Address the issues your clients are most concerned about, writes Rachel Brown, chief executive of the Sustainability Business Network.
For those doing it right, making your business sustainable should make good business sense. The Colmar Brunton 2010 Better Business Better World survey highlights that six in 10 Kiwis believe innovative and progressive business equals sustainable business. For smart businesses, they will market their sustainable policies and win new business from it. It makes sense to leverage your good behaviour and use it for competitive advantage.
We are hoping to make some changes in our operations and systems so that we are more sustainable and more efficient. How do we bring along our customers with us?
Consumers are constantly bombarded with information. Oxfam's emphasis on Fair Trade and Greenpeace's palm oil campaign show how organisations are influencing purchasing decisions.
Responding to the issues of your sector is a great way to demonstrate your business smarts to an increasingly aware customer.
But how do you tell a sustainability story when you're not perfect? I say, "Show me a business that is!" At our recent forum, Sustainability is Mainstream, Geoff Ross advised businesses to "fess up". With 42 Below, Geoff and his team took the 'Ready. Fire. Aim.' approach. "Consumers don't expect you to be 100 per cent squeaky clean, but they need to know you are working bloody hard to make improvements."
The critical point is that your customers want to know you are working to address the issues they're concerned about. My advice is to start the conversation, and keep it going. Do it face-to-face, through social media, or your own website. People want to see genuine commitment, not implausible perfection.
We'd like to be a sustainability leader in our industry. How do we engage with other players in the market and bring others on board?
Sustainability offers opportunities for building leadership and innovation credentials in virtually any business.
* Be leaders. Each sector is responding to sustainability in different ways. Find out if anyone in your industry is doing work in this area already. It might be interesting to benchmark your business against other industry players so you know where you're at.
The Sustainable Business Network (SBN) Get Sust Online tool is a good starting point for this: head to getsustonline.org.nz to see how you compare against a range of sectors.
* Engage with others. By meeting other business leaders through networks like the SBN, you can see what works and what doesn't. Many businesses are happy to share what they're doing. And if your sector isn't doing much - be a source of motivation for others. You might be amazed where support comes from.
* Get others on board. You can't do it on your own. Getting your stakeholders involved is critical in helping you get into a leadership space. Talk to your suppliers, and say "This is what we are trying to achieve, how can you help?" It's a learning process that involves collaboration - and this collaboration and partnership is where real innovation can arise.
What are the benefits of joining a business network with an interest in sustainability? How will it help our business?
We're reaching a tipping point for a new era of sustainability. SBN offers plenty of opportunities for sustainability leadership.Through our network you can meet leaders in this space and learn from their experiences, or offer solutions from your own business. SBN is a practical source of information - we have great tools, events, training, advice and contacts to help any business progress with its sustainability work. Our forums and workshops explore the big challenges, topics and trends facing business.