The Benefits of Improving Sustainability

See also: Running a Sustainable Business

Some people—and certainly some businesses—seem to think that being more eco-friendly or sustainable is automatically a losing situation. They appear to expect that doing so will cost them money, time and effort, and that the only winner will be the environment. They believe that their only gain will be reputational: from being seen to do the right thing.

It is, of course, possible to argue that if the environment wins, we all win, and that is the end of it. It is certainly likely to be true that we will all lose, possibly terminally, if the environment loses.

However, there are actually some very real and concrete benefits to individuals and businesses from becoming even a bit more environmentally friendly in what you do. What’s more, you can even learn some useful lessons about life and develop some new skills and knowledge on the way.

The ‘Three Pillars’ and Benefits

Our page on Understanding Sustainability makes clear that sustainability covers three important areas, known as the ‘three pillars’. These are environment, economics and society (or profits, planet and people).

Thinking about sustainability in these terms makes clear immediately that the environment cannot be the only winner.

Businesses that cannot turn a profit cannot survive; they are not sustainable. However, this is not, and should not be used as, an excuse to avoid becoming more environmentally friendly, or making a larger contribution to the community locally or globally.

The three pillars need to be balanced for any individual, group or organisation—but that means that the benefits are also likely to be balanced.

Making a Profit out of Sustainability

The environmental ‘pillar’ of sustainability in particular is often associated in many people’s minds with costs (in time or money).

To recycle more, for example, you have to take the time to sort your rubbish out, and separate paper, glass, plastic and general waste. Using renewable energy requires upfront investments in resources like solar panels and wind turbines.

However, these upfront investments of time and money often have major ‘paybacks’ later.

For example, people who invest in small-scale solar panel installations get a two-fold benefit. First, they can use their own electricity, and do not have to buy (so much) from electricity-generating companies. Second, they can sell any surplus electricity back into the national grid.

The payback time for a solar installation has been estimated at around 10 years—and this may be less if you add batteries. Businesses that largely operate during daylight hours could do extremely well out of a solar installation, even if they use substantial amounts of energy.

Some improvements do not even need large upfront investments.

For example, plenty of businesses have discovered the direct benefits of using less packaging. These include that:

  • It is possible to use fewer vehicles (and therefore less fuel) to transport goods around. This also saves staff time;
  • Less packaging is cheaper, because it uses fewer raw materials; and
  • Posting smaller packages (using other hauliers or couriers) is also cheaper.

Reputation, sustainability and profit

It is even possible to argue that a reputation for sustainability may be worth money.

Using sustainable businesses is important to many consumers. There is evidence that many of us do think this matters, and choose where we buy to reflect this—and that this trend is growing.

Increasingly, therefore, businesses are choosing to market themselves on the basis of their eco-friendly and sustainable credentials—and it is helping them to gain a larger market share.

In other words, reputation can translate directly into profits. It is not simply ‘nice’.

From the Tangible to the Intangible

It is, therefore, clear that increasing your personal or corporate sustainability can have a direct effect on your financial situation in more than one way.

However, there are also more intangible benefits to becoming more eco-friendly or sustainable in how you operate.

These include:

  • Changing your way of thinking

    Once you start to make small changes in your everyday life or, for businesses, your operations, you can find that this starts to snowball. It can lead you to question all kinds of activities and assumptions that you previously took for granted.

    This, in turn, tends to open your mind to new possibilities and opportunities.

    It sounds a bit trite, but simply doing so can help you to grow and learn. Having a closed mind is often the biggest barrier to learning (and for more about this, you may like to read our page on the Importance of Mindset).

  • Improving Your Health

    Somehow, thinking about what is good for the planet is a useful catalyst for thinking about what is good for you, and the local community. The benefits rub off.

    Making your lifestyle more sustainable is likely to lead to some changes in what you eat, how you get about, and so on. These are probably going to be better for your health!

    For example, walking or cycling more—and using the car less—is good for your fitness and general health. Eating food that is produced more locally will probably mean that you find you are eating more vegetables, especially if you grow your own (and for more about this, see our page on Sustainable Gardening).

  • Seeing the Value in Everything

    Oscar Wilde described a cynic as someone knows ‘the price of everything and the value of nothing’.

    If this is so, then increasing your general level of sustainability is likely to reduce your cynicism, because it moves you in the opposite direction.

    Instead of throwing things away, you will start to look for other uses for them, or consider whether other people may be able to use them instead. For example, you may start to compost vegetable waste, as a way to reduce your general waste, and also to provide food for the vegetables that you have started to grow.

    Unexpectedly, you will start to see value in everything.

    For more about the more unexpected and esoteric lessons that you can learn from being eco-friendly, you may like to read our guest post 5 Unexpected Lessons that Being Eco-Friendly Can Teach You.

Scratching the Surface

These ideas are really just scratching the surface of the benefits of sustainability.

Individuals and businesses may well find plenty more, both expected and unexpected. What’s more, the more you move towards sustainability, the more benefits you are likely to see. Everything starts with small steps—but even small steps can lead to immediate and obvious improvements.