You don’t need to have a big company to embrace sustainability . Smart and committed small businesses are adopting sustainability practices, too. They are incorporating recycled goods in their manufacturing supply chains. They are requiring their transportation fleets to be more efficient. They are reducing their energy consumption in day to day operations.
Incorporating sustainability into your business is an important step. But it is equally important to communicate your commitment internally among your team, and externally to business partners, suppliers, customers and other stakeholders.
- By communicating internally in a clear and consistent fashion, sustainability becomes an ingrained part of your company culture — one that your employees can take pride in, increasing their satisfaction.
- By communicating externally to business partners, suppliers and service providers you’re setting expectations about how you do business. This can influence their practices and practices in the broader community, too.
- And by communicating to customers, you demonstrate that you share your customers’ commitment to our environment. More and more customers expect this kind of commitment from the companies they buy from.
So, once you are committed to sustainability in your business, how do you communicate that commitment? Here are 7 examples of situations where other businesses are communicating their sustainability commitments:
1. Develop a sustainability plan, publish it publicly and measure it – It’s a strong statement of commitment when you’re willing to come out publicly and state what you are doing toward sustainability, and then honestly and transparently report on your progress toward your commitment. Gojo Industries is one company that sets goals for sustainability and publishes those on its website. Example of one of their goals: reduce water usage in operations by 30%. Gojo also includes a detailed report of sustainability results on its website.
2. Reduce energy consumption in your company fleet – one business I know has photographs of their company fleet of Toyota Prius cars on their Mission page. By putting it on their Mission page, it helps convey that it’s part of the company founders’ principles. Another company, the Brookshire Grocery Company, has an entire page on its website devoted to how it is reducing energy consumption in its fleet of trucks and cars.
3. Use green packaging, including recycled packaging – at the consumer Electronics Show this year, HP actually had its green packaging displayed alongside its computers. You could do something similar at your next trade show, displaying green packaging along with your products and marketing materials.
4. Incorporate recycling in your supply chain – if you recycle in your supply chain, make a video of it explaining what you recycle and how. Put the video on your company website, your company’s YouTube channel, Facebook Page, and anywhere else that customers, business partners and other stakeholders congregate online.
5. Pay consumers for recycling items – Terracycle is a company that is all about recycling. Their original line of products – worm dropping fertilizer — is packaged in recycled plastic soda bottles. They’ve gone the ultimate route in incorporating recycling into their supply chain. Terracycle has created recycling programs that pay consumers and groups $.02 for each plastic drink pouch collected. The pouches are then turned into eco-friendly fences that the company sells. The public recycling programs are front and center on their website home page. But they do more than have recycling programs – they make it fun and challenging, creating “recycling brigades,” encouraging local recycling stations, and publishing recycle goals, to generate customer involvement in recycling. This has the added benefit of spurring word of mouth.
6. Establish sustainability standards for choosing suppliers and service providers – Large corporations are leading the way on this, by requiring their suppliers and providers to embrace sustainability practices. Walmart, for instance, has 15 questions for suppliers about sustainability  (PDF). Think about your existing suppliers and next time you have an account review or the contract is up for renewal, inquire about their sustainability practices. Heck, don’t wait for contract renewal time – compose an email or letter asking what they do about sustainability – and do it now.
7. Source your supply chain sustainably — One small grocery chain, Buehler’s, buys produce locally from growers that use environmentally responsible growing methods. The chain displays “Buy Local” signs in their stores, and information on their website about this initiative. They’ve also produced a video for YouTube about purchasing produce grown by the Amish, at the Mt. Hope Farmer’s Market. Not only can customers and employees have pride in their local communities, but local produce is usually less expensive, making customers especially happy.
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Remember, we’re not talking about greenwashing  here – i.e., taking a few shallow steps to make it look like your company is involved in sustainability, and then crowing about them to the world, solely for the sake of impressing people. Sustainability is a commitment that starts with company management and employees, and that you incorporate into your business at various levels. Only then should you communicate about sustainability. Anything else will quickly be seen through for the PR stunt that it is, and not for a true commitment.
If you’d like to know more about sustainability, see our ongoing articles about green business and sustainability .