Re-framing Sustainability as an Accumulation of Small Steps for Big Results

The global Earth Day festivities always give me pause and give me hope. It serves as a reminder that we can all make an effort regarding corporate sustainability and the good news is that small changes can lead to powerful impact. I had a conversation with one of our members recently and she wondered how a women-owned business like hers could make the most impact. I shared five easy and relatively painless ways to launch a corporate sustainability program (see below).

How does your business participate in sustainability efforts? Is it something you talk about? Something you think about?  As many famous proverbs advocate, I encourage you to start where you are; commit to taking the first step.

By conducting a quick search online, you will find there are many resources available for conducting a sustainability audit as well as a plethora of sustainability checklists for inspiration. These checklists can help you take the first step… identify where you are and then determine where you want to be. If you want to go all the way, I suggest you check out the Zero Waste family – … they were interviewed on the Walk the Talk Show – Pin it for later.

You can still make a difference even if you are not ready to be quite that extreme.

Here are 5 simple and easy ideas for your to consider when you are creating a Sustainability Plan for your organization:

Put sustainability into your Strategic Plan and into your Action Plan.

I’m sure you expect your business to grow, right? Put sustainability as a 2-3 year goal. Set metrics. Determine who is responsible and give them the tools to make it possible.

Get rid of paper plates and plastic utensils in the office.

Have a team meeting and set a reasonable date after which those kinds of supplies will no longer be available. A good target might be 30 days from now – set the date based on the number of people involved, ease of communication, stock on hand … and plan for a bit of a bumpy transition, and pleasantly surprised when it goes off without a hitch… Encourage participation by making alternatives available and easily accessible. How much money do you spend per year on paper plates and plastic utensils? What could you do with those resources instead? Providing access to training and development for your team is one alternative – you could also reward and recognize your team for the part they have in the success of your organization.

Consider the environment before printing

Set your printers on automatic double sided printing and copying (you might want to take this opportunity to set the default to B&W here too!). Better still– only print essential documents – and digitize as much as possible. Google Docs is a neat tool because it’s easy to collaborate with others and there is always the most recent version available as long as internet access is there. Another good solution is Dropbox or any of the other alternatives for Cloud storage, depending on the size of your organization.

Another tool that can reduce dependence on paper and printing is a dry erase board. Some organizations use entire walls – did you know you can paint a chalkboard or whiteboard surface onto a wall?! Here is a clever idea: Use wall pop vinyl stickers on a conference table as a personal dry erase board. The meeting attendee could snap a picture on their SmartPhone and voila their notes are digitized!

Consider this: measure the amount of money spent on paper… what could you do with those resources? Here is an idea: invest those funds into a tree planting program instead – for example, the National Forest Foundation is undertaking an ambitious effort to plant 50 million trees across our National Forests by 2023. They are inviting all Americans – businesses and individuals alike – to join in the effort to replant America’s forests. 

Forests are the lungs of our land, purifying the air and giving fresh strength to our people. – Franklin D. Roosevelt

Place recycle bins all over the office.

The more obvious the alternatives, the more likely they are to be implemented. Have you noticed how many recycle receptacles there are in your local airport? It seems they are placed every 60-100 feet; the result is that people use them because they are available.

To take it a step further, some organizations have joined a grassroots and nonprofit movement called Freecycle – this is a global organization focused on reducing, reusing and recycling. So, you would have an additional bin where your team can drop off unwanted but reusable items to people who can use them, i.e. “freecycled.” You could make it a group outing and make the act of freecycling a special occasion … go Live on Facebook and share it on your social media channels in the hopes of inspiring other organizations to join in the global effort that boasts a 6,880,991 membership.

Celebrate your accomplishments and contributions by inspiring others – shout it from the rooftops using your brand’s online megaphone

Consider: include sustainability impact in your marketing campaigns – let your customers, vendors, and prospects know that you are proud of the strides your organization has made …

Celebrate how much you’ve saved in 6 months, in 12 months. Share the news! You could write a press release on the $1,000 donation you made to a local charity with the savings from your recycle/sustainability efforts.

Small changes. Big results.

Now it’s your turn, I’m interested in hearing your innovative and fun ideas for incorporating sustainability as a part of your organization’s culture. Please do share in the comments.

Nancy Allen

Certified WBENC