What is Sustainable Business?

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What is Sustainable Business?


What is Sustainable Business? Eoin McQuone introduces the "triple bottom line" of sustainable businesses; looking after the Planet, People and Profit. He asks "What sustainable opportunities are there?" for your business.

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What is sustainable business?
What does it look like?

Well, the latest thinking is that it's all about balancing three key outcomes of your business.

1. It's about the environmental impacts, looking after the world and it's resources.
2. It's just as much about the social impacts. What impact do you have on your employees, your suppliers, your customers, members of the public who don't even buy your products?
3. It's about the economic results. Every business is in business to make a fair profit. And we need to make an
economic model that works.

Business is not going to be truly sustainable for the long-term, unless it can address all three of these positively.
We can be as environmentally sustainable as we like, if we're not making a profit, it's not going to stick.

In short, this is what sustainable business means to me.
"It's not about 'saving' the planet, it's about learning to thrive on it!"

We've got an amazing world here, full of resources. With more creativity, we could use those resources to thrive. And everybody in the world could have the fantastic standard
of living that we enjoy. 

So, what sustainable opportunities might there be for your business? People often ask me that, all the time when I meet them, networking. The first thing they say is, "Well, what can I do?" Well, I can tell you, there are a tonne of opportunities in every business. Let me give you some ideas.

Firstly, Innovation. Sustainability can be a great opportunity
to inspire innovation. In products, in services, and even in the way we sell things. Particularly with something called biomimicry. The natural world is an amazing natural laboratory of design solutions, and there are some businesses who have made fantastic innovations taking inspiration from those natural design solutions, applying them to technology and discoveringthat they're actually a lot more effective.

From the materials point of view, there are opportunities to make sure that our materials and supply chain don't harm the environment, don't harm people, or deplete natural resources. We can use waste materials, maybe get our materials for free.

On the operations side, there are lots of opportunities to make efficiencies in energy saving and using fewer resources. The beautiful thing about it, is that any saving we make there
almost invariably is a cost saving too, if you think medium or long-term. So the environmental savings go hand-in-hand, with savings in your back pocket.

From a distribution point of view, once you've actually put all the resources, in terms of materials and energy and time, into making something, the most sustainable thing to do is to maximise its productivity, maximise its utilisation, how many things that we buy, whether as consumers or businesses, sit on the shelf for 90% of the time doing absolutely nothing? Well, that's not very productive. Its not very productive for the manufacturer either and there are, increasingly, businesses using interesting business models like Lease A Jeans, like time-sharing, to make more profit out of every sale, and also maximise the productivity of their investment in resources.

Some products use a lot of energy or resources
during their use, so with those, we may well be able to have a huge impact by using less of those in use, which will probably also put money in our customer's pocket. That's a great competitive advantage.

Again, once you've put those resources into the world, the most sustainable thing to do is to make sure they keep working for as long as possible. That causes us to think about designing products in a different way, instead of designing them to be really quick and easy to make and throw away, we need to make them more durable. We need designs that are designed to last, and not just fashionable. Maybe we can design things to service them. Maybe we can create a
whole new service business that we didn't have before, that generates a new revenue stream.

At the end of a product's life, there are some really valuable resources in there, can we figure out a way to reuse the product in a different application, or to reuse the materials or the components in a different application. Again, maybe we can  generate a whole new revenue stream we didn't have before. When we finally have to get rid of it, how do we make sure that it's gotten rid of in a safe way that doesn't affect the environment or people?

Numbers, I love numbers! Numbers help us make better decisions. So as well as measuring the financial outcome, it's really important to measure our sustainability outcomes to understand what's important to us and whether we're getting there. That really helps us focus on making better decisions but it can also, by making those public, really help engage our employees.

And that's the final 0pportunity here that I want
to highlight. The wonderful thing about putting sustainability at the heart of your business is, that it matters to people. It matters to the people who work for you, and the people who buy from you. People get passionate about it, and when people are passionate about things, that inspires their creativity. If you can make use of that, you can do some amazing things.

When I was at Mira, we challenged the whole of the workforce to come up with projects that would both generate environmental benefits and cost savings to the business. We reckoned we would probably manage about £100,000 a year, we thought that was a challenging target. In the first year, we
identified over £300,000 worth of savings. By year three, we were up to half a million, of annual cost savings to the business that were also delivering better environmental outcomes. Just by engaging the whole of the workforce.

So how could you sell each of your products or services many times over?

If you sell products, how can you sell those as a service? Instead of shifting the product, sell it as a service and generate a regular income instead of a one-off sale?

How could you get your materials for free, from waste?

What else could you do? What else would really help drive your business?

How can we help your business to do this?