Companies who want a bright future don’t only think about their economic success. They also concentrate on sustainability. The term as we understand it today dates back to a 1987 report by the UN World Commission on Environment and Development. It defines sustainable development as ‘development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs’.
However, sustainable business is not just about protecting the environment, but a holistic approach to handling the world’s resources carefully. It is about commitment to the quality of life of employees, partners, customers and the location today and tomorrow.
This holistic understanding of sustainability is also included in the term sustainable entrepreneurship. It declares sustainability to be a corporate responsibility. Companies shouldn’t just support social and ecological aims with the profits they have generated – the path to profit should also be sustainable.
Sustainability fosters innovation
New green business models are changing the economy. Ideally, conventional companies will be displaced from the market by sustainable processes and products. Small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs for short) in particular are offered an excellent competitive opportunity by sustainable products, innovative processes and commitment to preventing climate change.
This is because innovative companies impress overall – not only in ecological and social terms. For them, corporate social responsibility (CSR) is not just an additional task to be completed, but rather the sustainability strategy runs through every area of the company – from the admin office to production, product development and the laboratory.
A sustainability strategy in six steps
- Analyse what resources are consumed to what degree in which areas of the company (baseline).
- Establish what influences the use of these resources.
- Record existing measures for saving, avoiding and compensation and recognise where too little is being done.
- Formulate goals: for example recycling 30% more material, using 50% less material in the office or organising training on sustainable procurement.
- Intensify measures and develop further measures.
- Implement measures, check effectiveness, reach goals, define new goals.
Five tips for becoming a sustainable company
Even before there is a strategy in place, everyone in the company can do something. Everyone – whether they are a manager, employee or apprentice. There are currently three methods that are particularly effective when it comes to achieving sustainability goals: reduction, avoidance and compensation. The possibilities for this can quickly be found when taking a tour of the office or company.
1. Save energy
A critical look at electricity consumption on a working day is enough to discover many small power guzzlers and energy wasters. In most cases, a quick solution is available:
- Use daylight
- Install LEDs
- Turn off lights when no one is in the room
- Five minutes of shock ventilation rather than a long time with an open window in hot spells
- Turn off monitors, including during lunch breaks and meetings
- Don’t use standby mode
- Shut down computers when work is finished
- Only turn on the dishwasher when it is full, and then use eco mode
2: Save resources (avoid and reuse)
It is not only energy, but also the consumption of paper, packaging material and water that damage the environment and thus the environmental footprint of a company. Checking production of waste and hazardous materials in manufacturing is equally important. These analyses help you find ideas to save resources:
- Paperless meetings
- Electronic notices only
- Less printing
- Collective orders for printers and copiers instead of starting up the machine each time
- Collecting and recycling materials
- Reducing water consumption, using rainwater
3: Climate-friendly mobility (avoid and compensate)
Every journey by car, HGV or plane damages the environment. If you want to do business sustainably, you can make very quick and highly effective changes:
- Form car pools
- Travel by bike or public transport
- Travel by rail rather than plane, especially for domestic trips
- Consider arranging video calls rather than taking long-haul flights, or, if the journey is necessary, compensate for it
- Use bicycle couriers
- Transport goods by rail rather than HGV
- Support e-mobility in the vehicle fleet
4: Create balance (compensate)
Despite the best efforts, there are processes that do not (yet) function without any side effects for the environment. In such cases, compensation is an important method to balance out the negative effect. For a long time, there have been laws demanding that companies who construct balance out their interference in nature. Animals are being relocated, biotopes set up and green areas replanted.
BeoPlast, the first CO2-free production company in the German automotive industry, plants fruit trees to balance out the use of argon in production. The critical point is for the environment to be relieved elsewhere to at least the same degree that we put strain on it here.
Konica Minolta has dealt intensively with the question of how the company can reduce the environmental strain caused by printing. In addition to continual product improvement, the company has provided the Enabling Carbon Neutrality programme since 2015 in cooperation with ClimatePartner. This allows Konica Minolta customers to choose climate-neutral printing by investing in climate projects and thus creating balance.
5: Work in a climate-neutral way (zero emissions)
Of course, some industries require a lot of energy and resources. Konica Minolta Europe has shown the printing sector that even under these conditions, there are ways to work sustainably. The European headquarters in Hanover has operated as a certified climate-neutral location since the start of 2018.
The entire company committed itself to a long-term sustainability strategy as long ago as 2009. By 2050, Konica Minolta wants to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions compared to 2005 by 80%.
The European headquarters is a pioneer in achieving this goal. On the one hand, employees have found ways to reduce and avoid energy consumption. On the other hand, Konica Minolta invests in renewable energies and clean drinking water. These certified ClimatePartner projects compensate for the remaining environmental strain.
Sustainability requires a lot of fellow campaigners
At the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Paris in December 2015, almost every country in the world contractually agreed to massively reduce CO2 emissions by 2050. This is designed to limit global warming to well below 2°C compared to before the Industrial Revolution.
It is clear that the goal needs support from each individual and from institutions, but above all from business and agriculture. We can all contribute: as consumers, citizens, employees, authorities and companies.