The storeroom in FrescoGreen.
Photo by Kenny Weaver
Sustainable Business Management
Deciding to become more sustainable is one of the most important business decisions a company can make. Not only does this decision effect the business end of operations, but it is a decision that could potentially help change and improve the world. Sustainable businesses are becoming more and more common in the modern economic market. The trend has been receiving deserved media attention, but it should be noted that sustainable business is a reachable goal for any company who is willing to strive for it.
HYPOTHETICAL CASE STUDY
Once a business asserts its values through following the pillars of People, Planet, Probity and Purpose, it will begin to succeed natural, through an organic growth process. Let’s take for example, a construction supply company. Beginning the company, the owner or business partners should take a look at how they wish to run the business and should they like to dedicate themselves to the concepts of sustainable business, there are several things they should do.
In dedicating themselves first to People, they should begin to look for employees, but keeping in mind that their employees are very important, they should be offering full benefits and a competitive starting salary. Another key aspect of employee benefits is making sure the working environment is a clean and safe one. This includes everything from tidiness to indoor air quality. Work should get done, but it is also important to keep morale up and the work environment light.
The family of businesses this new company creates are vital to its success. For a construction supply company, it may be smart to create relationships with construction workers, painters, flooring workers, plumbers, electricians, roofers and even interior designers. These relationships will play out well as long as these other partners are as committed to the Four P’s as the original company is.
This process works as follows: if a client comes in inquiring about some lead-free paint. Selling her the paint becomes a lower priority than asking leading questions and becoming aware of the problems that this specific client is facing. In doing so, you should be able to lead her to the best solution for her specific needs. If that includes recommending a painter from your family of businesses, then you have reinforced your commitment to that company and helped promote sustainable business by making sure she stays with another company who is driving at your goals. The hope is that as you are sending clients their way, your family of businesses will also be sending clients your way if your company is the best fit for their needs.
Creating a family of like-minded businesses is a vital component of creating a new sustainable business. The practice of sharing ideas and clients with each other supports People in many ways.
Creating this family of businesses acts to set a standard of quality in the community. When several companies join hands and begin the process of promoting and helping each other, it shows surrounding businesses and clientele that there is something to be gained by looking into the sustainable business area.
Additionally, having several like-minded business plays into the idea of setting your company up as a consultant type business rather that a sales oriented one. If you have other companies that you know act in a similar sustainable manner, it becomes much easier to recommend these companies if they offer solutions to a client’s problems.
When doing business with other companies, you want to make sure that they are dedicated to sustainable business, as well. This process can be difficult, but in the end, it creates a stronger network for your business to operate in.
To do this, simply meet with the owner or manager of the business you are thinking about working with. Just talking to them will help you gauge the potential partner business’ ethics and approach to how they do business. These talks can work as an interview process or something as simple as a lunch meeting. During these meeting you should be looking to establish your potential partner’s ethics and how they view their dedication to the Four P’s (even if they doesn’t know of them as the Four P’s).
IN LANCASTER COUNTY
There are a variety of networking families for sustainable businesses in Lancaster County. If you are looking to extend you reach, check out some of the following organizations.
- Susquehanna Sustainable Business Network - http://www.susquehannasbn.org/
- Berks Lancaster Green Building Association - http://www.blgba.org/
- Fresco Green Sustainable Living and Building Resources - http://www.frescogreen.com/index.html
- Lancaster Green Pages - http://www.susquehannasbn.org/green%20pages%2010%20web.pdf
- NetZero Magazine
Photo by Kenny Weaver
FrescoGreen's recycled carpeting.
Photo by Kenny Weaver
THE FOUR P’S
The four P’s are a way to run your life and your business. While this model was set up as a sort of mission statement for sustainable business, it also represents a mindset dealing with how the networks in society should operate.
This is the first, and most important P. People deals with our ever important relationships with everyone we deal with. The list includes, but is not limited to:
- Family of businesses
While this seems like an obvious commitment to make, in order to become a truly successful sustainable business, you need to embrace people at a higher level than anyone else. It is important to start with the people around you. Your employees should feel that you care and that they are part of a family when you are with them. You should offer your employees with good benefits, no matter the cost. By offering benefits, such as health care, disability insurance and a good starting wage, you are reaffirming your commitment to them.
