How to increase enterprise sustainability

By Sam Rowe, CEO, Istoria Group
Several great lessons have emerged during the Coronavirus crisis, one of which has been to underline our worlds essential interconnectedness...

Several great lessons have emerged during the Coronavirus crisis, one of which has been to underline our world’s essential interconnectedness.  

This is a lesson the pioneers of the circular economy have been teaching for years. Perhaps then, in the post-Corona world, we’ll finally see the end of the siloed thinking that has accompanied linear economic thinking for so long? Perhaps too, businesses will grasp the true value of having sustainability at their core to ensure we all emerge into a more robust and values-driven business world? 

As a business that started up just before the financial collapse of 2008, we’ve now survived two major economic crises. Sustainability is, without doubt, one of the key aspects of our business that has ensured our resilience. We’ve always believed businesses need to look after people, profit and planet to survive and thrive. The largest company in our creative group, exhibitions and events specialist Ignition, has worked tirelessly since inception, for example, to change attitudes in an industry with an appalling ‘build and burn’ track record. The company, which last month won a Queen’s Award for Enterprise in Sustainable Development, also holds ISO 14001, 20121 and 9001 and was the first in its industry to achieve ISO 20121, following our Founder’s involvement in the London 2012 Olympics.  

But it’s not just about the environment. Running a sustainable business is also about taking a long-term view and looking after staff wellbeing to ensure long-term staff retention, as well as ensuring continuous service improvement for clients, so we’re able to pass on cost savings and stay profitable. Having strong values as a business ensures strong client buy-in, with the resulting longer-term contracts helping us maintain a steady ship in choppier waters.  

Here’s our 8-step ‘P-R-O-G-R-E-S-S Guide’ to incorporating sustainable practices into your business: 

1. Purpose 

By purpose, we mean setting clear goals for what you want to achieve. All businesses differ in products and services, as well size and resources, so it’s important to be specific about what you want to achieve. There’s a raft of potential things to consider for improving environmental sustainability, from reducing and offsetting carbon emissions and energy usage, eliminating single-use plastics, recycling, installing water fountains, increasing product lifetimes and product re-usage, achieving ISO 14001 and becoming a sustainability advocate. A maturity matrix is particularly useful for measuring your achievements. 

2. Resource 

Running a sustainable business means taking the long-term health of your company seriously, but also making realistic decisions about dedicating time and funds. To be truly sustainable, your strategy needs to be part of your company DNA, so start a sustainability-focused team to share responsibility and tasks, bringing people in from different areas of the business. Data clearly shows employees care about purpose at work and prefer to work for and stay with a company that actively addresses its environmental and social impact.  

3. Ordinary 

It’s so much more effective to achieve small steps than to have grand plans failing through over-ambition. Keep the ball rolling internally by being ordinary with some of your ambitions and identify the quick wins. These might include recycling, energy consumption, food composting or water wastage. Ensure you know the full journey of all the waste you produce. Next, move onto the materials you use, along with packaging and distribution, before addressing grander ambitions. 

4. Greatness 

Once the small acts are in hand, increase your ambitions. How can you develop your business model to be more sustainable and long-lasting? Can sustainability help you increase the duration of client contracts? What is your client retention strategy and your staff retention/wellbeing policy? Long-term thinking is key to creating sustainable businesses. What can you do to increase product lifetime? Can you re-engineer your product offer or create something new, in line with sustainability, which is both good for the environment and profit? What can you rent, rather than sell or buy? Is there any wealth to be found in the waste you produce? Try running a cost reduction programme right across the business. 

5. Redress the supply chain 

Education on sustainability will be vital, internally and externally, so it’s important to understand that increased knowledge is the route to unlocking change. The responsibility lies with everyone across your supply chain, so ask your suppliers about their sustainable activities. Are they accredited and aligned to your strategy? If you hold the purse strings, demand more of them, but be sure to open up collaboratively first. Run supplier workshops, share goals and help your suppliers become more sustainable, even help them prepare for accreditation – it helps your own credentials and kick-starts greener chains of activity. 

6. Exceed - keep improving 

A real commitment to sustainability shouldn’t only be long-term, but continuous. Ensure you stay on target by creating regular review dates. If you’re ahead of schedule, add new targets. Put yourselves under pressure and set at least one stretch target. Appoint a sustainability champion to ensure everyone in your organisation is kept up to date with news and ideas, adding them to your agenda where appropriate.  

7. Success 

Measure success. It’s an important motivator for your team and wider network. Measure what you’re doing against the goals that you set at the start and analyse the impact of measures on your business, including financial benefits. Engage with your staff and make the most of employee opinion surveys, feedback and motivation levels. Celebrate and reward people and make sure your clients know what you’re doing. If there are savings to be passed on, do that.  

8. Share & shout 

Pro-environmental practices create positive brand associations amongst consumers/customers, so make sure you share and shout to the wider world, publicising your successes internally and externally. The benefits of being a sustainable business can be profound and long-term, affecting not only your reputation, but business growth, team motivation and talent retention. Knock-on benefits for clients include new knowledge levels, so that you can anticipate regulatory trends and help position your clients favourably. 

Sam Rowe is CEO of Istoria Group, a creative businesses group based in Bristol and the US and working internationally. The largest company in the group, Ignition, was awarded The Queen’s Award for Enterprise in Sustainable Development in April 2020. /  


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