I have focused my career on working with business leaders in developing digital transformation and competitive strategies. Over the last few years, there has been one topic of discussion that has dominated all boardrooms: sustainability. While each of the businesses I have worked with is dealing with unique challenges, whenever we discuss the long-term strategic plans, sustainability is always high on the agenda.
This is true also for many industry leaders. For example, Microsoft has ambitious goals to be carbon negative by 2030, removing the carbon impact Microsoft has had on the planet over the last 40 years. Likewise, Mace, the global consultancy and construction firm, which has ambitious goals to reduce their carbon footprint by 10% each year. However, this topic isn’t just of importance for large corporations but rather something that all companies, including startups, need to consider and bring to the top of their agenda.
There has been a notable shift from traditional business models which aim to create value for shareholders, sometimes at an expense, to creating sustainable businesses that create value for all stakeholders, including employees, shareholders, supply chains, civil society, and the planet.
Sustainability is a broad term that encompasses forms of environmental, social and economic sustainability. As today’s leaders deal with complex and often unprecedented social, environment, and market challenges, having sustainability on your agenda will set your business up for success.
There are five main benefits to including sustainability among your key goals.
1. Increased operational efficiency
Companies which improve their operations to reduce waste and increase efficiency using a sustainability lens often experience significant cost savings when it comes to their operations. A report by We Mean Business found that many companies are seeing an average internal rate of return of 27% and as high as 80% on their low carbon investments.
2. More attractive to investors
If you’re looking to raise funds, investors prefer to deal with firms that have sustainability objectives in their roadmap over those who do not. Startups that have made a commitment to sustainability often exhibit better employee engagement, innovation, operational efficiency, and better risk management, all of which make them more investable.
3. Promoting innovation drives internal innovation
Making the switch to sustainable business practices provides an opportunity for new, innovative ideas to grow. For many this is a chance to question the way the organisation operates, challenging the status quo. As a result, there can be improvements to operational models, production processes, technology, equipment, and vendors.
4. Attract and retain employees
Being a sustainable company can have a big impact on the talent you attract. A study found that nearly 70 percent of employees reported that their company’s strong sustainability program impacts their decision to stay long term.
5. Expand audience reach and build brand loyalty
A focus on sustainability has benefits not only with employees but also brand loyalty and customers. HBR research shows that sustainable businesses see greater financial gains than their unsustainable counterparts. Consumers’ motivation to buy from sustainable brands is also increasing. For example, products with an on-package sustainability claim delivered nearly $114 billion in sales in 2019 (29% increase in six years) and products marketed as sustainable grew more than five times faster than those that weren’t.
Launched by the UN in 2015, the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are a set of global goals aimed at transforming our world by 2030. Furthermore, according to a Business Commission report, the SDGs have the potential to create $12 trillion in profits for the private sector by 2030. Growth opportunities fall within categories such as food and agriculture, energy and materials, cities and health and well-being.
The SDGs demonstrate a unique opportunity for businesses to accelerate social impact and make a lasting impact on our world. Start by placing sustainability agenda at the top of your agenda.
It pays to think sustainably
Any of these benefits should be enough for founders and startup CEOs to consider making sustainability one of the cornerstones of their business. Taken together they make a compelling case for you to include sustainability goals in your next roadmap and your pitch deck.
Marina Arnaout is the recipient of Tech Nation UK Exceptional Global Talent in Technology award. She currently holds the role of Enterprise Client Executive at Microsoft working with some of the largest firms in UK, helping them grow and transform with Microsoft technology, resources and team. Marina has a postgraduate degree from London School of Economics and is currently a mentor at Microsoft for Startups, advising on strategy and growth.
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