Your clientele should also be treated with the upmost respect. While any business man would tell you that this is the case, this model presents a hyperactive idea of that philosophy. Your clientele should become more than just a dollar sign. Concepts revolving money flow will be dealt with later, but concurrently with People being the most important aspect of sustainable business, clientele should be treated as a friend with whom you are advising, not a mark you are selling to.
Another group of people very important to sustainable business are your family of like-minded businesses. In the group, you should try to treat other business that follow a sustainable business model with a mutual respect. In doing so, you can help to encourage a line of prodects that are environmentally sound.
When starting a new business, it is always important to focus on how your business effects the community you are in. For a sustainable business, however, it becomes vital. A sustainable business wants to create a symbiotic relationship with its community. Once you start your business, you should not look toward the community as where you are, but as something you are a part of. You should always want to go out of your way to be involved in the community you are a member of. Finally, as an active member of the world community, a sustainable business should always be concerned with the way its operations are effecting the rest of the world population.
Providing ease of access for your customers is very important; even something as little as blocks for your clients kids.
Photo by Kenny Weaver
While people are the most important thing to focus on as a sustainable business, it becomes apparent that the planet falls into line closely. As humans, we need to planet to survive and flourish for us to continue to use it. As such, it is vital that a sustainable business become aware of ways to help protect the planet. We do this in three ways:
When looking at those three manners of protecting the environment, it is crucial that they are viewed in that order. Before doing anything, a sustainable business should look to reduce in every way it possibly can. A business should look at its goods and services and try to limit and reduce how much product it receives that it extracted from the planet. A business should also always be trying to limit its carbon footprint. This includes manufacture, transportation and disposal.
After looking to reduce everything you can to help promote a better planet, the next thing a business should look to do is reuse anything it possibly can, rather than sending usable good to disposal. Reusing is about slowing down the process of consumption and maintaining longer periods between shipments and lessening the effects of disposal onto landfills.
Finally, after focusing on reducing and reusing, the focus should be on recycling. Government promotion of recycling has gone back the world wars, however, the importance of the program has never faded. It remains important to recycle, because recycling allows a rare opportunity to slow down all of the processes we are trying to reduce.
Another important aspect of starting sustainable business is probity. Probity simply means integrity. The idea is that none of these changes are worth attempting or mean anything unless they come from a place of true intention and passion. When starting your business, you must ask yourself, “Am I attempting to become sustainable for business reasons? Or because I know it is the right thing to do?” This question drives the sustainability movement. In essence, sustainability is an achievable goal because it is the right thing to do.
Another key aspect of probity is the idea of transparency. If a company is hiding their practices, they are no good to anyone. To remain principled, a company must be willing to share any and all practices to the public and to their community.
When it comes to probity, there are some key commitments businesses should focus on making. First, a company should always be committed to improving the quality of life. This may seem like a vague statement, but it becomes clearly when you apply it to every level of your company, community and world.
Businesses should also be committed to being transparent in how they conserve resources. The businesses should only buy from other businesses who are dedicated to conserving and in their own practices, businesses should show integrity in their conservation practices.
Most importantly, a business should be committed to sustaining the mission. This mission should include all aspects of the business. Firstly, the business should always be sustaining its social contacts. In the world of business, social contacts are the most important thing to gaining new clients and new respect. In sustainable business, however, social contacts are all the more important in that through them we promote our message and goals.
Economics are an interesting part of the mission. While it is always important that the company make money, it is more important that the business promote the ideas of sustainability and of community and solving problems for a client rather than just selling the client products or goods to make a profit. That being said, it remains a crucial piece of the mission to try to make enough money to keep the business afloat. If no money is being made and you have to close up shop, you are not doing anyone any good.
If this concept is hard to key in on, try to picture a tree in nature. When the tree grows, it doesn’t consume or expel or do anything drastically. It exists in the most basic, organic way natural. For the tree to exist and co-exist in its environment (community) it must consume and expel only exactly what it needs, nothing more, nothing less. This is the same way we need to look at business growth. The business needs to grow in an organic, natural way.
The concepts presented in probity remain interesting when you look at the market as a whole. While there remains and will always be companies dedicated to pushing sustainable goals to better the world, there are a plethora of companies dedicated to calling themselves “green” to capitalize on the marketable status of the trend. This is causing a phenomenon called “green washing.” This is a cause of concern for truly sustainable businesses. The fear is that with more and more companies calling themselves or their products “green,” that is will create a situation where consumers will begin to tune the word “green” or “sustainable” out and begin to move the trend back the other way, creating a kind of backlash against sustainable businesses.
