Glenn Polyn//March 1, 2023//
Glenn Polyn //March 1, 2023//
In the past decade, the word “sustainable,” as it pertains to products and businesses, has been overused, misused and confused. So, what does sustainability mean?
The US EPA explains it well: “Sustainability is based on a simple principle: Everything that we need for our survival and well-being depends, either directly or indirectly, on our natural environment. To pursue sustainability is to create and maintain the conditions under which humans and nature can exist in productive harmony to support present and future generations.”
We know our natural environment is being stretched beyond its limits. Many governments, nonprofits and NGOs are calling on businesses to change their ways and become more sustainable. But what is a “sustainable business?” In the literal sense, a sustainable business is an entity that makes enough money to continue to operate — it’s financially sustainable. To start, it’s important to recognize that any business must first lay out its financial reasons: increasing revenue or reducing costs. Here are three financial reasons why businesses should embrace sustainability.
First, many investments in sustainability mean saving environmental resources — and those investments often pay for themselves. If your business owns property, for example, that could be your company’s largest carbon footprint. By analyzing the day-to-day operations and finding ways to reduce energy and water consumption, the company’s annual utility costs will decrease. As your energy bills decrease, you are also reducing your carbon emissions.
Another example is product packaging. Minimizing packaging reduces the waste of single-use disposable items; it also saves money. At Project Hive Pet Company, the toy packaging is as minimal as possible. For online customers, toys are shipped without packaging — saving natural resources as well as packaging costs.
Second, more sustainable companies can attract and retain talent, reducing employee churn costs (e.g., productivity losses and increased training costs). Generation Z and Millennials, who now make up a majority of the workforce, are looking to work for more sustainable companies. A 2022 IBM employee survey found a “growing interest in employees wanting to apply and accept jobs from environmentally sustainable companies, with 68 percent more willing to accept positions from such companies.”
Third, more sustainable companies develop a more loyal customer base, which can increase revenue. Consumers are looking for ways to support businesses that positively impact our planet. In a 2022 annual survey on socio-cultural trends conducted by Sustainable Brands, 78 percent of survey respondents said, “I support companies that act sustainably by purchasing their products or services.” The survey also found that the primary drivers of brand trust are the actions a company takes to benefit society and the planet.
What types of actions are considered more sustainable? Before trying a hodgepodge of sustainability initiatives and forming a “green team,” companies need to think broadly about their entire operations, culture and impact on our environment. Conducting a “materiality assessment” helps identify and prioritize environmental, social and governance (ESG) issues.
Once more sustainable strategies are undertaken, companies can choose from a vast menu of sustainability-related certifications. The benefit of certification is that it provides independent, third-party validation that the company is doing what it says it’s doing. This type of transparency enhances trust and credibility in a crowded field of marketing claims. Pursuing certifications needs prioritizing as well: costs can add up, not all are worth it and too many can confuse customers.
One of the most holistic sustainability-related certifications is B Corp Certification. Project Hive Pet Company obtained B Corp Certification in December 2022. Certified B Corps are verified by the nonprofit B Lab to meet high standards of social and environmental performance, transparency and accountability. B Lab offers a free self-assessment tool related to the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals. Called “SDG Action Manager,” it’s a valuable process to go through, even if you’re not interested in certifying.
Additional company-level certifications include 1 percent for the Planet, LEED Certification and Climate Neutral. At the product level, the most well-known certifications for pet food are USDA Organic and Non-GMO Project Verified. Both are better for the planet than conventional alternatives (but typically cost more). For all other pet categories, there are too many certifications to list here; it’s best to research and choose those most relevant to your business.
Whatever the product or service, businesses that work towards becoming more environmentally sustainable can benefit financially. For pet retailers, carrying products from brands that practice sustainability is a win-win. Consumers embrace these products, so you’ll sell more products while supporting the cause. In the pet industry, we hope to drive this change so that we all benefit from a more sustainable society.
Melissa Rappaport Schifman is the Co-Founder of Project Hive Pet Company, where she leads the company’s financial and sustainability strategy. The author of Building a Sustainable Home: Practical Green Design Choices for Your Health, Wealth, and Soul (Skyhorse Publishing, 2018), Melissa consults, writes, and speaks about sustainability issues facing businesses and homeowners. She is a LEED-accredited professional and holds her BA in Government from Georgetown University and her MBA and MA in Public Policy from the University of Chicago.