Close

The sustainable challenge continues

Customers are becoming more savvy about environmental and social practice, and more cynical when they’re handed something that’s not authentic.
Rachel Brown

Business

I’ve been working with businesses for a decade now, and the reasons for choosing to become more sustainable are as diverse as the organisations themselves. Increasingly, though, customers are becoming more savvy about environmental and social practice, and more cynical when they’re handed something that’s not authentic. Just witness the recent social media migraines suffered by Cadbury and Nestlé for their use of palm oil.

Just as non-sustainable business decisions can damage brand equity, so taking a more sustainable stance can enhance it. At a time when many New Zealand fashion designers are forced to look offshore for manufacture, designers like Kate Sylvester and Starfish remain staunch in their commitment to quality local production, and are gaining brand loyalty in the process. The opportunity for authentic storytelling is a very positive byproduct of a ‘greener’ business.

A very tangible benefit of sustainability for business is a reduction in operating costs. Other businesses are attracting new customers by creating new products that meet the needs of supply chains or customers. This could mean water- or energy-efficient appliances, low-toxin cleaners, biodegradable packaging, or a service that offers a solution to a wider social problem. Still others are fulfilling a personal commitment around environmental or social issues. Just check out www.greenlist.co.nz to appreciate the wider range of products or services now available in New Zealand.

A reason to adopt sustainable business practice is that you may not win business without it. Many company and government tenders and supplier policies now require tangible proof of good environmental management, social practices and the long-term cost of product ownership...

An additional reason to adopt sustainable business practice is that you may not win business without it. Many company and government tenders and supplier policies now require tangible proof of good environmental management, social practices and the long-term cost of product ownership, which is of course the very essence of sustainability. Even the Rugby World Cup suppliers must prove their sustainable practices to win contracts for the 2011 event. Sustainability is becoming a ‘hygiene factor’. See the story on page 100.

The Get Sustainable Challenge is the Sustainable Business Network’s tool for weaving sustainability through the whole fabric of a business. It provides a framework and guidance for shaping long-term strategy and succession. As a ‘thinking tool’ it can also help a business focus on the most important issues. Each business that takes part in the challenge gets a set of how-to guides that take some of the head-scratching and web-searching out of the journey towards sustainability, which I’m the first to admit can feel pretty daunting otherwise.

Doing the challenge is also the ticket to enter the NZI Sustainable Business Network Awards. To reflect the way our awards have evolved, this year there will be a few new left-field categories. A Social Innovation award will be given for new design, products or projects that improve social and community outcomes. Sustainability Champion will be awarded to someone who has been a driver of sustainability. Emblazoned leotard optional, this heroic character is recognisable for their grit, vision and sheer determination, working right across all aspects of their business to shift the zeitgeist. It’s a hard job and these people often go unrewarded.

Ask most people on the street to name an environmentally and socially sustainable business and they are likely to draw a blank. So our People’s Choice Award is to encourage us all to take a closer look at our local companies blazing a trail in sustainability.

To find out more about the Get Sustainable Challenge, the NZI Sustainable Business Network Awards or the range of other tools we offer, visit www.sustainable.org.nz.