A concept wall
displaying ways to insulate a building.
Photo by Kenny Weaver
In starting a new business, an entrepreneur has many important things to worry about. While the Four P’s create a workable business model that is effective in supporting the earth and nature, many businessmen or women will notice that the idea of Profit is never mentioned in the model. There are several reasons for this.
Profit is an important part of running a business, however, it never trumps the other pillars of creating a sustainable business. For instance, if a company’s first priority is profit, they can never fully fulfill the other areas of the business model. The first aspect to focus on is People.
When profit becomes most important, you will begin to neglect the people around you. A client should always be treated as a friend first, not a customer or a consumer. The typical sales model in a capitalist market is to sell what the company has to get what the company needs. Our model rejects this idea. The company’s first priority for its clients should be that as a consultant and advisor. When a client presents a set of needs to a business, it shouldn’t attempt to fit its goods and services into the client’s needs, it should, instead, present solutions to the problems that have been presented. This can and should include recommending a different company if their services fit better or creating solutions out of materials present.
Usurping the importance of profit can also have negative effects on your employees. To make the highest profit, all businesspeople will tell you, that the first aspect will be to cut costs. A lot of times these cost cutting procedures will adversely affect the very people who work for you. When possible, always provide good wages, insurance and other benefits to your employees.
Cutting costs can also perverse your dedication to Planet. Many times it is much cheaper to dispose of garbage in a much more inefficient and detrimental manner. The goal should always be to reach 100% combustible trash. Additionally, it could potentially be less expensive to order products from certain companies over others. The company’s practices should always be taken into account, though. Ordering product from a company that is dedicated to lowering their carbon footprint lowers your carbon footprint as well.
For some entrepreneurs, this article may be a little bit too late. If you already own a business but are intrigued by the concept of sustainable business, there are still many things that can be done. While building your company on the Four P’s is not possible, since the company is already being built, there is an intricate makeover process that can help you on your way to becoming more sustainable.
Photo by FrescoGreen
The first step in this complicated makeover process is the make sure the leadership in the company is dedicated to the changes that might need to be made and are dedicated to the concept of becoming a more sustainable business. The commitment to change and sustainable business has to go all the way up in the company. If you are a middle manager and would like your company to become a more sustainable one, do not be afraid of talking to your upper levels of management about making some transitions and changes to the company’s working policies and structure.
Once the leadership in the company has dedicated themselves to moving in a positive sustainable manner, the next step is to get the stakeholders onboard. Stakeholders are anyone invested in the business in any way, not just economic. When normally talking about stakes or shares of a company, economics are being discussed. But our discussion is addressing all persons with any investment in the company, including, but not limited to, employees, managers, economic investors or otherwise. The goal in this step of the makeover is to begin the company moving in the correct direction and begin preparations for the other steps of the makeover process.
Once the stakeholders of the company have been assembled, briefed and prepared, the company should begin looking into starting area specific assessments of policy, procedure and structure. The first area a company should be looking into is People. While dealing with this specific area of the company, management should be trying to figure out how their relationships and commitments to the people involved in the company are working out.
Employee benefits and interactions should be a main area of assessment. Questions a company could ask itself are:
- Do I provide my employees the benefits they need at the right price for them?
- This is an important area of employee relations and the People pillar. Employees should be offered health benefits, disability benefits and wages that allow them to interact in the current economy without hesitation or fear.
- Is my working environment one that is safe and light-spirited for my employees?
- When dealing with employee benefits and overall health, it is important to not only take economics into account, but also the work environment, as a whole. Can corrections be made that will improve air quality? Does my staff have the proper safety training? Does the work environment promote happiness and light-heartedness? And most importantly, do my employees enjoy coming to work every day?
Another way of ensuring your client's ease of access is supplying movies to keep their children entertained.
Photo by Kenny Weaver
While doing the People assessment, the company should also profile and assess their relationships with their clientele and their community. Again, questions the company should ask itself include:
- How do I view my role with my clientele?
- This is another very important question to ask yourself during your People assessment. Do we act as a supplier in a strictly economic sense? Do we act more as a consultant to guide and advise our clientele?
