How Sustainable is Your Business? The 10 Questions You Need to Answer

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Business sustainability has shifted from a mere talking point among executives to actionable to-do’s in offices.

A past measure of “green business” was how fast executives could pontificate intelligently about sustainability matters, alas, that has changed.

These days, customers, employees, investors, and other investors want to know, specifically, what you’re doing to create a greener business. You only need look at the activist investors pursuing bold green changes in today’s corporate sphere to appreciate the urgency.

To help you along the way, here are 10 questions you should be prepared to answer at some point along your sustainability journey as an organization.


1. What is your carbon footprint?

carbon footprint

This is the question most executives and other stakeholders 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.

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.

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

Cost Rating: Costs associated with professional evaluations

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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.

Top tip: Check out what leading companies in your industry are doing to learn how your company can design and implement programmes for environmental improvement.

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 behavior 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.

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?

sustainability metrics

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.

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

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 a top priority and evaluated over time to ensure that these are still the right objectives.

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.

It’s 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.

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.

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Difficulty Rating: Simple

Cost Rating: Free


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

green business partnerships

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.

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.

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.

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.

[This article has been updated for freshness and consistency.]

Greener Ideal Staff Avatar

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