5 Skills You Need
to Make Your Business Sustainable

See also: Entrepreneurial Skills

It can be hard to make your business sustainable. As a result, you might be of the opinion that your industry — that your entire business model — is just not environmentally friendly and that there is absolutely nothing you can do to improve it.

This kind of thinking is wrong.

While it’s true that selling vegetables is always going to be a much more sustainable business model than selling Land Rovers, there are things that any business can do to improve its sustainability.

However, there are some skills that you will need in order to achieve this.

1. An Understanding of Sustainable Business

Sustainable businesses are more profitable than unsustainable ones. In order to have a sustainable business, you need to recognise that this is the case. If you can’t see the immense benefits of sustainable business, then it’s unlikely that you will pursue becoming a sustainable business in earnest.

Sustainable use of water and a sustainable approach to deforestation can save your business millions. This is because efficiency means less expenditure, which saves you money, and it also means less waste, which saves the planet.

The sustainable business sector is booming, creating new jobs and new business opportunities. In the US, the production of solar energy alone creates more than twice as many jobs as the entire fossil fuel energy production industry. Even better, the creation of jobs for sustainable energy production is accelerating, while the fossils fuel industry is starting to look like, well, a fossil.

Finally, know that businesses who are tackling climate change have an 18% higher ROI than businesses who are not. This is because tackling climate change means looking ahead, believing in the future of your business, and thinking long-term...

2. An Ability to Think Long-Term

Successful companies think about the next 10, 20, or 50 years; unsuccessful ones fail to think about next month. So while long-term thinking is important for any business, it’s absolutely essential for sustainable businesses.

In 2017, it takes an immense amount of denial to refute the science of climate change. When 195 out of 198 countries and 97% of scientists tell you something is happening, then it’s more than likely that it’s happening.

Sustainable businesses have understood this and have built their entire business around the scientists’ claim. The money is then made by what they don’t do — less pollution, fewer disposables, lower emissions — and the long-term savings that are made as a result. Money is spent and losses are made in the short term, but it is more than paid back in the long term. Further money is made by the increasing investment in sustainable business, as more and more people begin to worry about the issue.

3. A Contagious Enthusiasm for Sustainable Business

Training, educating, and inspiring your staff is vital to the success of any sustainable business.

Your staff should be proud to work for a company which is actively trying to be friendlier to the environment. What’s more, telling your staff exactly how your business achieves its eco-friendly goals and why will make them much better ambassadors for your product.

Richard Branson puts it best: “If you look after your staff, they'll look after your customers. It's that simple.

When customers are treated well by enthusiastic employers who believe in the product, they are more likely to believe in and sell the product, too.

The nitty-gritty of sustainable business can be just as monotonous as the nitty-gritty of any business. It’s important for employees to keep the overall goal in mind, which requires passion for the overall goal — and a clarity about the overall goal — from the employer.

So whether your business is producing clothes which don't contain PFCs, selling sustainable home sewage treatment systems, helping restaurants to reduce food waste, or making big renewable energy commitments, always bear the bigger picture in mind. Your business’ contribution might be small and any individual employee’s contribution will be even smaller, but all of those small contributions add up.

4. A Desire to Learn and Work with Others

What are others doing? If you don’t know, ask them. If you do know, ask yourself if their ideas are worth copying.

There’s no harm in going with the trend when it comes to sustainable business. You’re already taking a gamble by walking into this bold, new industry to begin with. Now that you’re here, don’t feel the need to isolate yourself from others.

The damage to our environment is an issue which needs unilateral action. Countries are working together on this problem — and so should businesses. It’s okay to have your own interests at heart from time to time — some world leaders feel that way too and sometimes we’d rather they didn't — but it’s possible to feel that way and to see the benefits of collaborative efforts regardless.

The best way to work with other businesses is to talk regularly with them. There are plenty of groups, guilds, organisations and events dedicated to the networking of sustainable business leaders. Make contacts, keep those contacts and, as your business grows, you might find yourself with a business partner.

Sustainable business has many factors to it. A coffee shop will need an eco-friendly source of coffee beans, cups, sugar, and countless other things. To find those sources, you’ll need to work with other companies. Talking with those companies could help you with other business decisions.

It’s okay to learn from others in this industry. While it’s true that people start a business to make money, it’s also true that people start a sustainable business because they want to help people and the planet.

5. A Willingness to Change & Take Criticism

Your approach might be wrong. This could be the first thing you discover when talking to others. What you thought was a sustainable way of doing things might, upon reflection, be doing more harm than good. That’s okay, as long as you do something about it.

Sustainable business is all about making changes like these. The overall goal is to alter — and, in some cases, completely reimagine — the way we’ve been doing business since the Industrial Revolution.

As such, you’ll be hard pressed to find a sustainable business that’s been doing things the same way since they started. The idea of ‘voluntourism’ — paying to do a week of charity work while on holiday — was once seen as a great way to help less economically developed nations. However, as good as the intentions of voluntourists often are, the practice turns out to be more harmful than helpful.

Making the world a better place is complicated. If it were simple, everyone would be on board with the right ideas. Of course, it’s not simple. Good intentions go misplaced, money donated to charities can get misspent and, sometimes, people just make mistakes. The world changes and the goalposts are constantly moving, so your business will need to change and move, too.

Further Reading from Skills You Need

The Skills You Need Guide to Leadership

The Skills You Need Guide to Leadership eBooks

Learn more about the skills you need to be an effective leader.

Our eBooks are ideal for new and experienced leaders and are full of easy-to-follow practical information to help you to develop your leadership skills.

You’ll need to be patient, you’ll need to be persistent, and you’ll need to believe in the importance of sustainable business. If you can manage all that, you just might make a small but important difference.

About the Author

James Clarke is owner and founder of Biocell Water, a sustainable wastewater treatment company which offers a variety of services and products and will soon be rolling out eco-friendly septic tank upgrades.