Leveraging Sustainability as a Competitive Advantage in Business

Environmental, social, and governance conditions are no longer considered ‘nice to have.’ Instead, they have become a must-have for any company hoping to maintain their place in the consumer market. Leveraging sustainability now provides a competitive advantage in business and provides a variety of benefits to organizations adopting sustainable business practices.

leveraging sustainabilityWhether you are a company attempting to set yourself apart by employing sustainable packing solutions, like packaging cartons and eco-friendly delivery services, or trying to break into a new market for increased capital return, understanding the importance of sustainability in business can propel you to new heights.

What is business sustainability?

Business sustainability is a term used to describe companies that conduct business with little to no harm to people or the planet, safeguarding their future business. Many essential and productive ways a business can move towards a sustainable business model include reducing greenhouse gas emissions, protecting nature, and conducting ethical business practices.

In 1987, the UN defined sustainability as “the ability to meet the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their needs.” This enduring definition underscores the long-term benefits of sustainability, reassuring businesses that their efforts today will secure a prosperous future.

How leveraging sustainability helps create a competitive advantage

It has long been accepted and believed that businesses only exist to make money. However, the rise in awareness surrounding the need for sustainability is growing faster than ever, with a focus shifting to how a business makes its money. Because consumers care about sustainability, leveraging sustainability by adopting sustainable business practices attracts consumers who choose your brand over others that don’t operate sustainably.

While many factors have contributed, a select number of key issues that dominate consumers’ minds when they choose products, including climate change, consumer demand, natural resources, and bad business—have prompted this intense focus on business sustainability.

corporate social responsibility
Image courtesy of Customer Insight Group

Simply put, there is only so much water, trees, and other natural resources available to use, and our expectation to use them infinitely is unrealistic. When one looks back at recent events like the banking industry collapse, the devastating BP oil spill, and the deadly collapse of a garment factory in Bangladesh, it becomes more evident how the desire for increased profit can result in serious consequences for people and the environment around us.

It should come as no surprise that more and more people are thinking more critically about their consumer habits, using the power of their money to support and showcase companies that are actively working towards a more sustainable future, employing eco-friendly business models and practices.

Top reasons to make the switch

Leveraging sustainability is becoming a leading trend in all industries, and making the switch can offer many desirable benefits for any business.

Competitive advantage

When conducting a traditional SWOT analysis, all companies should view sustainability as a strength and a positive way to set themselves apart from their competitors. In many instances, when consumers are considering their options, it can easily prove to be the deciding factor when making their final choice.

Some companies have taken this ‘first to market’ position to leverage themselves within their industries, not in terms of products or services but merely as leaders of a sustainability movement.

New opportunities & emerging markets

Entering any new market requires a two-step approach. First, you need to provide a product that is wanted or needed. Second, you need to provide services at a lower margin in established markets or enter markets that have not been diluted but show potential and demand.

Having a sustainable and desired product or service in one market can lead to positive and beneficial referrals in other markets, offering prime expansion opportunities. This equates to new sales in a rapidly growing market with increased brand loyalty.

Reputation and demand

In today’s market, sustainability is one of the most effective ways to build a loyal customer base. Now more than ever, consumers are showing a clear preference for companies delivering sustainable products and services alongside clear and precise marketing.

Breaking into this market will not only increase sales and reach a fast-growing audience that cares about their health and the health of the environment, but it can also deliver positive publicity to a business, which allows for potential partnerships and investment opportunities in the future.

Capital return

Many large and successful businesses look at how they can leverage sustainability practices to have better returns on capital expenditures operationally and commercially. When they are able to apply the most effective methods to match their sustainability goals, they can find ways to use their available resources effectively, which often leads to reduced service costs, supply chain savings, and reduced packaging.

This leads to increased profits and the opportunity for innovative ideas moving forward.

Attracting & retaining employees

During the COVID-19 pandemic, a unique phenomenon known as the ‘Great Resignation’ was observed. Record numbers of employees chose to leave their employer for a variety of reasons, including companies not having adequate corporate social responsibilities or CSR.

A study conducted in 2022 showed that a quarter of millennial and Gen-Z employees interviewed stated that a company having a sustainability agenda had influenced them to stay, as it created a sense of pride and accomplishment to be part of a company that was publicly and productively contributing to a more sustainable future. The increased loyalty meant corporations could save time, costs, and resources by avoiding the regular rehiring and retraining of new talent.

 Conclusion

Leveraging sustainability offers distinct benefits to companies adopting sustainable business practices. In addition to the benefits listed earlier, companies that protect the environment can feel good about helping to build a future where the planet can continue to sustain life.

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