Are you committed to eco-friendly practices and a sustainable lifestyle, but work for a company that has room for improvement? Are you trying to convince your boss to take on sustainable business practices? Whether you work for a small company or a Fortune 500, it can feel daunting when you’re trying to change executive-level priorities.
As a co-founder of EcoEnclose, I'm presented with a myriad of ideas and suggestions every day. Team members, customers, our partners and random people I meet at dinner parties offer up input regularly. But here's the thing: taking on new priorities is hard. Obviously, EcoEnclose's commitment to environmental practices is strong, but when I hear other input (“Let’s start stocking X new product!” or “Let’s invest in a software to help us better manage our warehouse” or “Can we start doing XYZ to strengthen team culture”), my first instinct is to brace myself.
Not because they aren’t exceptional ideas - they're almost always in line with our sustainable business practices, but because our resources [read: time and cash] are always limited. The idea of taking on something new always feels so challenging. It begs the questions… “Is it worth it? How do I know what the impact will be? Where can I find the time?”
For anyone trying to green their company, here is a five-step plan that will generate results and spark positive change.
Step 1: Identify 3-5 near-term wins
Often, corporate sustainability is supposed to start with a company-wide “audit,” whereby an organization’s different departments are comprehensively evaluated and areas for improvement are identified. An audit like this is an exceptional and clarifying step.
However, if the C-Suite isn’t yet on board, don’t start with this step. Why? Because an audit is best driven by executive leadership since it requires cooperation and time from employees across the organization. Additionally, it results in what can feel like an extensive action plan that can be daunting to leadership. So, I recommend picking a few places you know you can “win” quickly.
Some examples that may or may not be easy wins depending on your business and operations:
Packaging: Switch from mostly virgin and/or difficult to recycle packaging to eco-friendly packaging.
Waste management: Begin working with a waste management company that can pick up compost. If you already have a great waste management partner, implement systems and training to ensure the company is properly disposing of (recycling, composting and landfilling) materials and striving to minimize their landfill-bound waste.
Utility management: Simple changes to manage utility usage, such as opening and closing of shades and windows to more naturally manage ambient temperatures or implement systems to turn off all electronics at night.
Basic infrastructure solutions: Better seal doors, especially those to outdoor areas, with easy to install weather stripping. Install aerators or flow restrictors in bathroom faucets to cut water flow by 75%.
Supplier selection: Re-evaluate one supplier your company works with and consider moving to a more eco-friendly option.
Step 2: Develop clear, actionable improvement steps for each of these “wins”
Once you have a list of areas in your company you might be able to generate a fairly quick “win,” do your homework and identify one or more specific improvements. When I mean specific, I mean as specific and actionable as possible.
Packaging: “Let’s replace our current poly mailers with EcoEnclose’s 9x12” poly mailers and replace all of our plastic bubble and styrofoam void fill with EcoEnclose’s packing paper.”
Waste management: “Let’s provide all employees with a trash bin and recycling bin in their cubby, and replace all community wastebaskets with a three-bin system - compost, recycling, and landfill. Let’s then sit down with our cleaning service to ensure each bin is disposed of properly.”
Supplier selection: “We can replace the current brand of sugar we use with X brand, which has a demonstrated commitment to sustainable agricultural and fair wages.”
Step 3: Present your case, with a simple cost/benefit analysis of each win
Your “case” would ideally start by focusing on the positive environmental impact. In some instances, a starker visual example can do the trick. If you’re trying to change your company’s packaging strategy, create visuals showcasing just how much single-use landfill-bound garbage your business is creating and saddling customers with every day. If you’re trying to implement composting protocols in the office, explain the negative impact of food in a landfill and the beautiful resource food waste can be when it is composted.
Then get the nuts and bolts and numbers. Here, what I mean by “simple cost/benefit analysis” is to clearly outline:
(1) Costs, including hard costs associated with the decision and any time or other resources that are required.
(2) Benefits, including hard savings that might be accrued, projected incremental revenue, improved culture and employee retention, and other intangible benefits.
If you’re not a spreadsheet and calculations person, this does not have to be a huge ordeal! Here’s an example of something that might work, depending on the “win” you are going for.
Example: Move from stock boxes and void fill to custom sized, recycled boxes
|Average incremental cost per package: $0.08 Current box + styrofoam void fill has an average landed cost of $0.80 per box, the new solution will have an average landed cost of $0.88 per box. Will have to stock three different sizes of boxes and update fulfillment processes so boxes are selected based on the product being shipped. Will have to refine projects to account for sales of each different product type (versus the generic sales forecast we do now because all boxes are the same).||Outbound shipping will decrease, estimated on average $0.05 per package because half of our shipments will go out in smaller boxes. Don’t have to store void fill or utilize it in our warehouse (its very static-y and annoying!). Significantly improved customer experience. Customers hate excessive void fill and love eco-friendly packaging. 48% of e-commerce customers are more likely to never reorder from a company for using un-ecofriendly packaging. 52% of customers are more likely to reorder from a company that uses eco-friendly packaging. EcoEnclose’s analysis suggests that a company likes ours - targeting conscious millennial consumers - could increase their revenue from retained customers 10%. This change would be fodder for a series of social media announcements and blog posts that our follower base is likely to respond favorably to. Informal feedback suggests the team would react really favorably to this, as they are all conscious of how much waste is generated by e-commerce packaging.|
When a CEO sees an analysis side by side, they feel good knowing the time has been spent on this level of research and thinking. It helps her or him synthesize the opportunity quickly. He/she may have follow-up questions for you to research. They may sometimes say the upside benefits aren’t worth the incremental cost. But, more often than not, this will be met favorably, and some version of your green light can be moved forward.
