By Dale McIntyre
Today’s consumers favor businesses that try to make a positive impact on society and the environment. Last year, Nielsen found found that nearly 75 percent of millennials are willing to pay more for a sustainable product.
Two years ago, our company leaders at Pharos Systems International decided it was time to push ourselves and our employees toward an authentic mindset of sustainability that’s aligned with our brand. We began working toward certification as a B Corporation to demonstrate our commitment to the highest standards of social and environmental responsibility.
One step was to review all the products we use at the office to ensure that we buy from other companies that are committed to sustainability. We even changed the coffee we drink. To make it fun, we created a monthlong tasting poll, introducing a new sustainably sourced coffee each week.
The contest made the rationale for the change clear, and participation was strong. Our colleagues voted for their favorite brew, and we now purchase organically grown and sustainably sourced beans from a certified B Corp roaster. This type of change can be a lot of fun and a great engagement tool for employees.
But the work wasn’t all this simple and easy. In fact, it can be quite hard to become a certified B Corp — and it should be; it should require rigorous commitment. Too often, unsubstantiated claims are tossed around, and such greenwashing can affect how sustainability efforts are perceived. But when it’s clear your effort is genuine, you’re in for some unexpected benefits — from key millennial hires to new business partnerships with like-minded companies.
Here are some tips we learned along the way.
1. Shopping by price alone. When price is the top priority, as is often the case with many purchasing professionals, important considerations may be lost. Shopping by true cost also takes into account the environmental and social impacts of a purchase.
The source of the cheapest cotton, for instance, may come at a greater social cost, as labor practices in some countries are not close to what we consider acceptable in the U.S. Likewise, goods may have to ship from farther away, which increases their carbon footprint. It’s important to evaluate the potential impact and cost before you make purchasing decisions.
2. Ignoring your individual carbon footprint. Our daily decisions impact the environment, both locally and globally. We drive to the office, turn on the lights, and plug in our computers without giving much thought to these routine actions.
It takes effort to establish new habits, like carpooling or taking public transportation when possible or remembering to turn off lights and computers instead of leaving them on for marginal convenience. Seemingly small acts can collectively make a significant difference.
3. Printing mindlessly. The paperless office has been hyped for the past 20 years, but it’s still not a reality for many companies. Print has many virtues in business, and it has improved: Printers are more efficient, and a variety of recycled paper and ink cartridge options are available. But these incremental improvements don’t mean the cost of printing is negligible. For many organizations, it’s one of the highest cost categories, and that cost is highly correlated to environmental impact.
People print for one of two reasons: to obtain a process-required hard copy or out of a habit of convenience. Fortunately, there’s technology that makes it easier for companies to reduce expensive, nonessential print volume.
1. Prioritize. In nearly every facet of office life, there’s room to improve processes and behaviors to make them more sustainable. This presents many opportunities for growth, but too much at once can make initiatives seem unfocused and overwhelming for employees.
Start by championing five or fewer efforts. Dive deep to determine what’s most important in terms of value, as well as which harmful practices are most common in your workplace.
2. Set expectations, and explain them clearly. Set measurable sustainability goals for the long term — five years is a typical timeline. These metrics should be specific and tie in to your overall corporate strategy.
Instead of simply telling employees to reduce unnecessary printing, set a target to cut your organization’s total print volume by a desired amount — say, 50 percent.
3. Communicate, communicate, communicate. One factor that led to our achieving B Corp certification was the creation of mission statements and policies around our social and environmental impacts. To communicate these to everyone in the company, we produced training videos and tracked engagement.
To get people fired up, host discussions on your internal website and send invitations to conservation events like the daylight hour, when businesses volunteer to turn off lights for an hour and work by daylight. Such things help demonstrate the surprising impact that small actions can have when they catch on.
4. Create an internal sustainability interest group. When we did this, it was like pouring gas on a fire. We were pleasantly surprised by the high level of interest across the organization.
Identify employees who are already committed to sustainability, and ask them to take ownership of some of the initiatives. This has become one of our most active teams — the members use their personal time at lunch to work with this group, and the mutual learning and idea sharing has led to many effective programs.
Sustainability isn’t just a buzzword or something you can pay lip service to and then go about business as usual. It takes a lot of work and cooperation, but in the end, your reward will be engaged, proactive employees who care about creating a better world and a healthier, more profitable company.
Image credit: Pixabay
Dale McIntyre serves as a vice president at Pharos Systems International, an enterprise print solutions provider based in Rochester, New York. Dale provides strategic leadership in the areas of sustainability, brand, and customer engagement. He regularly shares his unique sustainability perspective on print strategy through blogs, webinars, and appearances.