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Five tips for a sustainability stocktake

Imagine saving 370 tonnes of paper, 60,000kgs of plastic, 4 million kilowatts of energy and 1.8 million litres of potable water. Sound impossible? A shopping centre in Tauranga has achieved these savings by making a commitment to sustainability at all levels of the business. And, now is a good time for other businesses across New Zealand to adopt a similar approach.

Bayfair Shopping Centre is home to over 90 stores and has over 6 million visitors each year, so while smaller businesses may not achieve the same lofty savings numbers, every little bit helps when it comes to protecting New Zealand’s environment for future generations. If that doesn’t move you, this might: consumers are becoming increasingly eco-conscious, meaning businesses that ignore their environmental responsibilities could lose sales.

There are varying definitions of sustainability as it relates to business, but in general it is about taking a long-term perspective, thinking about not just your bottom-line profit but the wider environmental and social impacts of your business. This mindset is often measured in terms of ESG (Environmental, Social and Governance).

For SME owners, the local impacts can be especially important, as they usually live in the communities where their businesses are based. A good way to get started is to do a “sustainability stocktake” of your business, to shape your strategy and identify areas for improvement.

While my first piece of advice is to start with what you’re passionate about, here are five tips to help you with your sustainability stocktake:    

1. Little things add up

Begin with small changes. Survey your business and identify what tangible steps you can take to make a difference. Not matter how small. Make a list of what you can change, and begin.

Too many business owners and managers think sustainability is about one “big bang” project or initiative, but the reality is often much more mundane. At Bayfair Shopping Centre we have been on the sustainability journey for over 10 years, our recent results including:

  • Over 100,000 kg of organic waste diverted from landfill in 2016, up 25 percent on the previous year;
  • Over 370,000 kg of cardboard and paper diverted from landfill in 2016, equivalent to the weight of two Boeing 747 aeroplanes;
  • Over 60,000kg of glass, metal and plastic diverted from landfill in 2016, up 62 percent on the previous year;
  • Energy consumption was reduced by over 4 million kw hours over the last ten years.

None of these savings were achieved overnight, nor were they the result of some ingenious one-off idea. They were the result of common sense and a mindset of constantly looking for improvements. It can be as easy as turning the lights off when they are not being used. A whole lot of small changes like this do add up to big numbers.

2. Culture is key

Some businesses have the mistaken idea that processes are the key to improving sustainability, but processes are only as good as the people following them. When you have a company culture that embraces sustainability, your staff will buy-in and, in many cases, take the lead. With a strong culture it is far easier to create and maintain processes that will ultimately become business as usual.

Having a strong culture across the board is important, because it means you are less reliant on individual staff members who may not be a permanent part of your team. However, sustainability starts at the top. The owners and/or management team need to take ownership and ensure sustainability is a core part of your business strategy and ethos.

Begin by articulating your sustainability vision and set some SMART goals for your staff – specific, measureable, agreed upon, realistic and time-based. Assign areas of responsibility – even if it’s something small – and hold monthly progress reviews. When reviewing and discussing goals, a great tool is to look to the future! For example, five plastic bottles collected from a food court in a day may not spark the imagination. However, looking over 265 days it turns 50 plastic bottles into over 18,000 plastic bottles per year and over 10 years you have a real impact! Changes made on a daily basis make big changes over time.

3. Think long-term (but start now)

As with many things that involve a lot of work, the temptation is to wait until tomorrow to start your sustainability journey. My advice is: don’t. With Easter holidays rapidly approaching, there is a risk you forget about sustainability, either while you are out on the boat or in the mad rush at work. 

Once you do start, don’t expect instant results. Transforming your business to become more sustainable is a long-term process, which takes years and never really stops. Although it can benefit your business today the changes made over time will accumulate and create real impact, the ultimate goal is for business’s to work in tandem with the environment and communities to leave a better world behind for future generations.

Remember the saying that the longest journey begins with the first step. The most important thing is to get started on something – have big goals, but start small.

4. Sustainability increases profit

One of the myths that puts some businesses off investing in sustainability is that it will cost them money. In fact, decreasing your environmental impact more often has a direct benefit for your bottom line. Reducing your usage of water and electricity, and cutting the amount of waste going to landfill, are just some of the ways you can help the environment, improve your business performance and please your bank manager.

Costs can creep in if you spend a lot on expensive consultants and glossy sustainability strategies, but in most cases, this isn’t necessary. It is not a complicated process to start a few good habits, and should be enjoyed – as soon as savings start be noticed, it inspires a great deal of ownership and pride in a business’ team and community.

For example, relatively simple changes to Bayfair’s electricity usage will mean cost savings of $1 million over the next 10 years.

One way to achieve this is to put your lighting on motion sensors, for example, in the office kitchen and the toilets. It may seem like a small step, but that’s the point – particularly when you consider that lighting can account for up to 40% of the energy used in commercial offices.

5. One size doesn’t fit all

I am often asked to give advice to other businesses about sustainability, but the truth is that every business is different. What we have done at Bayfair, a bustling shopping centre in the fast-growing city of Tauranga, might not be relevant to your business. For instance, one of our big initiatives has been reducing food and packaging waste from the food court.

If you are in an office, you may focus on reducing the amount of paper you use, while if you are in logistics you will likely want to save fuel. An important part of your sustainability stocktake is tailoring it to your business model and your industry. Don’t be afraid to be a leader in sustainability, because your community and customers will support you.

The bottom line is – take stock of what your business’ core impacts are on the environment, and think of simple steps you can make to reduce their impact. For Bayfair, it is energy, water and waste – and these have been the driver behind all of our sustainability efforts. 

Steve Ellingford is Centre Manager for the Bayfair Shopping Centre and is a member of Be. Accessible’s Fab 50, a group of prominent New Zealand businesspeople advocating for a 100 percent accessible New Zealand. Steve was also a Kiwibank Local Hero winner in 2016 and a top finalist in Sustainable Business Network awards. 

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