Sustainability is the new successful
There is a common belief when it comes to the practice of sustainability that it is the opposite of doing real business. The stigma goes something like this: “Sustainability means doing less, using less and making less money; business means doing more, using more and making more money.” Although this is the most common phenomenon in sustainable business, it doesn’t have to be. With the right people and mindset on board, sustainability can be the new successful, in more ways than just money-wise. In broadening our mindsets to what is really important and what is truly viewed as success within a company, we need to change our perspective on what exactly we perceive as success. We need to rewire our thoughts in a way to see these two concepts (sustainability and success) almost inseparable from each other, creating a thinking pattern that “one simply cannot exist without the other”. These concepts need to start having the same level of importance and urgency for modern-day entrepreneurs and companies. Only in this way can we truly create sustainable and successful companies. (J, O’Sullivan. 2018.)
Most companies aim for long-term success and in this current world we are living in, the only way to reach this goal is to create a business based on a sustainable foundation. What exactly does it mean for a company to be successful? What is sustainable business defined as ? How can a company make money while being sustainable?
Although money and profit is an important and essential part of a business’ success, there are so many more aspects to consider that affect companies’ overall success. Small milestones and goals reached within the business usually lead to bigger overall successes, this highlights the importance of frequent evaluation of a company’s achievements. (M, Kappel 2017.)
Success factor number one. Customer satisfaction. This is one of the most important aspects that determines a company’s long-term success, especially smaller ones. In order for customers to come back for seconds and purchase from the company over and over, they need to be satisfied with what they are getting from the experience. First impressions count a lot here. Besides sending surveys, asking for feedback, small questions such as “did you find everything you were looking for?” can go a long way. The customer wants to feel like they are somehow helping you develop your product and service, and in this way it is a win-win situation for both parties. The customer feels like their voice is heard, and the company gains perspective on how to improve their products and services in the future. (M, Kappel 2017.)
Next up, there is tracking the company’s finances. This is probably the most visible way of seeing success and that is why sometimes it is mistaken as the only aspect of success. Although it is not the only aspect, it is still a very essential one. There are three “financial statements” that need to be tracked consistently to get an overview on the company’s financial success. These 3 statements are essential to measure a business’ (especially small ones) growth. Number one in line: the income statement, this evaluates the overall growth of the business by comparing the profits and losses within. Next is the balance sheet, this is where the state of the business’ finances are presented. The balance sheet calculates the business’ debit and credit, showing what money belongs to the company and what does not. Last but not least, the cash flow statement. This statement simply shows the cash that is present in your company at that specific moment. (M, Kappel 2017.)
If the company is gaining reputation, this will show by the amount of new clients the business gets. This is a very small observation to make, yet it can tell a lot about the overall success of the business, especially the marketing aspect. Keeping a client list of new customers and creating an average monthly amount, can be a great method to track the success of your company’s name. (M, Kappel 2017.)
Without employee satisfaction, customer satisfaction is impossible. Employees are most likely the first impression of your company and sometimes the only impression, therefore, their wellbeing within the company is of utter importance. They affect the business’ sales, culture, customer satisfaction and so much more. A good way of tracking success in employee satisfaction is by frequently conducting some kind of feedback form where they can reflect on what works for them and what does not. In this way the business can improve their strategy within the workforce sector. Keep up with the trends. When measuring a business’ success, the current market plays a huge role. Trends can cause a business’ profitability to fluctuate quite a lot and therefore it needs to be considered when it comes to measuring the success. (M, Kappel 2017.)
Last but not least, it is always a necessity to reflect on your own presumptions. Success is measured in how well the business reached its set goals and objectives, reflecting on these will help a lot to see in which areas the business was most successful and in which areas it was least. Personal satisfaction is a very important part of this process, in order for the business to grow even more, the owner needs to feel satisfied with its progress. (M, Kappel 2017.)
“The property of being environmentally sustainable; the degree to which a process or enterprise is able to be maintained or continued while avoiding the long-term depletion of natural resources” is the written definition of sustainable by internet dictionaries. Sustainable is not only seen from the perspective of production, but also from the perspective of the lifestyle, culture and business. It doesn’t matter, what is the perspective, but the definition of the word is based on the same facts: the action which isn’t damaging or running out the resources. (Oxford 2019; Merriam Webster 2022; Jacobsen 2011, 9.)