Step 4: Volunteer to implement sustainable business practices and, at a minimum, keep tabs on progress
Even the very best intentions don’t always result in quick action. Again, it is typically not for lack of desire, but just that your boss, CEO or whoever is in charge is dealing with a lot of different things and it is not hard for something to fall off the radar.
If feasible, volunteer to help with the implementation of each “win.” In some cases, you may be able to take on the purchasing, internal employee training, or development of PR and social media posts. In other cases, these steps may not make sense because they fall squarely out of your role and squarely in someone else’s. In those situations, you may be helpful in mapping out a project plan for implementing a decision and volunteering to help bring other team members up to speed.
At the very least, be sure to check back in with those in charge periodically to see how things are going and volunteer to support sustainable business practice implementation as needed.
And finally, perhaps most importantly, report back on progress and outcomes. Have you switched to more sustainable packaging? Put together a few pages describing the change and the impact, calling out things like the number of Instagram followers who engaged in a post describing your eco-focus or the positive feedback you got from team members. Quantify the improved environmental impact as best you can.
Step 5: Once you’ve tackled the preliminary “wins” - move towards achieving culture change across your company and its leadership team
This is the big one! If you’re here, hopefully, it means you’ve successfully led a few wins. Perhaps in doing so, you’ve found a group of other employees who are equally committed to sustainable business practices as you are, and you are now banded together in your vision of building a truly sustainable company. Perhaps you’ve noticed decision makers being more responsive and positive when you come to them with ideas.
There are many ways a “cultural commitment to the environment” can show itself. First and foremost, it has taken place when the leadership team is actively talking about ecological impacts with the organization and during decision making. Ideally, sustainable business practices become an agreed upon and vocalized priority in a given year or time period.
Larger companies may be apt to set up a team or at least assign a person to “ Corporate Social Responsibility” or “Sustainability.” Some companies may pursue a comprehensive audit of their operations with the intent to create a systematic action plan to minimize their footprint. Others decide to embrace an existing framework and certification program, such as B Lab or Triple Bottom Line or CERES).
Repeating steps 1 through 4 above is an excellent way to begin to move towards this type of cultural commitment. Other steps you might consider in parallel include:
Sharing articles you find related to corporate environmental strategies and their impact. Perhaps even creating a monthly write up of relevant news and commentary to share with the leadership team. Many of the world’s leading CEO’s are proactively pursuing sustainability and it is always helpful for a leader to know they are in good company.
Finding conferences and workshops that you and/or key decision makers can attend to learn more.
Sharing profiles of companies that have succeeded in part by embracing sustainability as a key priority.
Building an internal group of eco-advocates in your company who work together to motivate the leadership team to take this work on. Research shows that employees who seek to create change from within their organization are more motivated, more productive employees. As such, by organizing this group, you are helping your leadership team by improving the passion, commitment and effectiveness levels of their staff.
Recommending, or just providing Cliff’s Notes of awesome books, like:
“Confessions of a Radical Industrialist: Profits, People, Purpose - Doing Business by Respecting the Earth” by Ray Anderson
“Conscious Capitalism: Liberating the Heroic Spirit of Business” by John Mackey and Rajendra Sisodia
Both of these books are chock full of inspirational, tangible and easy to follow guidance. They make it clear that sustainable business practices are feasible and essential to success.
Once you’ve made progress, especially within the C-Suite, consider directly requesting that the company take on sustainable business practices as a key priority.
This can be done leading up to an annual planning cycle, during a 1-1 performance review, or one-off during a meeting you set up for this purpose. Provide an example of what a “sustainability priority” could look like.
For example: "Our organization should set a clear goal to reduce our emissions by 25% in the next three years. In order to do this, we’ll need to audit our emissions and develop a list of ways we can pursue reductions. Each quarter, we’ll report out on our efforts and their impact."
Or: "Our organization should pursue a Green Business Certification and aim to be certified by the end of this year. This process will guide us through a comprehensive audit and will help us identify areas for improvement."
Depending on where you work and its existing culture, all of the steps above could take time or happen quickly. If you're taking on the task of making corporate changes to support Mother Earth, it will take time. Don't get discouraged. Recognize that consistent efforts and outreach may be needed.
“Intrapreneurs” (innovators seeking to make change within their company) are widely viewed by management as important assets to a team. Just by taking the initiative to make changes, you are strengthening your own professional reputation and opportunities long-term. And of course, you’re helping make the planet a better and cleaner place!