office worker generates around 2 pounds of paper and cardboard waste every day. Even small steps make a huge difference at the end of the day.
For example, you can remove individual rubbish bins next to worker offices to encourage them to go to the recycling bin more often, or you can send memos on Slack or Skype instead of using post-it notes.
Make data-driven decisions based on your priorities.
“Sustainability” is a broad term that can be understood in many ways. One business’s strategy might not work for another, and sometimes, attempting to copy the approach of a corporation could harm a small business because that model is simply not realistic for them. This is why, if you want to optimise costs and actually get something out of eco-friendly practices, you have to define what sustainability means to you and what you can realistically achieve on your current budget. Ask yourself the following questions:
- What aspect of your business generates the most waste, and how does that waste drain your resources?
- Apart from reducing waste, are there other things you can improve to be more equitable, such as donating funds to local initiatives, getting involved in sustainability projects, or changing your suppliers?
- Does the entire organisation understand sustainability in the same way?
- What is more important to you, short or long-term savings? How quickly do you want to see the results?
Sustainability doesn’t have to be complicated or expensive. By understanding what it implies and analysing all the ways you can incorporate it into your business culture, you can continue to help the planet without putting more pressure on your budget.