If sustainability was ever thought of as a trend, the last few years have definitively proven that it is here to stay. Changing times influence trends, and trends originate from internal transformations that translate into broader stylistic shifts. Style can have many implications, but when it comes to the new post-COVID reality, what has become not only fashionable but economically favorable is a return to our roots. “Going green” has become the top priority for many forward-thinking businesses in 2022, resulting in increased sales and a healthier way of doing business for people and for the planet that we share.
On an individual level, many had taken the chance during the great pause of the early pandemic to reconsider personal priorities like health, safety, happiness, emphasis on family, and increased sustainability of everyday life. On a collective level, there is renewed hope and greater awareness of the possibility for more substantial, global-level changes. This includes focus on the welfare of the planet, with more attention than ever being paid to the threats posed by global warming and the long-lasting effects of carbon emissions.
In pursuit of a better kind of business, employers like Tara Milburn, CEO and Founder of Ethical Swag, have already begun creating the kind of change they want to see in the world. ‘There’s a tangible, sustainable imperative, and it’s changing our corporate world for the better,’ says Milburn. ‘These new standards are a road sign that is pointing to the correct next direction. Founding teams can take note, establish a pace that works for them, and walk calmly towards post-pandemic improvement.’
Milburn’s company, Ethical Swag, is a leader in demonstrating the value of ethical business practices by providing corporations with vetted environmentally-sound and labor-conscious production of creative and personal branding products. Following are Milburn’s insights to help other teams pursue their post-COVID path in harmony with the people they serve and the environment they are committed to saving.
Embrace an Audit
All changes come with costs. In this case, however, the first step is to chart those costs in full detail. Previous corporate thought and practice dictated that sustainability ran counter to the bottom line. However, recent economic outcomes have proved that the opposite is true. ESG (Environmental, Social and Governance)-focused companies are outperforming their industry peers, and brands that offer consumers a sustainable option for the goods and services they need are seeing overwhelming consumer support.
An audit is a great step toward gaining that clear picture, especially in a world recently turned on its head financially. In order to make any prudent eco-friendly investments in your company, you must first take stock of any existing energy waste and areas for improvement. Organizations like B Labs provide a free audit experience as a place to begin, allowing companies to better understand their deficiencies, needs, and desired environmental trajectory. According to Milburn, ‘taking these first steps is an efficient and cost-effective way to get more specific about a company’s next steps. The audit will illuminate the weak spots and over-spends in the company’s existing strategy.’
While audits can help companies reassess their production and distribution processes in light of their sustainability goals, it is also crucial for them to take steps to ensure compliance in the social and governance aspects of their business as well. This can include opting for goods sourced from women- or Indigenous-owned suppliers and ensuring that workers all along the supply chain are treated fairly. Investing in these positive causes and making this information transparent and easily accessible to both employees and consumers is a great way to create positive social impacts while also improving company performance. Effective audits are extremely helpful in allowing companies to both map out and achieve these ESG goals.
Cater to Your Key Demographic
Millennials now comprise a large group of the active workforce, and they are clear on their priorities as consumers. After Apple publicly committed to reducing their carbon footprint and adopted their Clean Energy Program in 2015, they’ve continued to dominate the technology market, perhaps in part due to the way that proposition appealed to millennials. The Apple recycle program makes it easy to dispose of electronic devices responsibly. It’s entirely free to use, and there are multiple ways that you can participate – whether you’re looking to recycle a product yourself or mail it in. By mailing your old device, Apple will ensure that it gets recycled in an environmentally responsible manner.
Today, 80% of millennials place loyalty in employers who demonstrate a social and environmental conscience. This is a call companies will need to answer, and it will have the added benefit of moving us all forward. Additionally, 64% of Americans have indicated that they would switch brands to a company that made a positive environmental impact their greatest commitment, even if this means paying more. Attracting both employees and customers is now dependent on an organization’s stated ecological and sustainability goals. It’s important to note that Millennials’ successors, Gen Z, aren’t far behind; 54% of gen Z’ers are willing to pay up to 10% more for ecologically sound brands, a number that could grow with their earning power.
Responsible Recycling, the Hybrid Model, and Looking Local
Exercising due diligence when it comes to office recycling practices is a simple yet often-neglected way to improve in-house corporate sustainability. Not only do recycling programs engage employees and encourage them to take leadership roles–part of improving corporate culture–but the proper disposal of office waste can reduce costs and offset small-scale carbon footprint. Committing to the same strategies on a larger scale during production and distribution of products has an even bigger impact.
Beyond these in-office practices, choosing to move to a hybrid or remote work model decreases energy demands in an office, offsets carbon footprint with decreased transportation needs, and allows for greater community engagement for the employee who works from home. It’s a win-win in terms of environmental gain and employee well-being.
Engaging local vendors to deliver the same, if not better, materials, is also another method for “going green” that can be highly impactful. With the e-commerce model becoming dominant in the post-COVID era, opting for supply chains that include nearby suppliers is an easy change that reduces both financial and environmental costs.
The Way Forward
As employers look to negotiate a new approach to ways of doing business with an increased emphasis on work/life balance and sustainable working conditions, consumers are ready to support their efforts. This willingness has deeply changed the nature of the new corporate reality and is by far the most successful way to navigate a changing business climate.
‘It’s heartening when you begin to see quantitative support for a qualitative re-orientation,’ concludes Milburn. ‘I work with companies in multiple industries, and I’ve seen incredible consumer-led support for sustainable practices across the board.’ With more steps in this direction, we may arrive at a much-improved future faster than we might’ve dared to dream. Such is the power of business, a power best used to improve the resources—both environmental and social—that we can’t replace.