Sustainability pays big dividends

Published Tuesday, June 24, 2014 in the New Brunswick Telegraph Journal.

Several years ago, I read the results of a survey that asked businesses why they were or were not engaged in sustainability initiatives.  The responses seemed contradictory: those businesses engaged in sustainability initiatives indicated they were doing so to save money, while the rest indicated they were not doing anything because they thought it would cost them money.  

Two very different perceptions.  Thankfully, more and more businesses are realizing which is the correct one: done right, sustainability makes good business sense.  

Advantages

The biggest advantage of sustainability – and the one that tends to appeal most to businesses – is cost savings.  Well chosen initiatives, particularly in the areas of lighting, heating, cooling and transportation, can yield fantastic paybacks.  In industrial settings, improvements in motors and compressed air systems can yield huge dividends.

You don’t need to look far to see examples that drive this point home.  Clow Canada, a Saint John manufacturer of fire hydrants, is saving $50,000 a year after upgrading building insulation, lighting, air tightness and compressed air systems.  Champlain Place in Dieppe has reduced its power consumption by 20%, in part by installing a system that turns off lights when daylight provides adequate light levels.  Ross Ventures, owner of HSBC Place in Fredericton, has reduced that building’s heating and cooling costs by $10,000 per month by upgrading heating and air conditioning systems.  All three businesses were recently recognized with Premier’s Awards for Energy Efficiency.

Other benefits of sustainability include:

  • More customers, since more consumers prefer to shop at green businesses and more large buyers are demanding sustainability credentials of their suppliers 
  • A happier, more engaged workforce, because most employees enjoy being a part of something good
  • Easier recruitment, as more young people choose workplaces that match their value systems

How to get started

Sustainability may sound like an intimidating undertaking, but it doesn’t have to be.  Here are five straightforward steps to getting started in your business:

  1. Do a quick self-assessment and self-audit.  How much do you know about sustainability?  What environmental issues are most important to you?  What do you hope to achieve by adopting sustainability measures?  How would you assess your current business practices?  Are you measuring your energy consumption?  Do you have a process of engaging staff in sustainability initiatives or for identifying opportunities for savings?  Your answers can help you determine priorities and where to begin.  
  2. Write a vision statement, a high-level declaration of what you hope to accomplish or become.  It might be to reduce solid waste; to use the least energy or water; to purchase only green office supplies; or to be the best in your sector or community.  A vision statement doesn’t have to be long, but it should speak to values and aspirations – and it should be posted for all to see. 
  3. Assemble a team.  Select members based on their job description, availability, skills and enthusiasm.  (You can even have the team develop your vision statement.)
  4. Set priorities and timelines.  Make sure goals are SMART: Specific, Measureable, Action-oriented, Realistic and Time-bounded.  Assign responsibility and be sure to provide necessary resources; few things wither a team’s enthusiasm faster than a lapse in management support.  Quick wins can be a huge boost to morale, so it’s critical to start with simple goals like changing lights, printing double sided, fixing leaky plumbing or sealing drafty doors.  
  5. Measure, report and celebrate progress.  If possible, benchmark before you start so you can easily track reductions and savings.  Celebrate accomplishments, and use your results to revise plans and set new, loftier goals.

If you need some help, local organizations like Sustainability Saint John, www.sustainablesaintjohn.ca; and Green Shops Fredericton, www.greenshopsfredericton.ca can offer workbooks, checklists and other resources geared specifically to businesses.