5 Key Qualities of a Sustainable Business

Sustainability is about more than marketing ploys. Explore the key qualities to look for when seeking out sustainable companies as well as practices non-profit organizations and corporations can implement to improve their impact on the environment.

5 Key Qualities of a Sustainable Business

Today, sustainability is a top concern for many consumers. As awareness grows surrounding the impacts of poor business practices on the environment, consumers expect companies and corporations to take responsibility for their actions and work to reduce their impact on the environment.

Sustainability relates to an organization’s societal, economic, and environmental impacts. Sustainable organizations have a positive impact in at least one of these areas. Explore the key qualities to look for when seeking out sustainable companies as well as practices non-profit organizations and corporations can implement to improve their impact on the environment.

Sustainability is part of their identity.

Operating sustainably isn’t about marketing gimmicks. Businesses that are truly doing good for the planet have sustainability built into their identity. Today, operating with a positive impact on the environment is difficult. Most processes and systems don’t prioritize this, which means sustainable organizations must go out of their way to ensure their impacts are positive.

Public Benefit Corporations

Public Benefit Corporations are for-profit corporate entities. In order to incorporate as a Public Benefit Corporation (PBC), the organization must include at least one public benefit in its statement of purpose. This isn’t an earned certification, but an entity type organizations can select during incorporation.

Certified B Corporations by B Lab

Certified B Corporations take into account their impact on the environment, the community around them, and more. To get certified by the B Lab nonprofit, businesses are analyzed comprehensively to understand their collective impact. Certified B Corporations have been found to meet the highest standards and are committed to upholding them for the long-term future.

It can be confusing, but a Certified B Corporation is not necessarily a Public Benefit Corporation, and can be a different type of entity (C Corp, LLC…).

1% for the Planet

Similarly, 1% for the Planet connects a cohort of businesses and nonprofits seeking to do better by the planet and people on it. Companies who meet the 1% for the Planet certification donate 1% of all profits or salaries toward environmental causes annually.

Seeking out organizations with relevant sustainable certifications can be an effective way to ensure the non-profits you support or companies you spend money with are making guaranteed efforts toward positive impacts.

They take a holistic approach.

Sustainability should be considered in every aspect of the business, not just as a promotional tool. The Triple Bottom Line (TBL) is a business approach designed to ensure organizations have a positive impact on the world in addition to generating revenue.

While the bottom line refers to an organization’s revenue, the triple bottom line refers to the three “P”s: People, Planet, and Profit (the latter being sometimes referred to as Prosperity). In addition to driving profit, sustainable businesses focus holistically on their impact in all three areas. The framework promotes that all three dimensions should benefit in a win-win-win scenario.

They clearly define their mission & plans for achieving it.

Sustainability isn’t about making vague promises. Organizations that are committed to sustainability will not only define their mission but also the steps they’ll take to get there and measure their impact along the way. Typically, sustainability and transparency go hand-in-hand. Sustainability reporting is an effective way to keep existing and potential customers, employees, and shareholders involved.

Look for organizations that transparently discuss their sustainability efforts and the goals they’re working toward. Dig into sustainability reports released and look for the impact they’ve had. Consider How much waste and pollution does this business create? What impact does this organization have on the community & world as a whole?

They take responsibility for their impact on the world.

Many systems that are in place make it difficult to have an environmentally and socially-positive impact all the time. For example, most packaging and shipping processes create waste and pollute the environment. In addition to making efforts to reduce the negative impact they have, sustainable organizations take responsibility for the impacts they still cause.

For example, carbon offsetting is one way to take responsibility for emissions generated by an organization and neutralize the impact. When carbon offsetting, efforts are made elsewhere to eliminate an equivalent amount of carbon dioxide.

Another specific approach is the circular economy model. In a circular economy, processes are designed to avoid waste and pollution. Here, materials are reused and repurposed as possible, resources are refreshed as they’re used, and impacts on the natural environment are eliminated.

They prioritize working with other sustainable organizations.

Sustainably-conscious organizations and corporations look for vendors, suppliers, and other partners that follow equally sustainable practices. Organizations may screen partners before working together or set specific standards partners must meet in order to maintain the relationship.

Support non-profits caring for the environment.

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Image Credits

Jason Blackeye

Science in HD

Alexander Abero

Markus Spiske

Marcell Viragh