Being a sustainable business can be difficult. It seems as though everything, from the delivery service you use to the coffee you drink to the energy that powers the office, needs to be fully researched before you can make a decision. You’re caught in indecisiveness, trying to decide if one thing is more sustainable than the other, and neither is right for your business in the first place.
But sustainability isn’t an either/or decision. There are grades to each possibility and, by looking at how sustainability can work for your business, you can make faster and better decisions — not just for the company, but for the planet.
The Sustainability Triangle
In 1987, the UN published Our Common Future which focused on sustainable development. From this came the Sustainability Triangle.
Every business, every product, and even every idea can be placed somewhere within this triangle, and being a sustainable business means finding your perfect balance of all three ideas.
Obviously, each business will be placed differently on the triangle. A business focused on cruelty-free eco-friendly fair-trade beauty products will be closer to the environment and society sides than, say, a multinational beauty corporation that still does animal testing. A financial firm that invests heavily in renewable energy will be placed differently than a firm that still invests in fossil fuels. Each business is different and each decides what is more important for the business on the triangle.
Finding your niche
When you think about your business, think about where you currently fit and where you would like to be in the future. Are you focused more on protecting the environment? Building a better society? Or ensuring your company’s profitability?
Just like how there’s no one right way to run your business, there’s no one perfect place on the triangle. And no business will stay exactly in the same place. Your business needs will be constantly shifting, and what you strive for will change as well. The company you founded was different a year ago and will be different a year from now, so why expect your sustainability goals to stay the same?
How to begin
Starting to think about sustainability can be overwhelming. You think you’re ready to jump in, and suddenly you’re weighed with indecision. Is this sustainable enough? Is there more I could be doing? Is this the right thing? Should I do this instead?
But even the smallest step is important. Look at your existing products, look at your existing processes, and figure out where they would fit on the triangle. Are you happy with them being there? Are there changes you can make to push them closer to what you want to do, such as changing your packaging or switching energy providers?
Once you get a feeling for where you stand, and where you want to be, you can then use your position to drive your company’s strategy, whether looking at new products, reviewing your policies, or even making a pivot to a new market.
The bigger picture
If you know where your business stands, you can then start pushing for changes in your industry. For example, many tech companies are now thinking seriously about sustainability and their responsibility to the planet and the people on it. Whether that means paying for reforestation projects, supporting local community initiatives, or switching to a green energy provider, it’s up to each business to decide what’s more important to them and find that perfect spot.
And by more businesses focusing on their sustainability, all industries become more sustainable.