Practicing sustainability in your business gives you a course that enables you to make more money, improve your reputation, and protect the environment all at the same time. But if you want your sustainability strategy to work, you need to have measurable goals to achieve.
How do you set these sustainability goals for your business appropriately?
The Many Types of Sustainability
“Sustainability” is a general term that can apply to multiple discrete areas of focus. As you contemplate and eventually solidify your sustainability goals, it’s important to differentiate between them. An overall sustainability strategy should incorporate elements of the following individual types of sustainability:
Environmental sustainability is about following best practices to preserve, protect, and avoid harming the environment. The ultimate goal is to make sure our interactions with the environment are sustainable. Within this category, there are many separate areas to keep in mind. For example, water sustainability focuses on using less water and using water in a way that doesn’t harm the environment. You can also focus on reducing waste, relying on renewable energy sources, improving recycling, limiting pollution, and compensating for any incidental environmental damage that comes from your business.
Economic sustainability is about maintaining the health and growth of the economy. It can be followed with many different strategies, designed to improve employment, avoid monopolies and excessive reliance on specific industries, and generally set a trajectory for higher economic growth that can be sustained well into the future.
Social sustainability or human sustainability is sustainability as it relates to individuals and their communities. Diversity and inclusion are important concepts in social sustainability, as are fair hiring and wage practices.
Outlining Your High-Level Vision
Before you get too far in the weeds of your sustainability strategy, it’s valuable to outline your high-level vision. In other words, what exactly are you trying to accomplish?
What is the primary motivation behind this charge? Are you interested in sustainability for its own sake, to make your investors happy, to please your customers, or some combination of these and other potential motivations? These should help illuminate which goals are going to be most effective in pursuit of your cause.
You should also have a general timeline in mind. You’ll create a more specific one when you set individual goals, but for now, are you interested in making changes over months, years, or decades?
How important is sustainability to your business, relative to your other priorities? For example, would you be willing to take a loss for a year if it meant adopting new sustainability initiatives? How much are you willing to spend and sacrifice on sustainability programs?
Research and Exploration
Next, you can begin researching and exploring the topics of sustainability most interesting to you.
Who are your main investors and what are their philosophies on sustainability? It’s not always the best move to adopt sustainability practices for the sole purpose of pleasing investors, but investor sentiments are worth noting.
What are your competitors doing? This can guide you to the right sustainability initiatives, but remember that it’s still important to differentiate yourself.
What’s going on in your current business operations? Are there concerns about energy waste, pollution, or other specific issues?
Setting Appropriate Goals
At this point, you’ll have all the information you need to start setting appropriate goals for your sustainability initiatives.
SMART criteria are useful here:
Specific. Be as specific as possible; a general goal like “reduce waste” isn’t going to be effective.
Measurable. Use numbers rather than generalities so you can measure your results adequately.
Achievable. It’s good to be ambitious, but if your goals are too ambitious, they won’t work.
Relevant. Your goals need to be tied to your philosophy of sustainability.
Time-bound. Every goal needs to be associated with a deadline or timeline.
Your Sustainability Report
Currently, 96 percent of the world’s biggest 250 companies report on sustainability at least annually – and that percentage may grow to 100 in the near future. If you want to prove the value of your initiative, it’s important to publish the results of your efforts. Release a new version of your report on a periodic basis to demonstrate your incremental improvements.
Your sustainability goals are unlikely to remain fixed. As you enforce new sustainability policies and allow the business to evolve, you’ll likely need to make some adjustments. There’s nothing wrong with this; it’s all part of the process.
With better, more appropriate sustainability goals, your business can reduce its impact, maximize its growth trajectory, and keep both investors and clients happy. It’s not an easy or cheap journey, but it’s an important one for the longevity of both your business and the environment in which it operates.
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