7 Sustainable Business Trends You Should Know About

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Sustainability in business is about saving valuable resources AND increasing profits. This week we’re previewing business sustainability trends you should know about.

Sustainable business practices are on the rise. Businesses that embrace them are reaping benefits — with lower energy costs, less waste and high productivity — and will continue to do so. By looking upcoming trends, we can better understand what the future holds. We’ve compiled some of the top sustainable business trends from business experts across the web and put them all in one place.

Keep reading to discover trends — and pitfalls — that will help your business become more sustainable!

From The 10 Top Sustainable Business Trends & Investment Opportunities for the Next Decade

Alternative Energy, Energy Efficiency and Weatherization

The use of fossil fuels must be dramatically reduced if civilization as we know it is to survive. Though global fossil fuel consumption subsidies fell from $558 billion in 2008 to $312 billion in 2009, the reduction was largely a result of changes in international energy prices and domestic pricing policies, rather than from subsidies being curtailed. In addition, governments provide domestic fossil fuel production subsidies aimed at bolstering domestic supply, valued at an additional $100 billion per year. This is simply unsustainable both economically and environmentally.

Solar, hydro, wind, geothermal, co-generation and even mechanically generated energy (you on a treadmill) will experience an explosion of growth as, inevitably, carbon is taxed and fossil fuels run out. Whether driven by the negative health implications, whether that disrupts business supply chains, or the environmental disasters of getting it out of the ground – the age of oil, gas and coal will come to a much more abrupt end that most of us can imagine.

Local, organic, and fair-trade food and the technology to support small-scale agriculture

Since 2000, organic farming has experienced a 150 percent increase in practice: it is now done on 37.2 million hectares worldwide, a 5.7 percent increase from 2008 (Source: Worldwatch Institute). In 2010, imports of Fair Trade coffee grew 62 percent over 2009, cocoa imports grew by 67 percent, citrus imports grew to 96 percent and sales of Fair Trade sugar increased by 60 percent. (Learn more about how Fair Trade Certified Organic Products are skyrocketing).

The world is already unable to feed itself, and there will be about 25,000 more people arriving for dinner tonight. We’ll be growing more food locally – on rooftops (already projected to be a $100 billion industry in the next decade) on the sides of buildings, in community gardens, in greenhouses build in inner cities. Lettuce simply can’t fly business class from Beijing to New York for much longer.

From 6 Latest Trends in Corporate Sustainability

The “tone from the top” is key to heightened awareness and preparedness for sustainability risks

This trend presents a shift in the corporate sustainability conversation, focusing now more on risk reduction and mitigation. The study explains that “companies that have a greater level of engagement from the CEO and the board have much closer alignment between what they voluntarily disclose (such as CDP and DJSI) and what they are mandated to disclose (such as 10-K filings).”

According to the study, 68 percent of the participants said, “my organization regularly discusses sustainability-related risks and opportunities with investors and other stakeholders.” The report offers this statistic as an indication of a growing involvement of the C-suite in sustainability issues. This data is interesting as it contradicts the anecdotal evidence we hear quite often about CEOs and CFOs talking with analysts and investors who never ask about sustainability.

In general this trend reflects a phenomenon we see in many companies – when the CEO is passionate about sustainability then the company takes this issue seriously. When the CEO doesn’t feel sustainability is that important the company usually lags behind.

Increased risk and proximity of natural resource shortages

51 percent of the participants said they anticipate their company’s core business objectives to be affected by natural resource shortages such as water, energy, forest products and rare earth minerals and metals in the next three to five years. Not surprisingly, water (76 percent) was ranked by survey participants as the number-one cause for concern among resources “most at risk.”

There is no shortage in reports explaining the importance of deploying an effective water stewardship strategy or the need to manage the short- and long-term climate physical risks, but the question is to what degree companies really take it seriously. To use an expression from PwC, we’ll probably need more ‘postcards from the future’ (i.e. severe weather events and their economic impacts) to see these concerns evolve into action

From 7 Sustainability Trends to Watch for in 2013

Consumer Engagement

Consumer engagement is increasingly driving sustainability programs, expanding feedback beyond shareholder and employee engagement. Ahead-of-the-curve companies are tapping into consumer preferences, commentary, and emotional connections to elevate their sustainability program’s impact. For example, consumer surveys on sustainability may drive charitable giving, product labeling or research and development investments.

“Short-term-ism”

Credible companies are leveraging sustainability principles into their long-term strategic plans. Others have adopted the mantle of sustainability as a way to elevate their brand for the short term – a tactic that may backfire with customers seeking companies with a true commitment to environmental and social leadership. Red flags for “short-term-ism” include a lack of transparent multi-year metrics and goals, a “one-off” approach to sustainability focused on a single program, and erratic sustainability reporting.

Responsible Supply Chains

It’s no longer enough to frame sustainability programs by owned operations.

Recent headlines about working conditions at manufacturing plants have forced companies to seriously examine their supply chain partners. Beyond supplier compliance programs and on-site audits, companies are being asked to provide educational opportunities, housing and workplace safety enhancements to these employees. The content of product components and/or ingredients is also under scrutiny for health, safety and environmental integrity. Transparency about sourcing, transporting, and processing is now rising as a critical business issue to protect the long-term reputation of companies increasingly reliant on outsourcing and international suppliers.

Here’s to a prosperous and sustainable New Year!

ACF Enterprises LLC is a women-owned company that helps small businesses integrate and measure sustainable practices through online training, certification programs and consulting.

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