Why taking sustainability seriously is critical to business success

Nicola Downing
- Leadership - Jun 14, 2019

Concern for the impact we’re all having on the planet is now being voiced across the world. Today’s climate activists range from schoolchildren to leaders of nations, all fighting to drive change before it’s too late. The overarching message is clear – time is running out.

We’re all being called on to do more. Governments, industries, businesses and individuals. Every one of us has a contribution to make. UN Deputy Chief Amina Mohammed has repeatedly urged businesses to take a proactive stance to improve their own practices and engage with stakeholders to have a chance of achieving what are becoming essential sustainability goals. 

Each day we make choices in our lives that impact the environment, the climate and our planet. Many of us are trying to “do our bit” at an individual level – from conserving water to reducing single-use plastic. But there are compelling reasons for businesses, who arguably have the potential to wield greater impact, to put sustainability front and centre of what they do.

Reasons for change

The fact is, businesses that have a sustainable approach see greater economic success than those that don’t. Consumers are increasingly making decisions about whether they engage with a brand based on ethical and sustainable factors, rather than cost alone. This is widely acknowledged in the corporate world. Ricoh commissioned research reveals that 66% of leaders believe that sustainability will become an increasingly important success factor for their business as it grows.

There has been a steady increase in organisations making a public stand and putting their commitments to addressing sustainability issues on the table for all to see. Sky’s Ocean Rescue campaign last year featured a giant whale made from plastic recovered from beaches, encouraging the public to dispose of waste responsibly. Ikea has also put sustainability at the top of its agenda, launching a solar panel-powered store in London and committing to phasing out all single-use plastic from its products by 2020. The proof is in the pudding – the 2018 Ikea sales figures revealed continued growth of 5.9 per cent to £1.96 billion despite an increasingly competitive retail landscape. 

Ricoh has been a champion for change for years, from committing to reducing its own ecological footprint by joining the RE100 in 2017 to using 100% renewable energy sources across all sites by 2050. Ricoh has aligned with the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals where it can make an impact to deliver a more sustainable future. A critical role in working with partners and customers comes in enabling them to work smarter, use fewer resources and improve their own environmental performance.

Regulation as an enabler of success

Change is starting to happen. For most responsible businesses, sustainability reporting is now far more than a simple tick-box exercise. There is a changing mind-set among business leaders, who see the process of adhering to environmental regulations as an enabler of organisational success. These include high-profile regulations such as the Paris Agreement, with only 22% of leaders considering these requirements to be a blocker to their progress.

Leaders also understand the need to change to ensure sustainability is taken seriously – both inside the organisation and out. This starts from the top, by setting out and committing to change. This means living by company values and incorporating a new way of doing business throughout the organisation.

For many, this will require a culture shift. Connecting with employees to involve them in the cause is critical. Only then will individuals start to embody a real sense of purpose, which can bring mutual benefits to employer and employee.

Every choice made and every product bought has a carbon footprint. Choosing sustainable devices and using software is a simple way for a business to limit its environmental impact. For instance, devices made from recycled parts or materials ensures they remain in use. Adopting products that can be easily updated, rather than discarded, significantly reduces waste sent to landfill.

Today there is no voice too small or action too insignificant to drive change and help ensure a better future for all. Leaders are embracing this shift and must do so in line with growing demand from the world around them. After all, the future of business and our planet depends on it.

Nicola Downing is the COO at Ricoh Europe

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