Susanne Conway is a sustainability consultant on business strategy and brand.
Among all the devastating news of 2020, one article, in particular, made my heart sink. “Human-made materials now outweigh Earth’s entire biomass”. To me, this visualised much of the irreversible damage our species has done to our planet. So, what do we do next? Where do we put all this stuff? How do we stop the pile from growing?
Not only is our house on fire, it is also in dire need of a great decluttering.
In a time when, according to the 2021 Edelman Trust Barometer, business becomes “more trusted than the government in 18 of 27 countries” much of the expectation is on the corporate world. But how can businesses play their part – and in doing so, build a competitive advantage?
Let’s use the brilliant 6 principles for tidying up from Marie Kondo to look at what companies can do to help sort our planet’s mess:
- Commit yourself to tidying up
It is tempting to reach for delaying tactics or easy promises when faced with a big tidying job. While there is a lot of ongoing talk about sustainability, businesses can show tangible commitment by setting targets – preferably science-based, linked to the Paris Agreement, with ambitious dates. These can only be reached with genuine commitment from leadership and internal engagement at all levels.
- Imagine your ideal lifestyle
The world’s “ideal lifestyle” is embodied by the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). How can your company contribute to making these a reality? Which of them are important to your stakeholders and how do you build them into your strategy?
- Finish discarding first
In the decluttering context, this helps you learn from past mistakes and understand which things you actually need. In terms of business sustainability, reviewing your carbon footprint on both a corporate level and by product life cycle can help you understand where and how to reduce your environmental impact.
- Tidy by category, not by location
The big wins will come from whole industries working together, or even cross-sector partnerships. Initiatives such as Ellen Macarthur Foundation’s New Plastics Economy is a great example of tackling systems change across different industries, institutions, and countries, and there are many other networks that your business can tap into or contribute to.
- Follow the right order
Every little step helps, and small actions are better than none. However, to truly make an impact on our planet’s mess – and turn sustainability into a competitive advantage – the work starts at the core of the business. When a company’s purpose, vision and strategic direction genuinely incorporate sustainability, they provide direction for the product, marketing, finance and other rooms in your house to follow.
- Ask yourself if it sparks joy
Keep checking that you’re doing the right thing. And don’t just ask yourself – ask your employees (60% of millennials and generation Zs want a “sense of purpose” from their job), your customers and your suppliers (it will help them reach their own sustainability targets).
The key to decluttering the planet – as opposed to our homes – is that, despite the misleading language, there is no “away” to throw things. When we tidy our things we sell them, donate to charity, pass down or “take them to the skip”. The planet has no skip. For businesses to help tidy the mess up we need them to reduce waste significantly throughout the value chain, as well as innovate with the principles of the circular economy. Keep natural resources in circulation. Design for longevity. Disrupt traditional business models. Something to spark joy for both enterprise and earth!
If you’d like help with your sustainability “decluttering”, we’re happy to talk.