Sustainability in the business is able to be measured and seen in many ways. In the sustainable business world the questions are not focusing on what the company produces and the surface of the final product or the service. The more important aspect is to know how the company produces it and the visibility of the process, quality, price, manufacture and management as well as materials, working conditions and waste. (Jacobsen 2011, 9.) Many companies which are based on sustainability values have also been encouraged to find the answer to the same question by taking part of the social media campaign #fashionrevolutionweek which main idea is to ask the question: who made your product? The campaign stands for visibility and sustaibability values. (Instagram 2022.)
In the business world sustainability can be divided in two main perspectives: social responsibility and environmental responsibility. The base of the social responsibility are the values, norms, rules and beliefs of the company and it is seen as a part of social sciences. Those factors determine a lot, how the company works and how responsible it is. The examples of the social responsibility are child labor, work conditions, ethical questions, working and leading culture as well as achieving equality. (Jacobsen 2011, 11-12.)
Environmental responsibility is based on physical and biological sciences and it is able to view it from the perspective of environmental load, renewable or nonrenewable materials as well as industry process all the way through all activities. Environmental effects are able to be measured by the capacity of the world, global warming carbon footprint and consumption of natural resources. Studies all around the world show alarming facts of environmental responsibility and calling for action. (Jacobsen 2011, 12-14.) Many countries and companies already have plans for environmental responsibility and climate policy. The Finnish Government also has a “Climate neutral Finland 2035” plan to take steps to be more sustainable and take action towards global warming and depletion of natural resources. (Ministry of the Environment 2022.)
Walking the talk
In order for a company to “walk the talk” – meaning, to be as sustainable as they state they are, sustainability needs to become part of the core of the company. It needs to be a core value and a foundation that the company is built upon. If a company strives to be classified as a sustainable one, sustainability needs to be seen as equally important as other business aspects such as marketing. There has been a stigma created among the sustainable society that if you cannot state that your company is 100% sustainable, it is not sustainable at all. This stigma is the exact reason why many (actual sustainable) companies are so difficult to find, because they have the fear of being judged for being 85% sustainable instead of 100%. This results in an even more serious issue. When companies are not transparent about their exact sustainability values, consumers might feel safer to support the wrong companies who are greenwashing their brands. That is why sustainable values in a company need to be set and said out loud. (K, Housel. 2022.)
According to Karen Housel, blog writer with a degree in Environmental Science, there are 3 core values that sustainable companies tend to share. These values are: using only all organic materials, having fair wages and prices and being charitable at heart. Following these three simple values, will lead to huge results and it is a great starting point to transform any company into a sustainable one. (K, Housel. 2022.)
The first value, using all organic materials and ingredients, might be the most basic rule to follow. These materials are mainly pure fibers that don’t have any strong artificial, harmful substances inside of them. This basic rule might require some company research on what materials are pure, but in the long-run it is completely worth it. (K, Housel. 2022.)
Having fair wages and fair prices should not even be something to consider, this value is an essential and humane one. Underpaid workforce is a no-go in sustainable companies, because these companies want what is best for everyone, including their employees. To ensure that the company’s product/service follows this sustainable rule, transparent suppliers need to be taken into consideration. In order to create a sustainable product/ service, the origin of the needed materials need to also be sustainable and the more transparent businesses are about their sustainable values, the better it is to support them. (K, Housel. 2022.)
This above-mentioned value aligns with the next, being charitable at heart. Sustainability is all about creating harmony between people, the environment and the economy and therefore being charitable is one of the main values in this industry. Therefore things like charitable donations, transparency about products/services or employing refugees are all charitable acts resulting in a more sustainable company. (K, Housel. 2022.)
According to Environmental Magazine (2022) companies are learning, more than ever, sustainable and eco-friendly marketing strategies as a part of their business. The Magazine (2022) has listed five steps on how to make business more green and those tips include adopting digital platforms, using green color in the logo, using sustainable products, recycling waste and supporting other eco-friendly companies.
