young people business meeting

Consumers increasingly demand that their favorite brands take a stand on today’s big issues — and that includes sustainability. Younger people are making ecological responsibility a must-have business practice when shopping. Seventy-three percent of millennials say they want to spend their money with companies that use sustainable practices. In a 2015 study, Nielsen reported that almost 75 percent of 15- to 20-year-olds (also known as Generation Z) will pay more for sustainable products and services.

Gone are the days when brands chose to stay out of a debate for fear of alienating one group or another. With the rise of social media, consumers are more connected with brands than ever before. Recognizing that no brand is an island, companies are increasingly supporting the social and political causes their consumer constituents advocate.

Sustainable Practices Are Good for Business

Early in 2018, an Edelman poll found that consumers expect business executives to take proactive steps toward addressing environmental and social issues such as climate change and gun control. Not only did the surveyed consumers demand change, they also said that businesses should lead initiatives without waiting for lawmakers to act. For example, although assault-style rifles remain legal in the U.S., the February 2018 decision by Dick’s Sporting Goods to cease sale of the weapons and destroy the guns removed from its store shelves led to a substantial increase in sales.

Businesses are also making changes in response to new laws. When President Donald Trump’s tax plan cut the corporate tax rate from 35 percent to 21 percent, the founder of outdoor apparel company Patagonia, which has strongly opposed Trump’s agenda, pledged to donate $10 million of the subsequent savings to environmental causes. Since 1985, the company has donated $100 million to environmental protection groups, and CEO Yvon Chouinard points out that this generosity has been rewarded by customers with rising profits.

Running a business with sustainability in mind can be good for both the planet and your business earnings. Here’s how to do it:

1. Write Sustainability into Your Mission

When you write sustainability into your mission statement, it becomes a core part of your company and a driving force behind everything you do. For instance, you might assume that Tesla’s mission statement would have something to do with battery power or the electric car. Instead, it’s “To accelerate the world’s transition to sustainable energy,” which doesn’t limit the company’s scope to just its present concerns.

Because the statement is so broad, Tesla can carry the company wherever the winds of change may take it, including into the solar roof business. No matter where Tesla ends up, its leaders will always have a compass pointing to true north to guide their decisions in the right direction.

Establish a broad mission statement that gives your company the flexibility to pivot to what customers need while staying true to your foundation: delivering value without ecological harm.

Go beyond the mission statement and live the environmental goals you establish. Share your progress and challenges with customers, because everyone is still working out the solution to a sustainable economy.

2. Mind the Planet During Product Development

Plastic’s rise to prominence is understandable. It’s cheap to produce, lightweight, and incredibly durable. As it turns out, it’s a little too durable. A plastic bottle can take 450 years to decompose, and some types of plastics can take even longer. As a result, it’s taking up huge amounts of space in our landfills and, sadly, our oceans.

When designing products, consider both the materials that go into a design and what happens to the product after its useful life is over. Using recycled materials is an excellent way to reduce environmental impact, and you can complete the sustainable cycle by ensuring that old products can be reused or recycled.

In the minds of environmentally conscious consumers, these design features are all selling points.

3. Encourage Sustainability Outside of the Office

Implementing sustainable practices at work is a great start, but you’ll know you’ve succeeded when your employees begin to prioritize sustainability in their personal lives, too. To encourage that development, Earth Friendly Products brand ECOS offers employees incentives “for purchasing electric/hybrid cars, installing solar panels and relocating closer to facilities to reduce carbon footprint while allowing for greater work/life balance.”

Kelly Vlahakis-Hanks, president and CEO of Earth Friendly Products/ECOS, notes that “When employees see the connection between their personal efforts and broader changes, they’re more likely to feel positive about their role in a work-driven initiative.” After all, sustainability shouldn’t be the goal just from 9 to 5.

Causes are moving to the forefront of the consumer consciousness. Among them, sustainability is one of the most popular — and arguably the most pressing. When building a business, incorporate sustainability from the outset. People, the planet, and profits will all benefit from your decision.


By Drew Hendricks

Drew Hendricks is a tech, social media, and environmental addict. He's written for many major publications, such as Forbes and Entrepreneur.