If leaders learned anything during the pandemic, it’s the importance of intentionally creating a sustainable business. A company that can innovate, shift quickly, and creatively meet competing priorities won’t be a luxury, it will be a necessity.
As we welcome a new year, consider asking yourself: What does creating a sustainable company look like?
A sustainable business is usually defined as having a minimal negative impact or positive effect on the environment, community, society, or economy. Leaders often overthink what it means to build in sustainability.
If you’re like most business professionals, you may look at sustainability and think it involves making large capital investments. I invite to look at a broader definition of sustainability. What are the little changes that could be made that make a lasting difference not only for the environment but keep your business sustainable and even ready to take on an unexpected event.
When I was renovating the Business Innovation Lab CoWorking & Conference Center five years ago, it was quite an undertaking. While simultaneously managing Excellerate Associates, I was also my own General Contractor since no GC’s would return my calls, especially for a small 8100 square foot project.
In just two months, six HVAC unit replacements, kitchenette installation, major plumbing installations, drywall, painting, lighting, and flooring were complete. In addition to making hundreds of decisions a day between two companies, I could have easily thrown my hands in the air. There were days I was simply overloaded and asked myself what I got myself into in purchasing the building.
As I was renovating the Business Innovation Lab, the renovation costs came in higher than projected. This often happens in any renovation but that meant shifting funds from the furnishing’s budget. Training tables, chairs, whiteboards, supplies, podiums all had a cost. Keeping sustainability in mind, here’s where we not only saved on the budget but how we built in sustainability especially for something we could not have anticipated.
Little did we know that in 2020 when we started the second half of the renovations, we would be confronted with a major pandemic. Being mindful of sustainability in our first half of the renovation, helped us navigate this unexpected event. While we were fortunate to be nearly at full capacity during the pandemic, we also had reserves that wouldn’t be there if we spent it on high-end, brand-name furnishings.
Below are steps in using a sustainability mindset that had a positive environmental and economic impact:
1. Notify Your Network.
The first step to building sustainability was to notify my network. When one of my family members heard that a law firm was renovating, she let me know that they were getting rid of executive chairs, wall hangings, and commercial furniture. The ergonomic executive chairs alone saved almost $10,000. They were going to throw out this furniture! Add on commercial meeting tables, bookshelves, and other artwork, we saved at least $50,000 in costs and saved the furniture from going to a landfill.
If you’re fortunate to work with a company that is renovating, don’t let those resources go to a landfill, contact your local Chamber who may know a small business that could use the furniture. In my case, some of the commercial furniture needed a touch up. With some fabric paint and wood stain, we took coffee table and chairs from dated to delightful.
As I was looking at my growing collection of plastic grocery bags, they were the perfect size for the trash cans in each of the coworking offices. When we announced our sustainability efforts and that we would be reusing the single-use shopping bags, our coworking members gave us glowing feedback. They liked seeing how the bags from the local family-owned grocery store were being reused.
With a conference room, buying bulk items, like candle holders for events can add up. As I was looking at our glass collection of yogurt containers, I realized that a small tea candle could fit inside. Who knew repurposing could be healthy and functional!
When our sponsor proactively suggested using paper gift bags instead of plastic gift bags for a recent gathering in our conference room, we were elated. Consider making this simple shift with your collaborators, at your next event, or when purchasing your branded products.
With little effort, we were able to have an economic and environmental impact that aligned with our company goals and brand. With collaboration with our sponsor-partners, we are able to infuse sustainable choices. I invite you to look around your company and your daily processes to see what you could repurpose, refurbish, reuse, or even rethink ways to make your company highly sustainable.