Everyone Starts Somewhere

I

'm the kind of person who gets excited about harnessing our consumer culture to make a positive impact on the world.  I believe that how I spend my time, money, and skills matters.  It's why my retirement investments are in Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG) funds, why I pursued an MBA in Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) and Sustainable Enterprise, and why I’m the perfect target to be advertised to about clothes made from recycled plastic water bottles.  

The desire to be a part of the solution is what led me to a career in Impact.  I’ve brought it with me to every job I’ve had, and with it an ever-growing accumulation of knowledge about the real impact companies have on the environment.  

Every business has an impact on the environment.  Impacts, like companies and the people in them come in all shapes and sizes.  Some have significantly larger impacts than others (i.e. fossil fuel and construction companies), but that doesn’t make the impact of, say, a small technology company inherently insignificant.  But small tech companies beg the question:  how would a company whose activities don’t have a direct impact on the environment go about improving its impact on the environment?  

To move the needle, you first need a needle.  Let’s start with how you can assess and measure your company’s environmental impact.  

Do you operate out of an office, warehouse, or other type of building?  Your company likely pays for electricity, water, and gas (or perhaps your property manager pays for these and their costs are included in your rent).  Boom - one source for two types of data: usage and cost.  

What types of waste are produced by your business activities?  Maybe you’re a manufacturing company and you pay a waste management company to dispose of tons of waste at a time.  How much does that cost?  How much is going to a landfill versus being recycled or even composted?  Does your company’s waste create a secondary source of revenue?  If you operate out of an office and the only real waste produced comes from regular trash and recycling bins, does your company have a recycling program?  It may sound small, but according to the EPA the average company’s office waste is 90% paper goods and the average office worker generates 2 pounds of paper waste per day.

Unless you are a sole proprietorship, your company likely has employees that commute to work.  How far and by what means do they travel?  Does your company encourage carpooling, or provide incentives for using public transportation, walking, or biking to work?  How often, how far, and by what means do employees travel for business?  To measure the impact of this, there are calculators online where you can input information like this to see what your company’s carbon footprint is.  

Why should you care?  Ethics.  Risk mitigation.  Competitive advantage.  Financial savings.

According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), buildings account for almost 40% of global energy-related CO2 emissions.  Maybe your office is located in a green building.  The U.S. Green Building Council says that green buildings help reduce carbon, water, energy and waste.  The Department of Energy reviewed 22 LEED-certified buildings managed by the General Services Administration and saw that these buildings’ CO2 emissions were 34% lower, they consumed 25% less energy and 11% less water, and they diverted more than 80 million tons of waste from landfills.  They also are healthier workplaces for employees because they have good, natural light (which is also less expensive than electric light), improved air quality (which has a positive influence on employees’ alertness), and they use more non-toxic, recyclable, and organic materials in construction.  

According to a 2016 Cone Communications Employee Engagement Study, 70% of workers (83% of Millennials, which now make up 50%+ of the workforce) in the U.S. would be more loyal to a company that helps them contribute to social and environmental issues.  Furthermore, 64% of Millennials consider a company’s social and environmental commitments when deciding where to work, 64% say they won’t take a job if a company doesn’t have strong corporate social responsibility (CSR) values, and 88% say their job is more fulfilling when they are provided opportunities to make a positive impact on social and environmental issue.  Turnover is expensive, so improving employee retention can result in huge savings to your company.  

So now that you have some ideas on how to assess and measure your company’s environmental impact, how can you improve upon it?  Start small.  You’re not going to change your entire way of doing business or your company culture overnight.  Choose a couple of areas to focus on that will also reduce costs or increase profits and create SMART goals to address them.  Then invest those savings or additional revenues into your next set of sustainability initiatives.  Get various members of your team involved in planning and implementation to help ensure progress will be made.  

Examples of specific vehicles of improvement include: 1) establishing a sustainability leadership committee, 2) drafting new company policies, 3) carrying out workshops or trainings, 4) purchasing carbon offsets, and 5) implementing incentive programs.  Establishing measurable goals will set you up to be able to assess whether you’re successful or not.  This is the kind of work we do with our clients at Tablecloth.  We meet them where they are and work together to lay out a plan of action.

So there’s my case.  As cheesy as it sounds, every little bit does count.  It has to.  We can’t control any of the negative externalities of our business if we don’t know they exist.  Now we know, and we have the tools to start somewhere.


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