These steps can be the little steps to the more sustainable business model, but they also might be green wash, which is masked to show consumers green values, even though the core of the company is very far from it. Greenwashing means marketing and advertising where a company sells the product, brand or service to be more sustainable than it is in the real world. The unethical part of it is that green values are trending and much research tells us that the world needs action in that sector. There are multiple people who want to change their habits and help the environment, but if it’s only the marketing trick of the company, it won’t happen. (The Link 2020)
If sustainability is really the value of the company, it will be seen in the action all the way from the core to the face. It also exists in the company’s everyday life and choices. But how to recognize, if it’s only the marketing trick or the company, who really stands for the green values and wants to find better, long term and more sustainable solutions in the world?
Sustainable business in the real life
Sustainable business is a term for the companies who positively affect the environment, economy and society. (Sweden 2022) Sustainability is all about finding solutions, putting effort and making things different in the business world in the perspectives of environment, society and economy. It also utilizes local work and skills as well as creating reused products from the materials we already have or have used in the world. Sustainability is a value of the many companies and brands and they are putting more focus on it as well as driving into their culture and processes. (Verksamt 2021; Sweden 2022)
In the business world sustainability and eco-friendliness are trending and some of the, even very big, companies have taken it part of their business plan. The question how true it is and is it seen all the way in the action, is another question. But there are also companies, who have created a business based on the sustainability values and have built the company all the way up to support eco based processes as well as sustainability. And they are transparent, visible and open by sharing and proving all the steps and actions of what is happening in their company and business.
Underwears from the old fishing net and transparent pricing – Real life examples
The Other Danish Guy creates underwear by using old fishing nets and remaking it as a sustainable fabric. The company also opens their process on their website as well as shares a strong connection with the sea and nature, which was one of the reasons to find a sustainable way to produce underwear which are not only sustainable choice but also comfortable to wear. (The other Danish Guy 2022; Saarvola 2019.)
Halla x Halla is a brand who is using old fishing nets, carpet flooring and fabrics from the ocean and remaking them as fashionable swimwears. The company is owned by two finnish people, who are opening their company values, product manufacturing process, their factory workers as well as their brand transparency in their website. The slogan of the brand: “We want to lead the way to more sustainable fashion” also stands for the more sustainable solutions. They have planned and designed the swimsuits to be quality and to be able to be used for many years and for the same ideology they have made the swim suits as a two in one, so it is easy to turn them out and have a different style to wear. (Halla x halla 2022)
“In 2015, we were wondering why there wasn’t any ethically-made, sustainable, but reasonably-priced quality activewear available for an active lifestyle. As we did not come up with an acceptable reason or explanation, we founded Népra.” says sustainable activewear brand Nepra about how the company has started. Nepra trusts for the recycled materials and transparency as well as factories which are as close as possible. They have also told their pricing openly by showing it for their customers on their website as well as providing repair tools and materials on their website to repair clothes if something happens to them. The culture of Nepra is very clear about repairing old, taking care of them since they also have put a lot of effort into teaching their customers those skills and made clothes to support it too. For example, all of their clothes have a little pocket for the washing guides. That is to keep it readable for a longer time to take care of the clothes. (Nepra 2022)
Restaurant Nolla in Helsinki got a prize: the best restaurant of the year 2022. The prize was nominated by the Gastronomy club and they justify their choice by their creativity, skills and the teamwork and the values of sustainability of the whole Nolla community which are seen in each sector of the restaurant. Restaurant Nolla is supporting local farmers and cooking fine dining standart food without compromising sustainability. The sustainability is seen in each sector from the farmers to the food and from the kitchen technology to workers. (Restaurant Nolla 2022; Rantavaara 2022.)
EcoUp has invented Ekovilla for new construction and renovation projects, which is made from recycled wool fiber. The company is standing for the sustainable values with their products but as well as inside the company, too. It is not only a great invention which has changed the whole construction and renovation field to be more sustainable, but it is also a million business. EcoUp has listed up to the stock market’s and their sale was, in five months, 18,4 million euros which was 22,7% more than a year ago. (EcoUp 2022; Erkkilä 2022.) That also supports the idea that there is space and need for the more sustainable solutions and it is business, not only the safe steps for the world.
In reality, we are living in a world that needs to change their ways of living and it all starts with businesses changing their ways.
Success has more than one meaning and expands beyond just the financial growth or profitability of a company. It is time for businesses to expand their minds and redefine their success factors in a way that sustainability becomes a top priority at the core of the business. Only in this way can a business truly strive for success during these current times. Things like exposing green washers, treating employees humanely, using organic materials, etc. are examples of new essential activities needed in modern day companies. Another essential activity is creating social media awareness such as the #fashionrevolutionweek mentioned above, where companies around the world take a stand together to improve the global fashion world together.
