Environmental business sustainability is the practice of managing what goes into your business and what comes out of your business to minimize the negative impact on human and environmental health. Ideally, you have no negative impact, but given where most businesses are, you likely need to define a path to get to zero negative impacts.
I have put together a basic framework to help understand, explain, analyze, and implement environmental sustainable business practices. The framework looks at a business as a cycle, keeping as much of the resources as possible within the cycle. It looks at minimizing the amount of limited resources we are extracting from the planet and minimizing the amount of waste and pollution coming out.
Looking at the start of the cycle, businesses and organizations need to manage their input - primarily their energy, water, materials, and toxic control. They need to:
- Minimize the amount of input by using less and maximizing efficiency
- Minimize the use of virgin, non renewable resources
- Minimize the amount of toxic and hazardous materials going into the cycle
- Maximize the use of clean, renewable resources
- Maximize the re-use of items already in the business cycle
On the back end of the cycle, businesses and organizations need to manage their output – products and services, carbon, water and soil emissions, solid waste, and hazardous waste. They need to:
- Minimize the amount of waste going to landfill or incineration
- Minimize the amount of pollution going to the air, water, or soil
- Maximize the amount of output being put back into the business cycle for re-use or going back to nature for processing
- Maximize the products and services that bring sustainable solutions to the market
The framework applies to any entity that purchases and consumes products and services, which can range from a small business, even a household, to a global corporation. In general, an organization has three key areas which the framework is applied - its facilities and real estate, its operations, and its administrative functions. Each of these functions should design and plan for the full business cycle up front. Businesses should consider the environmental impacts of all their decisions knowing that what goes into the business impacts what come out of the business. Businesses should create a path and the supporting logistics to keep the cycle going.
For those who can implement sustainable business practices and bring innovation and sustainable solutions to the market, there are opportunities to gain - revenue opportunities, cost savings, access to capital, improved employee productivity and retention. And last, but not least, a health planet to enjoy.