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Five planet-saving things your business can do this Earth Day


Earth Day is an ideal moment for busy business leaders, managers, and employees to pause and reflect on the perilous state of the planet – then ask themselves what they can do to make a positive difference.

Whether it’s a small behavioural change by an individual or a strategic realignment of the whole organisation, every company can do more to get on board with the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which underpin the Earth Day movement and aim to make a greener, fairer and safer world by 2030. Here are five things you can do right now.

Renew and align your purpose

Check that your business’s purpose – and the vision and action plans that stem from it – is aligned with the SDGs by undertaking this simple exercise. Print off our purpose mapping template and fill in your purpose at the centre. Then with a red pen, connect the purpose with the SDGs that it will make a positive contribution to; with a blue pen, connect the purpose with the SDGs that it will make a negative contribution to; and with a green pen, connect the purpose with the SDGs that your business depends upon.

Now look at the diagram and ask yourself: is there more red than blue or more blue than red? Are you happy with the number and distribution of the positive and negative impacts? Are you making a negative impact on any SDGs upon which you depend? Could the negative impacts result in reputational damage or risk the future viability of the business? How resilient are the states of the systems that provide the services your business depends upon? How could you do better?

After this, you might want to revisit your business strategy and see if you can align it with a safe, sustainable future for all.  Think how much this simple exercise might have saved you in expensive consultancy fees!

Get on top of your plastic use

While plastic as a material provides many social benefits, plastic pollution is an avoidable curse on society and the environment. Poorly designed products and packaging are made worse by thoughtless human actions. Despite there being many simple solutions to plastic pollution that are easy to implement and cost-effective, plastic waste continues to pollute. Have you examined whether your business contributes to the plastic problem?

Make a list of all the plastics in your business and investigate where they come from, which types of plastic they are, what they’re used for and where they end up once they leave your premises. Be very honest with that last one and your assumptions about recycling and re-use rates. Research suggests that in the UK, only 44% of plastic packaging is recycled. Most isn’t! For more information on sustainable plastic, check out the latest report from the Birmingham Plastic Network.

Improve your carbon literacy

A litany of climate-related catastrophes loom on the horizon, posing an existential threat to many businesses. Yet many firms continue to pump out greenhouse gases and remain ignorant of their climate impact. The time for action is fast running out. And businesses need to recognise that every decision they make drives climate emissions up or down. What they buy, who they buy from, how things are delivered, what they invest in, how buildings are heated or cooled, levels of energy efficiency, what resources are wasted, product and service design, how products are made, sold and shipped, how employees get to work, how the product is stored, business IT systems configuration, how operations are finances, how customers use and dispose of products.

Greenhouse gas emissions are the predictable consequences of these everyday decisions and we need to take account of them. There are well-developed techniques, standards, protocols and products out there to do this. Check out our lowdown on carbon accounting for more information and resources. And for inspiration on emissions-cutting, visit CarbonCopy for over a thousand case studies of companies, charities, community groups and others who have already started to act!

Become savvier with eco-labels

One way businesses and retailers could help encourage more ethical consumption is through better and clearer labelling. But although traffic-light labelling on food products showing their fat, sugar and salt content is commonplace, similar labels for sustainability are still in their infancy. This is a shame since recent experiments have shown that any kind of label on food showing its carbon footprint or scoring its environmental impact leads to more sustainable choices by buyers.

Does your business provide clear labelling about the social and environmental impacts of its products and services? Could you do more to be transparent about your sustainability and engage with the new generation of digital platforms – such as Giki – that are aiming to help shoppers compare the credentials of different products? Equally as consumers, are you able to spot the greenwashing from the genuine when it comes to labelling? Find out more about which eco-labels work best and why in this blog.

Take our responsible business fitness survey

Finally, if you want to extend your sustainability journey beyond just Earth Day and explore what positive differences you can make every day, why not take our Responsible Business Fitness Survey? In just five minutes and eight questions, we can score the sustainability of your business and signpost you to further help and resources to improve it.

You can also check out our Responsible Business Hub for more tips and toolkits, which are based on the ground-breaking research from the Centre of Responsible Business at the University of Birmingham. All of which you’ll also find between the covers of our recent book, Urgent Business, which sets out five pathways in key operational areas you can follow if you’re struggling to know how to progress. With so many businesses’ combined efforts working towards the SDGs, let’s hope next Earth Day sees a healthier and happier planet for all of us.

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