6 ideas for business to tackle sustainability

Look to the sky: City of Cape Town's roof top food garden. Photo: Russell Galt, 2012

Photo: Russell Galt, 2012

What role can businesses play in creating a more sustainable society?

When we introduced the topic of Business and Sustainability for our recent #CityTalk and were approached by Justin Smith, Head of Woolworths Good Business Journey to co-host the tweetchat, we took it as a sign that business was willing to play its role in being proactive in addressing sustainability challenges. But, with so many sustainability challenges and opportunities, facing business – and in fact society as a whole – it was clear that we needed to bring citizens from around the world into the conversation.

Reaching over 140,000 followers, our #CityTalk on Business and Sustainability drew over 90 participants from across the world.

The interesting feedback and great ideas during the #CityTalk tweetchat can open doors for more conversations around specific areas of sustainability, but here are 6 ideas for businesses to consider on the journey towards becoming sustainable:

1. Unpack and understand the sustainability challenge at hand

Each business is different, not only based on their location or sector, but as a result of the local context or environment in which they operate. Justin Smith, rightly pointed out that water quality and scarcity was of particular importance in South Africa, but that education and skills hampered sustainability efforts too. Unpacking sustainability requires both an honest social and economic perspective, which still allows a business to pursue financial success and remain competitive.





2. Consider the benefits of sustainability beyond the balance sheet

Beyond the short term benefits which might be reflected in the books of the business, the consensus was that a longer viewpoint was needed, when considering the current and future benefits of sustainability. As in the case of Woolworths Good Business Journey, sustainability can provide a platform for partnerships with organisations beyond the corporate world,, positioning a business in a positive light with communities through both action and marketing.







  3. Inspire and encourage consumers to make sustainable decisions  

Education. Incentives. Price. Awareness of sustainability issues, through easily accessible information needs to take place alongside the creation of incentives, giving consumers a reason to make sustainable decisions, and to some extent using pricing, to shift a particular e.g. charging for plastic bags in Wales.







4. Consumers can play a role too

Consumers have rights too. Justin Smith encourages consumers to ask the tough questions about products, and challenge businesses to provide them with answers. While consumers don’t always commit to the effort of research easily, placing reputable eco-labels in places where they can see them could also help.





5. A work environment that is sustainable in itself

With the rapid advancement of technology the tools to use to introduce sustainability at or within an office building seems like a long list. However, as Justin Smith points out, reducing the impact of the office could be simple; through energy and water savings e.g. reusing grey water, and managing and recycling waste. But business could also look beyond their buildings, and consider their role in the broader city or region. Woolworths in particular took advantage of its location by tapping into an underground water supply saving thousands of litres of water a year.






6. Become an example of sustainability for other sectors

It seems that the position of retail businesses in a market i.e. between production and consumption, offers them both the challenges and opportunities to become more sustainable. Participants raised the use of regular audits, the ability of retailers to respond quickly to consumer demands and preferences and the ability to support the local economy as strategic strengths retailers should exploit in comparison to other sectors.






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