Picture a sustainable business and we often picture renewable energy, recycling, reusing materials, and compostable packaging.
Look up ‘sustainable’, however, in the dictionary and the meaning is ‘to be able to continue over time’.
For a lot of companies, whether motivated by ethics or profits, there is a strong desire to become more ‘sustainable’. However, the barrier to preventing a lot of organisations making this change, comes not from a lack of motivation, but that becoming sustainable, isn’t sustainable for them.
How can we overcome the barriers of change to make switching to being sustainable a more realistic goal for every business?
We copy the most sustainable system we have.
In the areas that we have started to mimic nature we have found unrivalled success. Biomimicry and Permaculture are both based on designing solutions to human problems using natures patterns and strategies. Between them they have lead to leaps in technological advancement and the way we grow food and design landscapes.
Why stop there?
How can we use these same ideas of learning from the natural world to guide our decision making around true sustainability?
Below are 6 ways the Permaculture principles can be a guide to becoming sustainable in a manageable way:
1. Observe and interact
Take time to understand the full picture.
If you want to plant a fruit tree but just place it in the first place you see, chances are it won’t grow well.
Whereas, take time to understand your land, observe the sun, shade, rain etc and you will have a much better idea of where that tree will grow well.
It can be very tempting to jump into projects straight away to see immediate progress. But, if we take the same approach, create time for away days, planning or brainstorming meetings we can get a clear understanding of our circumstances and what might be the best changes to make.
2.Start Small and Slow
Most things in nature change slowly. The forest is forever adapting to changing climates and conditions.
Changing our business should be no different.
If we want to change the landscape of a forest, clear cutting and removing all the trees is not an effective approach.
In business it is no different, if we attempt to change offices, packaging, suppliers, and switch to renewable energy all at once, it will cause a great deal of stress on staff and resources.
A much more sustainable approach would be to focus on one thing to change at a time and build from there.
In the day to day the business looks the same. But over time, like the forest, everything can change.
What is the easiest thing your business could change to make it more sustainable?
3.Integrate Rather than Segregate
Every element in an ecosystem works towards the survival of the whole.
Each plant in an ecosystem fills multiple roles. Whether it be providing habitat/food/shade/nutrients for another, everything contributes to a much bigger picture.
It is all integrated.
This could involve changing the way you have meetings to be more inclusive of different team members.
The way your office is laid out.
Encouraging team building activities to bring staff together
Looking at bringing in an income from your waste or byproducts.
Promoting a cycling to work scheme to reduce emissions and at the same time boost the health of your staff.
Looking at ways to cross sell. If certain customers only buy one of your products, how can you share the rest of your business with them to have them use you for more of their needs?
Nature integrates. An integrated business is a more sustainable one.
4.Obtain a Yield
There is a stigma about sustainability that it shouldn’t be for profit or gain. There is some negativity around Patagonia, for example, that they make a lot of money from their ethical approach. Sustainability sells.
The reality, however, is that changing to become sustainable isn’t the easy option.
If you do make changes, promote it, share the story. Look for ways you can gain from the changes you are making.
If you can increase your revenues from changing to a more environmental approach it will make your business more sustainable long term. It will also encourage staff, and shareholders to get behind the changes, making the whole project much more achievable.
Replicate nature and try to make you’re efforts worthwhile.
Nature is diverse.
Often our businesses are not.
Diversity comes in many forms.
The people who make up our team. The products we sell. The flexibility of working hours. The markets we operate in.
Encouraging diversity in these areas has multiple benefits.
It brings in a range of ideas and view points. Allows us to target a wide range of customers. Benefits the wellbeing of the team and allows us to select from a wider range of talent. Protects us from changes in the market and demand for our product/services.
6. produce no Waste
This one is quite obvious.
Nothing in nature creates waste except for humans.
Our businesses are often the worst offenders.
Turning your business into a zero waste one is a clear big win for sustainability and replicating nature. But, it isn’t easy and can be a big challenge to take on even for the most ethically minded business.
However, if we can use nature as a guide we can make this a much more sustainable goal:
Observe. Take time to understand how much waste you produce and where it goes.
Start Small. Create SMART and small realistic goals to make one small improvement to you waste.
Integrate. Get the whole team on board. Don’t just leave it to one person to take responsibility.
Obtain a Yield. Celebrate your success. Create rewards for the team if you hit your target. Share what you are doing to your audience.
Diversify. Once you build momentum, tackle another project. Keep the momentum going!
Lots of companies already use these approaches to great success, and perhaps there is a reason why they work so efficiently.
Nature knows best.