10 Sustainable business questions you should be able to answer

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sustainable business questions

There are many questions sustainability staff will be asked at some point in their career, and a past measure of success was how quickly you could put together an intelligent response.

These days, most sustainability staff members know the answers offhand, making it a little easier for companies to get out in front of the tough corporate sustainability world.

Here is a list of the top 10 questions you should be prepared to answer at some point along the sustainability journey of your business.

 

1. What is your carbon footprint?

This is the question most executives are asking. Don’t be surprised if this question is accompanied by another more academic one, namely “what exactly is a carbon footprint anyway?”

Top tip: Check out the Carbon Fund‘s carbon calculator or use the one offered by the Marrion Institute.

Eco Rating: 3/5

Difficulty Rating: Simple

Cost Rating: Free if using online packages – costs associated with professional evaluations

 

2. How green are your products and services?

This question tends to follow on very quickly from the first, since products and services are the bread and butter of any company. The likely consequence will focus on how a company can determine if their products are green. Issues that will need further unpacking, and may help you develop your answer include:

  • How much energy, water and resources does the business currently use?
  • How can you improve resource use and efficiency?
  • How and where do you source your materials from?
  • Are you using sustainable products and processes?
  • What is your impact on the local and global community?

Top tip: Understanding the environmental costs of your products will require a thorough analysis, undertaken by a professional.

Eco Rating: 2/5

Difficulty Rating: This activity requires a lot of in-depth analysis

Cost Rating: Costs associated with professional evaluations

3. How could you become a greener company?

This is the question that you can expect once your company has made a commitment to enhance sustainability. It is also the most complex, since the answer can literally involve every part of an enterprise and its supply chain. This is also a question that involves both short and long term program development, project management and strategy.

Related:   Environmentally Conscious Celebrities And Their Eco-Friendly Homes

Top tip: Check out our EMS series to see how your company can design and implement a programme for environmental improvement.

Eco Rating: 4/5

Difficulty Rating: May require a bit of extra effort – professional advice may be required

Cost Rating: Costs associated with professional evaluations

4. How educated and engaged are your employees?

This is another question that signals a sustainability journey is maturing, since the conversation is expanding beyond the key managers and executives. Attaining a figure is also challenging in many organisations, particularly larger ones, as mindsets and behaviour towards sustainability takes time to filter down to all employees.

Your answer should look at how much your employees know about the environmental impacts associated with your products and services, and the ways in which your company is offsetting these.

Top tip: Devise a questionnaire and interview as many employees as possible to gauge an overall impression of environmental awareness in your company.

Eco Rating: 1/5

Difficulty Rating: Simple – may prove to be complex exercise depending on company size

Cost Rating: Free – costs associated with professional evaluations

 

5. What are your key sustainability measures?

The old adage of “what gets measured, gets managed” is a good place to start. There are some values that might be trickier to measure, such as return on investment (ROI). This looks at how much have you saved through sustainability investments.

Top tip: By calculating your companies ROI, you can see how much money is being saved by implementing sustainable actions.

Eco Rating: 3/5

Difficulty Rating: Simple – may prove to be complex exercise depending on company size

Related:   Apple Unveils Cleanest and Greenest iPods Ever

Cost Rating: Costs associated with professional evaluations

 

6. How do you set goals for improvement and make yourselves more efficient?

This simple question has many implications, and also requires a lot of data collection, analyses and planning. Aspects to consider are:

  • What levels can we achieve while growing our business?
  • What will the projects involved cost us?
  • How quickly can we achieve the goals?
  • How will others perceive the goals?

Top tip: Setting targets and goals should be included in your EMS and evaluated over time to ensure that these are still the right objectives.

Eco Rating: 4/5

Difficulty Rating: Simple – may prove to be complex exercise depending on company size

Cost Rating: Free – costs associated with professional evaluations

7. How do you innovate and offer greener products and services?

This goes to the heart of a business, and the answers are sometimes aren’t easy to find. This is not surprising, given that innovation is usually the result of a process, and can be encouraged and nurtured. This comes without a guarantee of success, but resources, a commitment of time, and financial and human capital are a good starting point.

Top tip: By researching techniques to limit the environmental impacts of products and services, you may come across innovative ways to improve overall sustainability.

Eco Rating: 4/5

Difficulty Rating: Simple – may prove to be complex exercise depending on company size

Cost Rating: Free – costs associated with professional evaluations

8. How do your competitors fare?

A point of reference is always important for directors to properly understand green issues, and most companies tend to look to competitors, customers and similar for benchmarks. Thanks to the internet and the growing trend towards corporate reporting, this task of comparison has become much easier.

Top tip: Check out competitors’ webpages, annual reports and online media to assess their levels of sustainability.

Related:   More Women are Needed Within the Green Jobs Sphere

Eco Rating: 1/5

Difficulty Rating: Simple

Cost Rating: Free

 

9. Are there any environmental organisations you can or need to partner with?

By partnering with sustainability NGOs, environmental companies or even government departments, you create a platform for idea sharing, joint ventures and exciting pilot projects. It is vital that collaborative efforts are made between your organisation and another that has similar environmental values, to ensure the success of the venture. One of the major financial benefits includes government subsidies and grants, and also the potential to save costs.
Top tip: Speak to your local business council about finding organisations that you could potentially partner with.

Eco Rating: 1/5

Difficulty Rating: Simple

Cost Rating: Free

10. What do people on the outside of the company think of your green performance?

The notion that sustainability extends well beyond the boundaries of the company is often difficult for some executives to understand. Make sure that you develop ways to gather feedback from people external to the company, such as clients, investors and interested parties. This could be through dedicated email and phone services, company newsletters, suggestion boxes, online media and information forums.

Top tip: Schedule discussions or meetings at least once a year, so as to gather information on what external parties think of your company.

Eco Rating: 2/5

Difficulty Rating: Simple – may require a bit of extra effort

Cost Rating: Free – costs associated with professional services

 

Ask and answer

The questions posed will be focused on your businesses operations, and answers will require sustainability staff to explore data gathering, planning, strategy and analyses, target setting, and engagement with employees and external parties.

Even though all of this information will be collected, you can be sure that some new challenging questions will emerge, keeping you on your toes.

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