Why you should integrate sustainability into your business strategy

Opinions expressed by Businessman contributors are their own.

Terms like ‘sustainability’, ‘ESG’ and ‘socially conscious’ have become quite the corporate buzzword. However, if you’re tempted to just check the box, think again.

A sincere commitment to sustainability can pay off in many ways – not to mention it maintains trust, because a lack of integrity around sustainability threatens your relationship with both employees and customers.

Here’s what I learned from embedding this value deep into our business strategy.

Related: What you can learn from the rise of sustainability-focused entrepreneurship

Doing the right thing is good for business

Awareness of sustainable practices and products has grown dramatically in recent decades. Whether it’s shifting generational expectations, the climate crisis or other motivating factors, consumers value brands that prioritize sustainability. A quick look at the numbers: When given a choice, 32% of millennials will choose a sustainable option over a non-sustainable one, and 47% of companies said sustainability had an impact on their recruitment and retention. And investors get it too: 90% of investors said they pay attention to how sustainable a business is.

How to apply it:

  • Start somewhere. Whether it’s recycling and offering reusable water bottles in the office or setting up formal DEI (diversity, equity and inclusion) or ESG (environmental, social and corporate governance) committees, small and large efforts make a difference. The intent of the contribution is what matters most. Don’t get discouraged by the task at hand and stay focused on what is manageable and important to you.
  • Keep going. Sustainability is not a one-off initiative – it’s a muscle that needs constant exercise to establish as part of your strategy and operations. Like any other initiative, it should have goals and be analyzed at regular intervals to find places to improve and build on your progress.
  • Think bigger. Once that muscle is strong, challenge it in creative ways to promote your values. For example, we plant a tree for every new customer. It’s an easy way to do our part while leaning into what life is really about: caring for a future that stretches beyond you.

Related: How to turn sustainability into brand and business strength

Sustainability is a business mindset

The concept of sustainability goes far beyond the realm of ESG. It’s a development method and mindset that can transform the way a company plans and performs.

The temptation to think short-term — how to hit this month’s goal, how to put out fires with temporary Band-Aids — is very big in startup culture. Adopting a sustainable mindset means evaluating the long-term impact of short-term decision-making, as well as investing in future growth without expectations of short-term returns. Ultimately, the two come together: Yesterday’s investments become today’s harvest as you continue to plan for tomorrow.

How to apply it:

  • Prove your foundation first. Insurance is a game of risk. If you grow before you get the underwriting right, you’ll be out of business. We’ve spent years building, proving and refining our risk models to ensure a strong foundation for growth.
  • Maintain healthy unit finances. In this market, it’s no secret that most growing companies have embraced a focus on unit economics. But in Silicon Valley, the pendulum tends to swing back and forth between focusing on strong fundamentals and pushing growth at all costs. Adopting a sustainable mindset helps you stay focused and disciplined as you seek to build a truly disruptive, sustainable business.
  • Reassess and improve your organization every +50 employees. Growth is important, but scaling right keeps the mission on track and employees invested. It’s important to reassess how your organization operates every +50 employees or so to ensure processes and teams are structured to maximize effective collaboration and decision-making.

Related: Are Your Company’s Sustainability Efforts Failing? See what might be getting in the way of your success.

Sustainability belongs in your mission statement

It all stems from a company’s mission. So if you make sustainability part of your mission, you will automatically have its virtues embedded in your DNA.

So my advice is to take a real look at your mission and understand how sustainability fits naturally. I would go further and say that anyone running a company in this century has a responsibility to do so. Climate change is not a future problem. it’s here, now. According to NASA, the effects of climate change, such as rising sea levels, intense heat waves and catastrophic weather events are becoming more widespread.

If your industry’s connection to sustainability is more indirect, ask yourself how to connect it to your company values ​​and product offerings in a truly authentic way. Successful examples abound, ranging from outdoor gear – with Patagonia’s 1% commitment to the Planet and the CEO’s recent decision to divest the company to fight climate change – to makeup, such as the commitment by Thrive Causemetics for cruelty-free ingredients.

Ultimately, this is an exercise in defining and living your values ​​— and doing good along the way.

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