- Do I make my company accessible to my clientele?
- This can be a very overlooked part of the mission. This includes what hours the company keeps, if it makes itself available for appointment times and what types of amenities you offer to make your clientele’s trip as easy, effortless and as painless as possible.
- How do I interact with my community?
- In dealing with People, another very important question that a company needs to address is its relationship to the community, as a whole.
The second assessment the company should make is to their commitment to Planet. This assessment is for management to look at and question their “green” choices, or what policies are already in place that are attempting to promote the health of the planet. We’ll go back to reduse, reuse, recycle as our key areas to question.
The first of these strategies, “reduce,” is straight forward enough. The company should look at and question if there are areas in which they can reduce their consumption of products in any way. This question can also be applied to the use of oil or fossil fuels.
After assessing the manner in which the company could begin to reduce consumption, the should look at how they could reuse. In this area of the planet assessment, the company should try to gauge what they are currently reusing in their daily operation. Is there anyway to be more efficient with supplies? For instance, could the company begin double-siding in-house memos or otherwise reusing its supplies to make for a less consumptive office space.
Finally, recycling is the last step of the Planet assessment. In this part of the questionnaire, the company should be looking at its current recycling policies. While some amount of landfill bound refuse is unavoidable, the goal should always be to recycle or combust 100% of the external waste of the company.
During this phase of the makeover process, the company should be looking at the “purpose” or their green trend. The most important question they can ask themselves is this: Are we trying to do this for a financial reason, or are we trying to do this because it is the right thing to do? If the answer is because of economic or publicity reasons, the drive toward sustainability will not be successful. The purpose section of the makeover is about being sure that the mission is a correct one.
After all the assessments are complete, it is time to hash out the results. In this step of the makeover, the company should be looking at how the assessments played out and what they said or potentially say about the company. Reviewing these results should be a painstakingly tedious process. When looking at the results and inquiries, look for area in which you can dramatically improve in the quickest amount of time and prioritize those toward the top of the list.
Once the results have been flushed over, the company should make a detailed, step-by-step, plan for how they will address each of the separate assessment areas. In this plan, the company should not be hesitant to address individuals or specific departments or areas of the company for improvement or for recognition.
This step of the process is possible the most important in the entire makeover. During this area of concentration, the company should assess the plan that they have made in the previous step and then properly communicate it to all of their stakeholders. What is important in this step is that the company effectively informs the team about every aspect of the plan that they developed to ensure that it is effectively and properly carried out. Be sure to give all necessary and proper training to your staff and be completely transparent to your other stakeholders.
A typical training room.
Photo by Kenny Weaver
In this faze of the makeover, the company should be looking to implement the plan that was developed. This means that all the planning and assessments should move into a stage of finality here. In implementing your plan, the company should be looking toward an aggressive approach.
During this crucial step, the company should be watching, listening and reacting to the implementation of the plan they developed. Because the range of topics addressed in the assessments and the plan itself, it become important to make sure the various changes that were made are running smoothly.
If structure in the business changed, be sure to keep close observance on the employees interactions with their new roles. This can even go as far as to interview employees to be sure of their morale. If the changes were to policy, observe how well the office is reacting to the policy change and how often it is being enforced.
In this step, all this monitoring you did in the previous step gets reported to the shareholders. The idea here is to take all the notes you made with monitoring the transition into the new sustainable practices and to interpret them in an objective, unbiased manner. Once you have drawn conclusions about your new practices, tell your employees and clients about it. It is key to remember to remain transparent and to uphold your integrity in this process. If the results aren’t what you were looking for, be sure to tell everyone that. Don’t hide behind fears of bad publicity. Remember that one of the Four P’s is probity.
Finally! After all these steps and the results have been reported, don’t forget to reward yourselves and your staff! This very crucial step is often overlooked by many big companies, but this is part of the Four P’s.
It is important as an existing business to understand to set realistic goals. If your company is already running at a certain speed, it may be very difficult to change certain aspects of the policies and procedures that are already in operation. Think of your company as a train that has been rolling down the tracks of commerce at 60 miles per hour in the wrong direction. This makeover process won’t turn your train around, but it can start to slow the train down and start to right some of the things that have been in progress.
What’s important to remember when setting these goals is that, while it’s impossible to become perfectly sustainable and that there are very large obstacles and a difficult path in the way of an existing company that is actively trying the change its culture, doing something is always better than doing nothing at all.
