Ways Businesses Small And Large Can Have a Positive Environmental ImpactApril 1, 2021
We live in concerning times for the planet we live on.
The actions we take in the next few years may well determine just how damaging and irreversible the effects of climate change will be. While there is always a lot of talk about how we as individuals can make adjustments to our lives to mitigate the worst potential issues, it’s important to recognize that businesses have a critical role to play in helping to minimize problems and maintain a healthy ecosystem.
Part of the imperative in commercial sectors is that businesses tend to contribute significantly to the problems. Indeed, a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency report — Inventory of U.S. Greenhouse Gas Emissions and Sinks: 1990–2018 — found that industry is responsible for 22% of total greenhouse emissions. That’s not to mention the issues arising from commercial waste, resource inefficiency, and landscape damage. This also means that the positive actions businesses take can have a crucial impact.
So, what should large and small businesses alike be doing right now to improve their practices? We’re going to examine some of the key components to reversing the narrative of commercial environmental impact.
While jumping into sustainability by applying a range of measures can be a good start, businesses can make a bigger impact by taking an organized and informed approach in their efforts. In many cases, leadership and employees are more likely to engage with activities that are environmentally conscious if they form part of a dedicated plan underpinned by solid research. In essence, everyone needs to gain a deeper understanding of what the business does that can be damaging, what actions mitigate this, and how to make this a part of their regular practices.
This is where social ecology can play an important role in the approach. This academic and philosophical theory centers around the interconnectedness of people, institutions, and the environment that surrounds them. Simply put, it suggests that the negative actions that people take can harm the environment, which in turn can affect human lives, which becomes a self-perpetuating cyclical system. As such, businesses should audit their employees’ activities to reveal what knock-on impact their actions and behaviors have on the environment. In this way, companies can start to clarify where they can intervene in a way that has holistic benefits for the entire system.
Leadership should also be open to maintaining a dialogue with their employees and stakeholders. Workers interact with elements of the business every day that leadership may not be as intimately acquainted. As such, these employees will be able to enlighten executives on what strikes them as damaging to the environment — whether that’s wasteful material usage or inefficiency.
When we consider the environmental impact of businesses, a lot of focus tends to be placed on harmful emissions. While this is certainly an important area of concern, it certainly doesn’t represent the entire picture. In fact, a primary area of concern is how small and large businesses alike approach their consumption of finite resources.
Some areas for focus here should include.
- Raw Production Materials
Businesses must be mindful of the materials they consume to create their products. Consideration must be applied to whether they are being mined from finite sources, and what is being done to replenish to reduce damage to the local ecosystem. Indeed, it’s equally important to consider whether these materials may be reused to prevent reliance on a single natural resource.
- Energy Efficiency
All businesses rely on energy sources in some fashion to operate. Overconsumption puts pressure on both power sources and the local grid. The good news is that energy-saving measures are accessible to small and large businesses. Where possible, companies should install renewable technology such as solar panels as an alternative to grid electricity. Even small efforts such as replacing bulbs throughout the building with energy-saving versions, and utilizing equipment that is Energy Star rated for efficiency can make a positive impact.
- Employee Behavior
How workers go about their daily activities can also reduce the overconsumption of resources. A key example here is that businesses use a significant amount of water through heating and air conditioning, kitchens, and restrooms. How workers approach their activities can reduce water waste and minimize the pressure on reservoirs and treatment plants. Businesses should invest in sensors that monitor water usage so they can identify areas of concern, and educate their employees on how this behavior affects the environment. Educating them in this area may have the knock-on effect of helping workers reduce consumption in their own homes.
Partner with the Community
One of the things that all businesses need to be more cognizant of is their place in the local ecosystem. It’s difficult to have a positive impact on the local and global environment if a company considers itself to be an individual entity, beholden to its own needs, interests, and priorities. Rather, it is vital that businesses make genuine efforts to integrate themselves as part of the community, so that there are opportunities to collaborate for a more holistic and mutual benefit.
Local communities will often have organizations that are dedicated to improving environmentally-focused efforts in the area. Businesses of any size should be reaching out to engage and, where possible, partnering with them. Getting involved with renewable energy projects — either from a sponsorship or labor share perspective — can help to both limit environmental damage and forge stronger bonds with local people and organizations.
It can also be helpful to create an open dialogue with the community, too. Businesses must reach out to their local patrons to invite them to provide feedback on what activities of the company are of environmental concern, and what they feel should be undertaken to make positive change. It’s important that key company figures are directly involved with this, and that local citizens feel empowered to hold businesses accountable for their actions. This not only gives a focus for areas to make changes but improves trust with consumers.
Businesses are key contributors to environmental damage, as such, they must make efforts to be part of the solution. A commitment to learning what activities are most impactful can help to guide these activities while minimizing consumption across the board can help tackle sustainability issues. Most importantly, companies need to actively engage with their communities to be a positive part of solutions and develop closer bonds.