One of the most fundamental business principles I’ve learned involves strategy. Strategy, at its core, is a choice. The choice to be the cost leader, the choice to pursue a certain market sector, the choice to sell through e-commerce vs. brick-and-mortar. With strategy, there needs to be a choice and a contrast (ie, would you consider doing the alternative?)
At my company, Luv2Pak, sustainability is no longer a strategy. It is at the heart of everything we do.
With just about every customer and partner we work with, I have yet to come across someone who does not aim to be sustainable wherever possible. More often than not, there are barriers to reaching that goal. Often, it is budget-related. Other times, it is a reluctance to try to enact change in a large organization.
But when it comes to sustainability, it is easier than you think. Small changes compounded can make a sizable impact.
Here are three simple ways to kickstart efforts to become more sustainable in your organization:
1. Make sustainability a priority, starting from the top
To affect positive change, a holistic approach involving departments across an organization is needed. To be most effective, it has to be a core priority led by the senior management team.
I’ve noticed that many companies we work with have created sustainability departments. Nothing gets past them. There are more requests for transparency in the supply chain, along with detailed questions on material composition, how goods are produced, and a product’s overall environmental impact.
This is great to see. We’ve always done our due diligence to ensure suppliers offer safe working conditions, provide fair wages, and produce our goods to a very high standard. We also put a lot of effort into research to ensure the products we make are as sustainable as possible.
Not every company we work with has a sustainability department (nor does every company need to). Rather, with the right executive sponsorship, your team can start taking steps to become more sustainable. Often the best ideas come from those on the front lines – empowering your team to come up with these ideas and enact these changes is a great first step on the sustainability journey.
2. Stay ahead of regulations
Product by product and industry by industry, there is usually a first mover that sets standards that get adopted over time. We often see regulations implemented in California and Europe eventually roll out across additional regions. Keeping an eye on what might be coming is a good place to start.
Implementing these changes can take significant time and effort. It can mean changing supply lines, adding layers of compliance, or creating rigor in testing and traceability. It doesn’t happen overnight.
We keep our ear to the ground about what might be coming. Some first-movers may have already taken steps to get ahead of regulations. In our industry, for example, there is a lot of scrutiny over choices of material. The state of California set regulations on the percentage of recycled content required far before everyone else.
As this happens, we explore what needs to be true to roll a change out across our product line. Sometimes it comes to fruition and sometimes it doesn’t. Usually though, these changes don’t cost much more and can have a sizable effect on a product’s environmental impact. If you can get ahead of when the transition needs to take place, it is much easier than trying to react with a limited time to adapt.
3. Do the little things right
A final piece of advice for businesses looking to improve sustainability efforts is to do the little things right.
From my industry, a small tip is to look at the raw materials used to make your packaging. Often what many think can be recycled can’t be. One unfortunate truth is that a very small percentage of what gets thrown into a recycling bin gets recycled properly. Small changes — such as removing lamination film from paper products or choosing products made from recycled material, when available — can have a compounding impact.
It is also critical to consider your carbon footprint. In my company, we aim to produce products as close to customers as possible by choosing domestic suppliers whenever we can. Something as simple as planning your inventory needs far in advance can help. From time to time, we see customers order too late and have no choice but to use air freight so that goods arrive on time. Air freight emits much more carbon than consolidating containers on an ocean liner.
Even consider what may seem like trivial concepts around your office – use proper mugs and cutlery; install motion sensor lights; provide water dispensers and reusable bottles. It all adds up to what can be a sizable impact.
Sustainability doesn’t have to be an overwhelming, monumental task. Once you make it a priority and adopt the right mindset, it is much easier to affect change. As you start to consider what’s good for your company as well as the planet, with intention, it will happen.
Contributed to EO by Ben Hertzman, the president of Progress Luv2Pak International, a century-old family business offering custom-coordinated packaging solutions and a leader in sustainability. He is also a member of YPO’s Maple Leaf chapter.