When businesses take a conscious approach to incorporating sustainability practices into their value system, it creates a ripple effect.

We know conscious companies are those that aim to serve a deeper purpose beyond profit. They take all stakeholders into account in decisions, strategies, and operations. They aim to make a positive impact in their communities and among their people. As such, culture and core values have taken center stage within most organizations. Companies large and small have found ways to make a culture that’s their own — developing creative ways to engage their stakeholders, give them a voice, and make a meaningful impact in their community.

But are we giving the same attention to our impact on the environment?

This is one area where I’ve seen businesses struggle. And truth be told, it’s a challenge to know where to start when it comes to reducing a business’s carbon footprint, and yet it’s a key part of being a conscious company. And, incidentally, it also has a significant impact on the culture.

In fact, 64 percent of millennials “consider a company’s social and environmental commitments when deciding where to work,” according to an employee engagement survey by Cone. Millennials, who are set to make up 50 percent of the workforce by next year, want to know they are making a difference and are looking to their employers to help pave the way.

Plain and simple, employees want to work for — and consumers want to do business with — companies that consider the environment and the communities they serve as key stakeholders.

Consciously Building a More Sustainable Future

Globally, we’re generating more than 2 billion tons of waste; that is set to increase 70 percent by 2050 if we don’t take action. Taking action has to be a collective and conscious effort that starts with businesses and manufacturers — and expands out from there.

When businesses take a conscious approach to incorporating sustainability practices into their value system, it creates a ripple effect. Often, employees will begin to mirror the behaviors in their personal lives, consumers have the option of making more sustainable choices, and eventually other businesses may follow suit. In some cases, it can also create additional jobs and revenue streams, creating circular economies of scale.

For instance, one company, Recyclops, that recently spun out of the Resource Innovation and Solutions Network (RISN) incubator at Arizona State University, created a solution to the lack of recycling in rural areas. In addition to leveraging technology to orchestrate it all, the founder was able to create meaningful work for hard-to-hire individuals as well as additional jobs for those in the community who could run pick-up routes. The model is entirely circular, and it’s one Recyclops employees feel proud to be a part of and help grow because they know they are contributing to these communities in more ways than one.

Of course, you don’t have to rebuild your business model to be a good steward of the environment.

Make a Conscious Effort

While Fortune Global companies are spending billions on corporate social responsibility programs, small- and medium-size businesses are struggling to keep up. It’s understandable. It’s not always immediately evident how to offset a business’s carbon footprint, nor is it feasible for every business to donate thousands or even hundreds of dollars to a sustainability mission.

When that’s the case, how can you create a sustainable workplace that is conscious of its environmental impact without straining business resources? Here are three tips:

1. Get your stakeholders involved.

Chances are your team has a few ideas for reducing, eliminating, or offsetting your company’s waste. After all, they’re the ones immersed in the various operations of your business. Create an ongoing dialogue and develop opportunities for employee engagement. Beyond soliciting employee feedback, you might create office-wide team challenges or start an awareness campaign. When employees can take ownership of initiatives, they’re more likely to be successful. As your team begins to see firsthand the positive impact they helped create, they’ll become more invested in the mission and bring even more ideas to the table. You might even identify a new revenue stream in the process, such as turning plastic waste into new products.

2. Start with small changes — they make a big difference.

Take a week to track your company’s consumables as you go throughout each day. Enlist your team to help. You may be surprised by what you uncover. For instance, could the plasticware in the kitchen be replaced with silverware or the water bottles stocked in the breakroom be replaced with a water filtration system and glasses? Take a close look at where your business is spending money on single-use plastics both in business lines and in employee supplies. You might consider going plastic-neutral or offering plastic offsets if you sell goods that utilize plastic. In the end, these changes will have a positive effect on the environment, employee sentiment, and even your business’s bottom line. According to Harvard Business Review, “mounting evidence shows that sustainable companies deliver significant positive financial performance, and investors are beginning to value them more highly.”

3. Build sustainability into your culture.

Sustainability initiatives shouldn’t be a one-time thing. It’s important to keep the ball rolling and build it into your company’s culture. Be sure to share this message externally as well. According to a recent study, 87 percent of customers are more likely to trust a company that supports an environmental or social issue. The same trend goes for potential employees. More than half of US job seekers consider a company’s social and environmental commitments when making employment decisions.

It All Adds Up

The stats surrounding our global waste may seem daunting and too large for any one company to really make a difference. The fact that 8 million tons of plastic finds a way into our oceans every year is disheartening, but keep in mind, this is the collective effort of billions of people around the globe. And just as it took the collective effort of billions of individuals to create the problem, it will take the same to begin to solve it — one individual and one company at a time. If conscious companies can address sustainability on the micro-level, the efforts will begin to compound and over time will produce a significant impact.

The bottom line is, when you create a happy and sustainable work environment that considers all stakeholders, employees feel like they can make a meaningful impact and want to stick around.

Alicia Marseille

Alicia Marseille is the Director of Community Entrepreneurship at Arizona State University. She has experience in economic development, and previously founded and operated an international small business working with a cooperative group of farmers in Haiti to export/import raw green coffee and distributed to wholesalers across the US. Prior to ASU, Marseille was the director of Arizona Women’s Education and Entrepreneur Center, a new US Small Business Administration’s Women’s Business Center, to build, develop and manage the program. Marseille currently is on the Metro Phoenix Export Alliance Advisory Board and Arizona State University’s Technology and Entrepreneurship Management Advisory Board.

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