[intro]Let me give you two vital reasons for worrying about sustainability…now.[/intro]

First, sustainability is increasingly important because economic costs attributed to environmental and social factors that have, historically, been ignored are increasingly being taken into account by big business, the so-called triple bottom line. And big business may be amongst your key customers.Second, another immediate benefit of practising sustainability lies in reputation management. Businesses, consumers, employees and clients increasingly look for organisations that outperform their competition in these areas and often they are prepared to pay a premium for a more sustainable product or service.

Either that or they won’t even consider you unless you have an environmental policy in place and are doing something about it.Although sustainability has been around for a long time, only relatively recently has business become focused on doing something about it. But what is sustainability?

Let’s start with the most commonly used definition contained in the Brundtland Report, released by the United Nations in 1987. Sustainable development was defined as: Development which meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.

Sustainability covers mainly environmental impacts but can also include social factors. A truly sustainable business should consider economic, environmental and social implications equally when making any decisions. This is where the “triple bottom line” comes in. It is not inconceivable that auditors will soon be required to report on all three for incorporated companies.In terms of small business and start-ups, sustainability is really about efficiency in all areas but the benefits go far beyond saving money on energy.Consumers are demanding better performance from their goods and services and governments are regulating to prevent businesses from damaging the environment and society. Future regulation will most likely reward organisations that minimise their environmental impacts and punish those that don’t.

The Big Four firms are developing practices based on sustainabilityAs a business owner or director, it is therefore in your best interests to minimise these impacts. As we put costs on environmental impacts, the pounds start to add up.A good example of this, and one of the current areas of major business change, is energy usage. While individual appliances, light fittings or machinery may not use a lot of energy but, when combined, they can result in high monthly energy bills.

The more energy you use the more it costs you and the more carbon dioxide your business generates directly. The creation of carbon dioxide through energy generation is considered as an impact that has environmental and social implications through climate change.

Markets around the world have or are trying to put a price on this through emissions trading and carbon taxes. It is almost certain that in the future all goods and services will have a carbon cost, and tax, attached somewhere.

I mentioned reputation earlier. Many potential clients now demand environmental and/or greenhouse inventory reports as part of tender submissions.

But probably the most important factor is staff motivation. How do you empower your staff to meet and exceed expectations in all areas of their work?

There are lots of ways to do this, but encouraging staff to actively get involved with making your business more sustainable can give them a real sense of job satisfaction, which usually translates to better performance and loyalty. This is a whole blog topic on its own!So, why should a start-up or small business worry about any of this?Incorporating sustainability into your business decisions is a good habit to form that will pay dividends now and into the future.

Some of the initial benefits a smaller enterprise will realise include:

  • Lower operational costs through reduced energy, resource and water usage.
  • Developing a reputation as an environmentally-conscious operator.
  • Establishing good systems, information and thinking in place for when new opportunities arise.

Some of the problems with postponing environmental management are:

  • It becomes a very large task.
  • It increasingly becomes more difficult to catch up.

The culture and practices that may have developed within the organisation may not suit sustainability and are often very hard to change.
A lot of entrepreneurs can feel overwhelmed by the notion of implementing sustainability into their business but, like most things, if you just take one step at a time it can be made to happen and you will be amazed at the results.