White Paper: What Is Your Company’s Sustainability Policy?

by Aaron Reece

According to Wikipedia, corporate sustainability is “a business approach that creates long-term consumer and employee value by creating a ‘green’ strategy aimed toward the natural environment and taking into consideration every dimension of how a business operates in the social, cultural, and economic environment.”

When most businesses think of increasing profitability, the first thought to come to mind usually isn’t sustainability. However, sustainability can have a number of positive impacts to your company’s financials. It can and likely will decrease numerous expenses including energy, water, waste and materials. It has also shown positive impacts on employee retention which decreases expensive hiring and training expenses. In addition to increasing profitability, corporate sustainability can have even greater long-term social and environmental impacts.

Every business can get started on the road to corporate sustainability by developing a sustainability policy for managing its environmental footprint and bottom line. Every policy should start with a mission statement detailing a commitment to sustainability. The policy should include specific actions and target dates for completion of each action. It is highly advisable, if not imperative, to have an individual or group of individuals designated as the Company’s champion with the responsibility of ensuring company compliance with the policy.

Each policy will differ from company to company and industry to industry. However, the following general initiatives should be considered by most companies:

  • Recycle paper, plastic, aluminum, and other office products
  • Use water coolers with reusable cups rather than bottled water
  • Encourage the use of communal dishware and utensils rather than disposable items
  • Go as paperless as possible. When printing is required, use recycled paper for printing and set printers to double-sided printing as a default
  • Update mailing lists to prevent sending unnecessary letters which will save paper, postage, and printing
  • Turn off computers, power strips, monitors, etc. at night and on weekends
  • Incentivize employees to use alternative methods of transportation to work (carpool, walk, bus, bike, etc.)
  • Allow employees flexible work schedules to reduce travel, such as work weeks consisting of four 10-hour days or optional working from home
  • Consider videoconferencing or teleconferencing to replace unnecessary travel, where possible
    Use energy-efficient, motion sensored lighting systems
  • Automated waterworks, soap and paper towel dispensers in restrooms
  • Use environmentally-friendly cleaning products
  • Adjust the thermostat by one or two degrees in the summer and winter to save energy
  • Sustainability education seminars for employees

If a business wants to take its commitment further, there are various “green” certifications it can earn that can help in marketing the business. Also, there are now Sustainability Accounting Standards to help companies report on sustainability performance to outside parties like investors, customers, and potential employees. Regardless of the scope of the initiative, the environment will benefit and, in many cases, so will the company’s the bottom line. If all companies participate, it can make a world of difference.

Aaron Reece is a senior assurance manager at GreerWalker LLP and is the team leader of the firm’s Sustainability Practice.