How to write an environmental policy for small businesses

12 mins read


And that’s not the only reason your company needs a sustainability policy. You need a sustainability policy because it’s the right thing to do. 

After two weeks of tentative negotiations, last year’s COP26 resulted in a global agreement to limit the rise in worldwide temperatures to 1.5C. 

“The 1.5C limit lives. We brought it back from the brink. But its pulse remains weak.”

Alok Sharma, President for COP26 and Minister of State for the UK Cabinet Office

This year delegates will meet in Cairo to ramp up the implementation of plans to invest in renewable energy and other initiatives to reduce global carbon emissions. As calls for more action reach a fever pitch, businesses are coming under scrutiny to ramp up their environmental sustainability efforts.

What is a sustainability policy?

A sustainability policy outlines a company’s commitment to mitigating its impact on future generations. These documents tend to address three areas, the economic, environmental, and social concerns raised by the organization’s activities. 

Sustainability policies offer companies a unique opportunity to declare both internally and externally the strategies they are implementing to protect the economic and environmental viability of their business. Embedding these policies into the leadership team ensures that key decisions are always made with sustainability principles in mind. 

They also present a chance to demonstrate the organization’s values which, as we will see, can have interesting repercussions for both client and candidate acquisitions.  

Does my company need a sustainability policy?

In short, yes! Sustainability is becoming an increasingly hot topic, and companies are coming under justifiable pressure to step up and do their part. But it’s not all stick and no carrot. 

There are multiple examples of small businesses that have benefitted from taking a strong stance on sustainability. We interviewed the inspiring Elephant Gin, who started their company with a clear eco-friendly ethos and have been going from strength to strength ever since.  

As concern around the environment heats up, businesses and society at large realize that the effects of climate change are creeping closer. The economic and social implications cannot be understated, but sustainability isn’t about chastising or dwelling on the past. It’s about focusing on solutions and an opportunity to build a stronger, more viable future.    

Developing a sustainability policy gives small businesses the chance to identify issues and make a clear plan to tackle them. Having these checks in place reassures investors and allows companies to share their eco-conscious values with other key stakeholders.  

Failure to get on board with sustainability could be catastrophic. Studies have shown that 60% of Generation Z will choose to make their purchases from green businesses over competitors who offer little concern for their carbon footprint. What’s more, most candidates (65%) are more likely to accept a role from an organization whose company policies include clear actions on sustainability. 

By crafting and sticking to a sustainability policy, small businesses can set themselves apart and gain a competitive advantage. As the public is increasingly drawn to eco-friendly enterprises making your policy part of your marketing strategy can reap massive rewards for your business’s bottom line and employee retention.

A final important incentive is an increase in regulation around sustainable business practices. As governments worldwide look for new ways to ramp up their responses to climate change, it may not belong till organizations of all sizes face legal and ethical commitments to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions. 

Small business owners who get ahead with their sustainability plans now could benefit financially and gain better PR by acting before regulatory obligations.    

wind turbines birds eye view

What to include in a small business sustainability policy?

It can be difficult to know where to begin when tackling sustainability for your small business. But getting started on your environmental policy doesn’t need to be overwhelming. Initiatives like Tech Zero offer resources to help tech businesses of all sizes tackle their emissions. 

While environmental policies vary in length, it is better to keep things short and sweet. Around 2 pages are easier to digest and can be supplemented by additional documentation, for example, human rights or health and safety policies. Below we share a tried and tested template for drafting a meaningful and comprehensive sustainability policy. 

Consider the wider context  

A good sustainability policy should begin with acknowledging the climate crisis and any local, national or international regulations your business is subject to. A commitment to these broader targets and those of the Sustainability Development Goals will align your company’s efforts to the universal need for humanity to reduce its environmental impact. 

Outline the key sustainability issues for your industry

As we alluded to earlier, analyzing the sustainability impacts of your business can be organized into three categories; economic, environmental, and social. Elements you might want to consider in your sustainability policy include; 

  • A systematic analysis of your environmental issues, highlighting key industry concerns and championing a preventative approach with measures to solve the roots of these problems rather than mitigate impacts downstream.
  • Address how you will check if any partnerships also commit to similar sustainability values.
  • Answer any concerns for animal welfare if applicable.
  • Make provisions to enforce anti-corruption, anti-fraud and other aspects of good governance that protect society at large.
  • Ensuring human rights are respected across all aspects of the business. This can cover various topics, from anti-trafficking assurances to occupational health and safety.
  • A commitment to listening to and addressing the concerns of any parties adversely affected by the organization or those acting on your behalf. 

Depending on the nature of your business, you will need to address different factors when it comes to sustainability. If you are a retailer, you will need to audit your entire supply chain, from materials and waste reduction to the packaging and delivery service you use.

On the other hand, software or service-based businesses might need to focus more on energy consumption and make moves to ensure a greener supply. If undertaking a sustainability audit of your business seems daunting, don’t worry. There are professional services that can help.

wind and clouds in colour

Set clear goals 

The next step is to establish clear company-wide commitments that tackle these issues. These must be outlined as transparently as possible to demonstrate that business needs have been balanced with a real effort to make meaningful change. 

Detailing measurable targets can win customer and stakeholder confidence, but be sure to provide discussion around how you will report performance. Include a timeline of when and where you intend to update interested parties on your progress. 

Keep consistent with your company culture 

When shaping your sustainability policy, it’s important to consider the wider values of your organization. Take time to read through any other company policies or SOPs to identify any conflicts that could arise from your new environmental aims. 

Highlight high-level approval

Any company-wide policy needs to be backed from the top. Having the board of directors or top executives sign their names to the sustainability policy is vital for demonstrating the organization’s commitment to the changes outlined within. This seemingly small gesture is crucial for convincing both internal and external stakeholders that you are serious about creating a sustainable future for your business.  

So now you have a sustainability policy, what’s next?

Share the sustainability policy with your stakeholders 

For any sustainability policy to succeed, it needs to reach the right people. Being shoved on an intranet site and forgotten about is one route to accusations of greenwashing. Distributing your policy to employees, integrating it into contracts, and hosting regular workshops and discussions can help you make real strides towards your intended targets. 

Business partners, including suppliers, also need to receive a copy, and any future partnerships will also need to commit to your policy’s contents. Training relevant staff to have these conversations and audit potential suppliers or contractors will be key to successful implementation. 

Making your environmental policy publically available is another great way to ensure it reaches all relevant stakeholders and that your business’ stance on sustainability is well known. 

Promote your progress

As we have seen, small businesses can use their sustainability initiatives to win new clients and promote their company culture to potential candidates. As you move through your goals, celebrate key milestones with your teams and add sharing your progress to your marketing strategy. 

Plane flying over the jungle

Checklist for a successful sustainability policy 

  1. Identify key issues – share the key concerns from your industry and how they relate to the wider global context.
  2. Provide a vision statement – outline the sustainable business practices that would help tackle these problems.
  3. State your scope – clarify your company’s main environmental management and social responsibility priorities.
  4. Make clear commitments – set out a clear and measurable action plan, including the business case behind these changes.
  5. Back it up – have top executives sign their names against these sustainable business strategies.
  6. Shout from the rooftops – share your sustainability programs with key stakeholders and integrate your activities into your marketing strategies.

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