Sustainability: an Essential Part of Business Planning

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Towards a Green FuturePart of planning a new business venture is figuring out how you will manage day-to-day operations and make decisions. One thing ecopreneurs like myself should consider when faced with a business decision is sustainability. And I don’t just mean the long-term viability of your business (although that’s an important consideration as well). I’m talking about the impact your business decisions will have on the environment.

It’s important for green businesses to be exactly that: green. This means you go the extra mile to examine the environmental consequences of every aspect of your business. That’s a lot of responsibility, so it requires careful consideration every step of the business planning process. Before you even open your doors for business, you should have a plan in place for running your business as sustainably as possible. Green businesses may even want to include a sustainable development section in their business plans.

Your sustainable development plan should start with your definition of sustainability, and what you think it means to be a green business. This definition depends on what type of business you are, what green resources are available to you, your market and industry, and your level of commitment to sustainability. If you plan to be certified green in some way (I will cover certification in an upcoming column), your definition of sustainability may be based on information provided by the certifying agency. But chances are that you will need to cater your definition to your own business. A clear definition means a clear path to sustainable success!

Once you have defined what sustainability means, you can develop a list of practices you will implement or change to bring your business operations more in line with your definition. I am starting a graphic design businesses, so my list may include things like finding and building a relationship with green printing and web hosting vendors, using energy efficient computers and printers in my office, recycling or composting any waste I generate, sending files to clients via e-mail or online instead of on paper, and so on.

It may help to break your list into different levels of commitment. You may not be able to replace equipment with more efficient models just yet, but you can work up to it, so put it on the list. Start with baby steps if you have to. You can work your way through your list as you grow so you’ll always have something to work towards.

While greener office supplies and more efficient equipment may cost more up front, in the long run, adopting sustainable business practices can save you money. Reducing waste, energy and materials used is a big part of going green, and are ways to help your bottom line as well. This is one reason why building sustainable practices into your business from the start is important. If you plan to use less, you’ll be reducing your costs. Lower costs mean lower overhead and more potential for profit. So many sustainable business practices are also smart for other reasons.

While you’re planning a new business venture, try to think about every impact your new business will have. If you will be making a product, find out where your raw materials will come from and see if you can find greener sources. Think about where you’ll buy your office supplies, project materials, furniture, and equipment (and how far they have to be shipped to get to you). Don’t forget the whole picture: what will people do with your product when they’re done using it? The entire life cycle of what you’ll be producing and selling should be considered – this is called a cradle to cradle approach. Your goal should be to identify areas where you can reduce your company’s footprint and have a positive impact on the environment.

Once you’ve defined what sustainability means to your business and come up with a plan for making your business as green as possible, it’s time to put that plan into practice. Your sustainable development plan will be your road map to a greener future and sustainable success.

Please feel free to share your ideas for green business planning and making a business more sustainable by leaving a comment!

Resources and Links in this article:

  • Wikipedia’s definition of sustainability.
  • How to Set Up a Sustainable Development Plan from Sustainable Business Online Resource.
  • How to Find Green Vendors in The Sustainable Studio series on Business of Design Online.
  • MBDC: Cradle to Cradle Design

This article is the sixth in a series called Green Dreams following my journey starting a green design business. You can read the series introduction, see some green business resources, get inspired, learn how to write a business plan, and find out how to name a business in this series. Stay tuned for more on starting a green business!


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