Why Your Business Needs to Focus on Sustainability (Plus 5 Simple Things You Can Do)


From global fashion brands selling ‘conscious’ clothing to micro pubs serving ‘zero-miles beer’, today's companies are under increasing pressure to be sustainable. Here’s why your business should get a piece of the action and focus on sustainability, with 5 simple things you can do to be more sustainable.

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When Áine Martin was made green team leader at the Hotel Doolin in County Clare, she knew was in for a challenge. “I took on the role in October 2016 and was very excited,” recalls the HR and purchasing manager, who has worked at the 17-bedroom hotel for six years. “I knew I had a great opportunity to make the team aware of approaches that we could take to reduce energy, water and waste at induction and in training."

These approaches included harvesting rainwater, banning the sale of all single-use plastics, analysing waste and sourcing local produce wherever possible. As a result, the hotel has won a host of Green Awards and has maintained platinum status in the Green Hospitality Ireland programme since 2013.

For the team at Hotel Doolin – who conduct a monthly sustainability report and a fuller analysis every quarter – being sustainable is good for the environment and good for business. The hotel’s energy bills have dropped, portion analysis means less waste, and winning awards is good for PR and staff morale. “It doesn’t take a full-time person to do it either,” adds Martin. “I do this alongside my HR and purchasing job, and I find it very fulfilling.”

The sustainability trend

While SMEs like Hotel Doolin are setting the standard, environmental sustainability within business is now becoming a mainstream issue, according to Bernadette Phelan, head of advisory services at Business In The Community Ireland, which works with more than 90 of Ireland’s top businesses across all sectors.

“Sustainability is increasingly less and less on the periphery when the C-suite are discussing issues of risk and opportunity,” says Phelan. “What we’re seeing among corporations is some progressive companies being proactive and seizing opportunities, while others are being pulled into it. But overall, we’re seeing it become more mainstream as a business topic.”

This has implications for SMEs, too: as large businesses pay more attention to their supply chain, they’ll be looking for a like-for-like ethos around sustainability from their suppliers – so forward-thinking SMEs should push their credentials in their proposals, says Phelan. “It’s important that an SME understands its own sustainability story, captures it and tells it.”

Getting started with SEAI

For many small businesses, engaging in environmental practices like harvesting rainwater or utilising solar power can seem daunting and expensive, but help is available. The Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland (SEAI) offers grants of 30% – 50% of the cost of certain energy efficiency measures, as well as training, advice and other financial supports like the smart lighting grant for businesses, which was launched in 2017.

“It’s important that an SME understands its own sustainability story, captures it and tells it”

Bernadette Phelan, Head of Advisory Services, Business In The Community Ireland

“Energy efficiency helps SMEs to cut costs, frees up resources that can be invested in more productive activities, and makes them more resilient and competitive,” explains Andrea Carroll, SME engagement programme manager at the SEAI.

According to Carroll, switching to LEDs helped one small glass manufacturing company in the Midlands save more than €3,000 in the three months following its installation of new light fittings. Another SME, a large storage company with multiple facilities, reported over 64% savings in energy costs from upgrading its lights across four locations and installing a smart meter.

Recommended Reading: Why Going Green Can Be Good For Business

For Peter Norton, owner of the Green Award-nominated cafe Poppies, switching to sensor-operated LED lighting, installing solar panels and ensuring the cafe’s fridges and freezers are all A+ rated is fundamental to the business’s ethos.

“It makes good business sense. We’re in County Wicklow, the garden of Ireland, and there’s lots of cyclists and hill walkers here, so it’s a good fit for what we do. It gives us a unique selling proposition.”

His advice to SMEs thinking of making changes?

“I say go for it and don’t wait. There will come a time when there’s European legislation to do these things so investigate it now. It’s not that expensive to do and it will save you money in the long term.”

Five ways to make your business more sustainable today

1. Switch to renewable energy

If you haven’t done so already, you might consider switching to a 100% renewable energy supplier such as Flogas, Panda Power, SSE Airtricity or Energia.

2. Encourage cycling

A great way to reduce your company’s carbon footprint and save your staff some money is to take part in the government’s Cycle To Work scheme. Through the scheme, employers can buy staff bikes and equipment tax-free, which employees then pay for by via a salary sacrifice arrangement – saving up to 51% of the cost in the process. A win-win all round.

3. Start measuring

According to Áine Martin, the first step towards achieving greater sustainability in any business is to measure output. “Look at your current stats, your energy bills and the amount of waste your organisation produces. It might seem overwhelming at first, but once you start recording what your current output is, you can set yourself goals.”

4. Use less paper

While it might seem obvious, cutting down on paper use is critical to becoming more sustainable – yet most businesses still waste too much paper. Start by setting printers and computers to print double-sided only and ask your office manager to carry out an audit of paper use across the company. With the audit completed, encourage (or even incentivise) departments to look for digital alternatives.

5. Switch to LEDs and install sensors

Installing LED lighting might involve an initial investment at first but it could soon pay for itself.

Find out more about SEAI’s financial supports at the SEAI website.

Recommended reading: How Running a Green Fleet Can End Up Saving Your Business Money

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