10 PLACES TO GO WITH MORE INFORMATION ON SUSTAINABLE BUSINESS
The following list of resources can act as a reference guide for readers to find more information about sustainable business and some organizations involved in sustainable initiatives. Enjoy!
- http://www.erb.umich.edu/ - Erb Institute
- The Erb Institute is an organization that was found in 1996 by Frederick and Barbara Erb. Based out of the University of Michigan, the organization is dedicated to educational outreach supporting the transition to sustainability worldwide. At the website, readers can find information on the organization itself, educational programs, research initiatives, partners and news and updates as the happen.
- http://www2.johnson.cornell.edu/sge/index.cfm - Center for Sustainable Global Enterprise
- Based out of Cornell University, the Center for Sustainable Global Enterprise is an organization that attempts to achieve sustainable solutions to social and economic problems. Readers who go to their website can learn about the organization’s main domains of study and information about becoming involved in their activities.
- http://www.ceres.org/Page.aspx?pid=705– Ceres
- Ceres (pronounced “series”) is a group of investors, organizations and public interest groups that span the nation. The mission of the organization is to promote sustainability in economic markets to promote the health of the planet and its people. Visiting their website will prove information on the organization, as well as updates and news, events, publications and the opportunity to donate to them.
- http://www.greenamerica.org/about/ - Green America
- This organization was establishing in 1982 as a not for profit membership based co-op. The mission that they claim on their website is “to harness economic power—the strength of consumers, investors, businesses, and the marketplace—to create a socially just and environmentally sustainable society.” The website is laid out like a publication, featuring mainly articles, editorials and interviews promoting people and organizations on the forefront of sustainable business.
- http://www.gengreenlife.com/ - GenGreenLife
- GenGreenLife acts as a directory for sustainable businesses. They are attempting to support people who would like to lead an environmentally aware lifestyle while still supporting local businesses and farmers. Their website offers listings of local businesses that produce environmentally conscious products, headlines regarding the latest news, and even job listings.
- http://www.nrdc.org/default_t.asp - National Resources Defense Council
- The National Resources Defense Council is a network of 1.3 million members and activists who have banded together to support action on environmental fronts. Founded in 1970, the precise mission statement of the organization claims it wished to “safeguard the Earth: its people, its plants and animals and the natural systems on which all life depends.” The website offers a very sleek look at news, issues, policy, green living, green business and opportunities to donate or take action. They are also pushing the envelope of digital media, offering a free TV section containing videos and audio from the organization.
- http://nbis.org/ - Network for Business Innovation and Sustainability
- The Network for Business Innovation and Sustainability are an organization who which to provide business people the ability to connect, share and learn from one another. They look to delve into all areas of industry and commerce and detail the best methods for which to move forward sustainably. The organization includes, academic groups, government agencies and business people all over the world. Their website offers links to program overviews and specifics, events, a blog and a resources section. This resources section acts as a dynamic library for business people to find information involved in their specific field.
- http://www.wbcsd.org/templates/TemplateWBCSD5/layout.asp?MenuID=1 – World Business Council for Sustainable Development
- The World Business Council for Sustainable Development is an organization that dedicated to provided leadership to businesses to provide a change toward sustainable development. The website in very detailed. It features a section dedicated strictly to news regarding their “Regional Network.” This is an alliance of 60 CEO led business organizations providing business leadership to companies. The section deals with news, newsletters, publications, case studies and videos all for this Regional Network. Another section is dedicated strictly to areas that the organization is focused on; these focus areas include: Energy & Climate, Development, Business Role and Ecosystems. Another section is dedicated to projects that are currently being developed by the organization. The last section of the website deals with initiatives of sustainable development.
- http://conscious-manager.com/ - Conscious Manager
- This website acts as an online publication dedicated to several areas of environmental consciousness. There are sections on career, business, growth, health, value-creation, wisdom, conscious coach and a section to purchase self help books. The interesting part about this website is that it offers its materials in an objective
- http://www.sustainable.org.nz/ - Sustainable Business Network
- This is an interesting website in that is acts as a forum for interested businesses. On the website, businesses can join the site and become a part of a network that helps to promote the “integration of economic growth, social equality and environmental management” and connects businesses to allow them to exchange ideas and experiences.
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