The sustainability space can be overwhelming to say the least, with so much noise around the topic, new trends cropping up, and buzzwords appearing all the time. We all know for one reason or another that sustainability is important. But ever wondered why? Or how? And perhaps, a more fundamental question should be asked first - what is actually meant by the term ‘sustainability’?
What Sustainability Means
Sustainability is about acting in a way in the present which doesn’t harm, jeopardise, or compromise future generations ability to live. More simply, it means not using resources, particularly natural ones, which cannot be replaced, in order to maintain an ecological balance.
Being sustainable and making sustainable choices needs to be considered in every aspect of everyday life - putting sustainability at the forefront of everything we do ensures we will have minimal impact on the environment.
Why Sustainability Matters
Sustainability matters because our, and the planet’s, future depends on it. Sustainability is about finding and maintaining the balance between taking and giving which is essential for the future. Not acting sustainably will damage the lives of our future generations, cause global temperature increases, increase frequency of natural disasters, and will force thousands more species to become extinct.
Why Sustainability is Important in Business
We all need to take responsibility for our own actions, and that doesn’t stop on an individual level - every business needs to be held accountable for their environmental impact.
Ecommerce businesses come under scrutiny, and in a lot of cases, rightly so, for their impact - with inbound deliveries of stock which can come from anywhere across the globe, outbound deliveries to individual customers around the country, continent, or world, the warehouses and offices needed to run the business, let alone the packaging involved too - it all soon adds up to a hefty carbon footprint.
But, there’s so many quick and easy ways businesses can reduce their carbon footprint, and by making just a few small changes, it can have such a big and positive impact on the environment. And with consumers now actively choosing companies who are aligned with their eco values, using eco friendly packaging, but are also willing to pay more for it - the time for businesses to act is most definitely now, not least as it’s the right thing to do, but it’s going to begin to affect your bottom line too.
As a business looking to be more sustainable, your packaging is an excellent place to start as you’ll find quick wins here for sure. Are you using plastic packaging items for which there are paper alternatives? Are you using void fill, and if so, is there a more appropriate size, or type of packaging which would fit and suit better? If you’re using paper based packaging, is it made from virgin or recycled materials? How clear and obvious are the eco credentials of the packaging, and does your packaging tell your customer what they need to do with it once they’ve finished with it? There are so many possibilities for improvements, small and large, and we guarantee there’ll be something your business can do to make a difference.
Top Tip - Make sure you look out for logos for ‘sustainably sourced materials’ as it means the materials used to make the packaging or item were either replenished, or already in existence and recycled into a new form.
Where to Start with Sustainability
Whether you’re approaching sustainability as an individual or a business, this first piece of advice remains the same - the key to getting ahead is getting started. Begin by categorising the different aspects of your life or operation (e.g. food, travel, or packaging, couriers) and review what you’re doing.
As an individual, starting with sustainability can be as simple as remembering to take your bags for life with you to the supermarket, buying loose fruit and vegetables instead of plastic wrapped, walking instead of driving a journey, eating meat-free or plant-based for a day or more a week, turning plugs off when not in use, and making sure you do your recycling at home. None of these suggestions would result in a huge upheaval to your normal daily life, nor do they add much effort, time, or cost to you - but the planet would benefit hugely if we all tried.
As a business, your footprint will obviously be larger than as an individual - but don’t find this overwhelming, instead view it as a bigger opportunity to improve. You don’t have to change all aspects of your operation overnight, evaluate what your business is using and compare it to what it actually needs to use, and you’ll soon start making progress.
Cutting carbon emissions is key for a sustainable future, and so a simple one to start with is choosing a renewable energy supplier - most companies handle all of the switch process themselves so you don’t have anything to worry about when going from old to new.
For ecommerce businesses, logistics and deliveries are likely to be the main cause of carbon emissions, so pay close attention here when you’re looking to become more sustainable. Your choice of courier plays a big part here - Royal Mail is an excellent lower carbon delivery partner as by using the postal network, they aren’t making additional journeys to houses as they were going there anyway to deliver letters. If your parcels are too much for Royal Mail, choose a courier who offers carbon neutral delivery and/or has electric vehicles in their fleet.
Sustainability vs CSR
Whilst both sustainability and CSR seem similar in the sense they’re both designed to do good - there are several differences between the two. The first major difference being around the timeline; sustainability missions are set out as longer term future commitments which are very unlikely to change year to year. CSR statements on the other hand are focused on the now, set out each year and will change yearly depending on company objectives for that time period.
Another difference between sustainability and CSR is the scope involved - with sustainability missions, because they’re longer term, they revolve around systematic change in a business and a commitment which will be far-reaching. As CSR comes at a cost to a business whether through charity donations or staff volunteering days, it’s likely to be more limited in terms of scope.
Something which also needs considering as a key difference between the two is the motive. CSR can be seen as, and indeed sometimes is, a PR activity - businesses want to be seen to be doing the right thing and so throw some (likely to be insignificant) money at an issue in society, get some good press about the good they’re doing, and that’s it. When it comes to sustainability though, your responsibility to the planet and the future doesn’t stop, and it can’t be resolved with a donation - a sustainability commitment becomes the way you run your business and go about your day to day life.
Do you have any other eco questions which have been bugging you? Did these answers surprise you from what you thought originally? Share your thoughts with us in the comments below!
Wherever you are on your sustainability journey, we’re here to help. From top tips and guides, to sustainable packaging solutions, supply chain audits, and BCorp certification help - we’ve got a team of experts on hand to help you every step of the way. Get in touch with us and we’ll do everything we can to answer your questions - or if you just want to say hello, tell us a joke, or let us know what your weekend plans are, we’d love that too.
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