Thinking About Sustainability? Here’s Where to Start by @elizaerskine

by Eliza Erskine

The benefits of a sustainable business are well documented. Businesses that embrace sustainable practices are more profitable. They appeal to millennial buyers and to employees that share sustainability values. Sustainable practices include adjusting operations to improve environmental, community and social impacts.

If your competitors are documenting sustainable practices, you’re planning to hire millennials in the next five years, or an impact in your business is essential, put sustainability into your business. So where do you begin if you’re interested in creating a more sustainable business?

Here are some steps to start the process. First, you’ll need management commitment and then employees to consider your plans. A materiality assessment will help you understand your impact and then finally, researching B Corp certification provides topical background on sustainability, as well as a potential route to transformation.


Commit to It From Management Down 

Management needs to be completely on board for sustainability to succeed. Why? Because sustainability is not an add-on, it needs to be added into the operations, documents and governance of the company to be successful. Think about any mission or values focused enhancements you’ve made previously. Without management on board and driving change, they wouldn’t be as successful, right?

Management and the board of directors must be aligned with sustainability to sign off on the necessary resources, often time and some money, to make the commitment effective. Employees feed off the excitement of management and to communicate excitement properly, management must be all in.

To commit, adopt a board resolution or add it to company planning. The delegations can be fit to your culture. Again, how do you commit to new resolutions or company changes? Do the same for sustainability.


Talk to Employees

Your employees are on the floor and living the day to day of operations. Communicate the company’s plans to adopt sustainability shortly and ask each employee two questions. First, does it align with their values and, second what achievable sustainable actions in the company do they see?

This can be a survey or brainstorming, but be sure to get their input to bring about robust conversation. Employee input will also help with this next part.


Do a Brief Materiality Assessment 

Materiality means what is important, impactful and crucial to your business. In terms of sustainability, materiality is the specifics of sustainability relevant to your business. For example, are you a farm? If you work on a farm, material items include land and water use, humane animal treatment, energy used for farm activities, and methane from cows, to name a few.

So look at your business activities and how they interact with your broader environment. Are you shipping items? What is your supply chain? Are you making a product or a service? Where does your business stand concerning your community? What kind of waste do you create? What resources are you using?

Begin thinking and listing what environmental areas you touch so you can get an idea of where you can have an impact.


Look into B Corp Certification 

B Corps are certified as sustainable businesses by an external provider called B Lab. Becoming a certified B Corp is a big undertaking. Even if you don’t start the process to become certified, there are great resources on their website for sustainable businesses and action items. To help your materiality assessment, you can search by industry to find competitors that might be B Corps. Look at their reports to get a better idea of how your industry looks at sustainability. The B Lab website is an awesome research tool for you to learn and uncover more about sustainability and your business model.



Eliza Erskine has a Master’s in Sustainability from the Harvard Extension School and a BA in Business Administration from Boston University. She founded Green Buoy Consulting in 2018 to help small and early stage businesses with sustainability. She grew up in the Pacific Northwest and lives in New York City.





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