In 2022 the main focus of this hashtag was on exposing unequal treatment and exploitation within big or small fashion companies. These are the activities needed. With thorough research, it can be clearly observed that many companies are doing these things more often and these are the companies of the future. Sustainability is the new success.
EcoUp. 2022. EcoVilla Thermal Insulation. Ekovilla is a carbon neutral, Finnish thermal insulation made of purely natural materials. Read 27.4.2022. Link: https://ecoup.fi/en/carbon-neutral-thermal-insulation/
Erkkilä, Jorma. 2022. Salkunrakentajat. EcoUp jatkaa kasvun tiellä – geopoliittinen tilanne luo epävarmuutta. Read 29.4.2022. Link: https://www.salkunrakentaja.fi/2022/03/ecoup-kasvu-geopolitiikka/
Halla x Halla. 2022. Sustainability. Read 27.4.2022. Link: https://www.hallaxhalla.com/sustainability/
Instagram. 2022. Fashion Revolution Week. Tags. Read: 18.4.2022. Link: https://www.instagram.com/explore/tags/fashionrevolutionweek/ Jakobsen, Joseph J. 2011. Sustainable business and industry. Designing and Operating for Social and Environmental Responsibility. American Society of Quality. Milwaukee. Wisconsin.
J, O’Sullivan. 2018. How businesses can be sustainable while still making money. Read on 13.04.2022. How Can Businesses Be Sustainable While Still Making Money? | Informi – Small Business Support.
K, Housel. 2022. Truly sustainable brands have these 3 values in common. Read on 16.04.2022. Truly Sustainable Brands Have These 3 Values In Common — The Good Trade.
M, Kappel. 2017. 6 Ways to Measure Small Business Success. Read on 13.04.2022. 6 Ways To Measure Small Business Success (forbes.com)
Merriam Webster. 2022. Dictionary. Sustainable. Read: 18.4.2022. Link: https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/sustainable.
Ministry of the Environment. 2022. Government’s climate policy: climate-neutral Finland by 2035. Read: 18.4.2022. Link: https://ym.fi/en/climate-neutral-finland-2035
Oxford. 2019. How Sustainable is sustainability. Oxford College of Procurement and supply. Oxford English Dictionary. Read: 18.4.2022. Link: https://www.oxfordcollegeofprocurementandsupply.com/how-sustainable-is-sustainability/
Rantavaara, Minja. 2022. Helsingin Sanomat. Ruoka. Vuoden 2022 ravintolaksi valittiin helsinkiläinen Nolla. Read: 29.4.2022. Link: https://www.hs.fi/ruoka/art-2000008712508.html
Restaurant Nolla. 2022. Welcome to Nolla – a restaurant where great food goes hand in hand with sustainability. Read 27.4.2022. Link: https://www.restaurantnolla.com/restaurant
Saarvola, Mikko. 2019. Future Builders. Futurebuilders Q&A: Tommi Lähde “the other danish guy”. Read: 29.4.2022. Link: https://wearefuturebuilders.com/futurebuilders-qa-the-other-danish-guy/
Sweden. 2022. Sustainable business. Swedish companies lead by example, making sustainability and human rights matter. Read 27.4.2022. Link: https://sweden.se/work-business/business-in-sweden/sustainable-business
The Environmental Magazine. 2022. 5 eco friendly marketing strategies. Read: 20.4.2022. Link: https://emagazine.com/5-eco-friendly-marketing-strategies/
The Link. 2020. How corporations trick you into buying their sustainable stuff. Read: 20.4.2022. Link: https://thelinknewspaper.ca/article/how-corporations-trick-you-into-buying-their-sustainable-stuff
The Other Danish Guy. 2022. The other Danish Guy cycle. Read 27.4.2022. Link: https://theotherdanishguy.fi/pages/smoothshell
Verksamt. 2021. Goverment services for the business. What is sustainable business? Read 27.4.2022. Link: https://www.verksamt.se/web/international/starting/sustainability/what-is-sustainable-business
We Nepra. 2022. Responsible and values. Read 27.4.2022. Link: https://www.wearnepra.com/pages/responsibility-feelgood-wearnepra
Written with Doneé Barendze.