Can sustainable businesses still be highly profitable?
For some businesses, sustainability and their environmental impact are moving higher up the business agenda. Whether it’s their environmental impact, latest technology advancements, or social changes these types of initiatives are becoming more important to many businesses.
Sometimes business owners don’t put sustainability at the heart of their company’s business strategy because they believe costs outweigh the benefits and profitability will suffer. However, those companies leading the sustainability charge understand that they can introduce sustainability practices whilst maintaining or increasing financial profitability.
In this blog, we’ll look at how building a green solutions agenda into your business model and plans can not only help the environment but may lead to a more profitable business.
Can a business be sustainable and profitable?
The simple answer to this question is yes. However, to achieve this, a business needs strong, focused leadership and they need to build sustainable practices into their top line strategy. We have many clients that have created a highly sustainable business whilst improving overall profitability.
Research shows that trade-offs between a company’s growth and profitability and environmentalism aren’t necessary.
Just one example of this is a client of Barnes Roffe who work in the manufacturing/ construction industry supplying compression and blow-moulded products. They have magnified their focus on sustainability within their manufacturing, recycling and distribution facilities across the UK and Europe. This has been achieved by moving their manufacturing to using entirely recycled plastic and making their products 100% recyclable at end-of-life. They now convert over 600 tonnes of plastic every week into new products, diverting plastic from landfill. Not only is this great for the environment but they have achieved huge cost savings and increased profitability using recycled materials.
Often success means starting with small changes to processes and building from there. Small changes can often achieve substantial cost savings. If these cost savings are then used to fund new and advanced technologies, for example in areas of production, then profitability should increase in the long term.
Make sustainability part of your purpose and business strategy
Achieving a sustainable company begins with the business owner and management team. They hold the key to making sustainability an overall focus in the business. It must sit at the heart of your purpose and mission. Purpose creates relevance, so you need to create the strategy and purpose and embed it across all your people and practices.
Purpose driven leaders create a mission and sustainability strategy that empowers the people they trust in making key business decisions.
Communicate your sustainability goals and vision
You will need to set clear and attainable goals as well as mapping the business case for your strategy. Fully embedded sustainability goals with a clear business case sitting behind them are more likely to get buy in from senior management. Without your management team or employees being behind your vision, it will be difficult to achieve your objectives.
Getting your employees involved and having open conversations, can be a conduit for brilliant ideas and people’s involvement by bringing individual passions in environmental and societal issues to the table. Employees are more likely to help spearhead initiatives if they feel involved and you allow them to take responsibility for parts of your sustainability plan.
Reward achieving sustainability goals.
Conversations about your sustainability objectives should begin when you are recruiting. Make your sustainability agenda part of how you introduce the company and follow this through with integrating those goals into your reward and recognition schemes for employees. This is a fantastic way to really embed sustainability into your company culture. Celebrate success on your sustainability journey, whether it’s via individuals or company targets being reached.
The availability of money or investment can often be a road block or a driver to sustainable business practices. Starting small and making cost savings or investing in research and development and making use of tax reliefs such as R&D tax credits, can provide cash for future investment into your sustainability efforts and green solutions.
Consider your supplier and customer needs
Whilst sustainability should become part of all processes and business activities, this should not at the expense of considering your suppliers and customer’s needs. Make your drive to become more sustainable a positive for your suppliers and customers as well. Whether it equates to building more open communication with suppliers, better customer service, better products of better prices, understand what your suppliers want to achieve and what your customer needs now and in the future.
Many successful and profitable companies that live and breathe sustainable practices will spread their environmental goals to their customer and supply chains, including raw materials and lead the way with new business models that competitors find hard to achieve.
A great example of a company considering their customers sustainability goals is a Barnes Roffe client that distribute cleaning and hygiene products. They have introduced a recycling scheme for their customers to easily send back and recycle old dispensers in order to help their own customers reach their sustainability goals as well as their own.
How does sustainability benefit a business?
Sustainability can benefit a business in many ways such as:
- Increased profit margins
- Increased productivity
- Long term cost savings
- Improved brand image and competitive advantage
- Reduction in waste
- Attracting customers, employees, and investors
- Ability to comply with regulation
- Reducing risk
Many business owners believe that you can achieve profit OR sustainability, but not both.
However, many benefit from significant long term cost savings through environmental related operational efficiencies, including using less resources, logistical savings, and minimising waste.
When planned and implemented correctly, there can be significant long term financial benefits realised from increased competitive advantage and innovation.
Is profitability the right measurement of success?
Profitability is important metric for many business owners. Increasing profitability over time is a measure of healthy financials and a well-run company. Declining or low profitability over time can be an indication of challenges in a business.
However, solely focusing on short term profit, is not a comprehensive measure to really show how a company is run. Companies who are focused on a clear purpose often use the ‘triple bottom line’ as a wider measure of success.
What is the triple bottom line?
The triple bottom line allows a company to measure a business’s societal impact and environmental impact and not just their financial performance. It’s broken down into the “Three Ps”: profit, people, and the planet.
Often decisions are made purely based on maximising profits, reducing costs, or mitigating risk. However, it’s becoming more common to also focus on effecting positive change without hampering long term financial performance. Adopting sustainability initiatives doesn’t mean that you must stop focusing on profit, this should still be one measure of business success, but not the only one.
The second element of the triple bottom line approach is people. This should include shareholders, stakeholders and employees. In some businesses, the focus lies on benefiting shareholders, using shareholder value as an indicator of success. However, to truly embrace sustainability, your focus will need to focus on how you create value for all people impacted by your business decisions. This should include considering the impact on employees, customers, suppliers and the wider community.
Some of the steps to take to improve in this area include considering reward and recognition, fair hiring practices and volunteerism within your workforce. Other businesses form strategic partnerships with not-for-profit or charity organisations that share their values.
Having a sustainability strategy embedded in your company culture can also increase employee loyalty, efficiency, and productivity and improve recruitment, retention, and morale.
The final part of the triple bottom line is focused on minimising the impact or your business and your supply chain on the planet.
With some countries and emerging markets still going through their own version of the industrial revolution (e.g., India and China etc), emissions, pollution, diminishing natural resources and climate action are constantly on the news. If you source products or raw materials from these emerging markets, you should consider the environmental impact of their working practices as well as your own.
Creating a sustainable strategy can and should influence every area of a business. Whether its suppliers, materials, recruitment, staff or customers.
Sustainable business models can create competitive advantage and attract new employees and customers that share your vision. Focusing on the triple bottom line and not merely profitability can offer exciting and new opportunities for many businesses. However, finding these opportunities and making a success of them takes courage and hard work.
The first steps to sustainability start with business leaders and then should extend across a whole company. It takes strong leadership, commitment and a focus on other areas and not profit alone. But business owners (including your competitors) are increasingly realising the power of sustainable business strategies.
Many business leaders have already considered their social and environmental impact and are using strategic planning initiatives to now gain competitive advantage and financial benefits.
If you haven’t yet focused on this area of your business, then now is the time to do it. In the coming years, virtually all businesses will need to show their sustainability credentials to keep up with competition, win new contracts and attract the best talent.
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