Hand in a suit shaking hands with an arm made of greenery

Do good and do well: why sustainability should be at the heart of your business

Posted on: November 9, 2022

We all know that Planet Earth is in big trouble. The United Nations predicts that by 2030 it will be too late to stop the damage caused by human-made climate change. Social issues and inequalities threaten to divide communities and countries, and the COVID-19 pandemic and war in Ukraine have caused health and economic crises. Coming together to make collective change has never been more urgent – and by maximising their sustainability, businesses can play an important part.

What is sustainability in business?

Whether it’s coal and copper mines dumping toxic waste into rivers or a ‘toxic’ workplace culture affecting employees’ health, when companies fail to take responsibility for their impact, it can lead to environmental degradation, inequalities and social injustices.

Sustainability means doing business without harmful or negative effects on the environment, community or society as a whole (the so-called ‘triple bottom line’ of balancing profits, people and planet). Instead, a sustainable business will aim to make a positive impact on either society or the environment – or both.

More and more organisations are now baking sustainability into their business strategies because they realise that ethical and sustainable business practices aren’t just good for the planet but also boost staff retention and recruitment, improve their brand and lead to greater success. In a recent McKinsey survey, 70% of respondents said their companies have a formal governance of sustainability in place.

How does business sustainability work in practice?

Every business will have its own unique set of sustainability strategies that tie into its bigger goals and values, but a few examples of business sustainability might be:

  • using sustainable materials in the manufacturing process
  • optimising supply chains to reduce greenhouse gas emissions
  • relying on renewable energy sources to power facilities
  • sponsoring education funds for children and young people in the local community.

According to McKinsey, the key to motivating businesses to adopt a sustainable mindset is to align it with a company’s goals, missions, or values; building, maintaining, or improving reputation; meeting customer expectations; and developing new growth opportunities. In this way, doing good can directly help a business to do well.

What are the wider benefits of becoming more sustainable?

Beyond helping to tackle climate change, sustainability can also provide a competitive advantage and drive business success. Many investors now use environmental, social, and governance (ESG) metrics to assess an organisation’s ethical and environmental impact and sustainability practices. As part of this they’ll scrutinise things such as a company’s board member diversity, carbon footprint, water use and community development projects.

An evaluation of 56 academic studies by Deutsche Bank showed that companies with high ratings for ESG factors have a lower cost of debt and equity; 89% of the studies they reviewed show that companies with high ESG ratings outperform the market both in the medium term (three to five years) and the long term (10 years). Further research by McKinsey shows that sustainability initiatives can help improve financial performance while fostering public support. 

Six of the best

From beer to computers and tea to search engines, here are six inspirational companies that are putting sustainability front and centre of their business.

  1. Trustworthy tea

Family-owned tea and coffee business Taylor’s of Harrogate is perhaps best known for its award-winning Yorkshire tea. The company prioritises people and the planet, building long-term good relationships with its suppliers and sustainably sourcing all of their ingredients. They’ve consistently measured the average carbon emissions from every part of their tea and coffee production process and are now carbon neutral, following a collaboration with the Kenya Tea Development Agency, through which Taylor’s provides incentives for over 7,000 farmers to plant almost 2 million carbon-absorbing trees. Furthermore, Taylor’s has committed to making all of its packaging recyclable, reusable or compostable by 2025.

  1. Bread to beer

It’s an eye-opening fact that nearly half (44%) of all the bread we consume in the UK ends up being thrown away, generating planet-warming greenhouse gases like methane as it decomposes. Another Yorkshire-based company, Toast Ale, is both tackling food waste and using it to turn a profit by using unsold bread and crusts from bakeries to make its award-winning craft beer. Toast doesn’t keep the profit either – it gives 100% of its profits to charities campaigning to address the UK’s £20 billion food waste problem.

  1. Pavement power

Pounding the pavements can now generate clean, green electricity, thanks to the ingenuity of UK startup Pavegen. The company has invented special paving tiles that convert footsteps into kinetic energy via electromagnetic generators. Now their power generating pads have been installed in shopping centres, transport hubs and even a football pitch across 36 countries.

  1. Reviving old computers

Circular Computing provides large businesses a ‘quick win’ in boosting their sustainability goals by helping them to extend the life of corporate IT. Rather than using raw materials to build a new laptop, the company takes defunct or old laptops and computers apart, repairs and upgrades existing parts and then remanufactures them from scratch. The company makes it easy for businesses and private consumers to buy leading brand, sustainable, carbon-neutral, enterprise-grade laptops. Not only that but by using Circular Computing’s service they can improve corporate sustainability, be socially responsible, improve their bottom line and aid the transition to a circular economy.

  1. Plants, not plastics

Plant-based materials are replacing polluting plastics in kitchens across the UK thanks to the sustainable products of the Scottish firm Vegware. The exponentially growing company makes eco-friendly containers and kitchen utensils from plants using renewable, low carbon, recycled or reclaimed materials. What’s more, the products can be composted after the end of their life. Vegware boasts a range of 300 products sold in more than 70 countries and has a very healthy turnover of £45.9 million.

  1. Click for trees

Ecosia, ‘The search engine that plants trees’ is the world’s leading green alternative to Google. The company uses advertising revenue gained from people’s internet searches to help sustainable causes around the globe. Ecosia donates an impressive 80% of its profits to non-profits that help tackle deforestation. The company had 15 million active users by the end of 2020, and to date it has planted just under 160 million trees.

Lead tomorrow’s sustainable startups to success

Fizzing with ideas for the next sustainable business? The University of Wolverhampton MBA Entrepreneurship will equip you to launch your business and lead it to success.

Study with us and you’ll develop the broad and highly developed skill set you need to outmanoeuvre the competition in today’s challenging business environment. You will learn to innovate, manage, grow and structure your business as it moves through different stages of its life cycle, underpinned with problem-based learning relating to real-world practice.

Or perhaps you are a sustainable business leader of the future who wants to give yourself an edge through a better understanding of people and behaviour? Then the MBA Psychology at the University of Wolverhampton is for you. This MBA course has been designed closely with employers to equip you for success in senior manager, director, MD and CEO roles.

Join our MBA programme and you’ll develop the skill set of a high-performing and passionate people leader. You will also gain a comprehensive knowledge of business practice combined with the practical insights and understanding of how to manage employees through times of crisis.

Both courses are 100% online to fit around your life, and you will automatically achieve CertBP status on graduation from the MBA Psychology.

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