Making your business more sustainable

Americans are becoming more sustainable. Should your business?

10 minutes

April 21, 2022 Adecco

Person in meeting holding eco-friendly graphic.

As climate change news dominate the headlines, the global population continues to look to corporations to drive environmental impact. And Americans have given sustainability the green light.

2/3 Consumers consciously became more sustainable since the pandemic; 85% Reported making a sustainable purchase in the past 5 years; 2 in 3 Report that businesses are responsible for driving change.

In the US, the majority of the population believes that businesses bear just as much, if not more, responsibility than the government for leading environmental and social change.

As Americans vote every day with their dollars, organizations could soon be in the red for not going green. 

The rise in sustainable lifestyles

Before the lockdowns, traffic jams, eating out, and air travel were part of the norm.  As the pandemic hit and people stayed inside, we saw nature rebound. The closure of malls, movie theaters, and markets drove many to parks and outdoor spaces as a reprieve from quarantine. Living in a cleaner, greener environment has had a profound effect on Americans, inciting what some are calling a green revolution.

In a new report documenting changes in consumer behavior, studies have found that close to one-in-five buyers have seen the pandemic as a chance to reinvent themselves, making the following greener changes.

68% Limit the use of single plastics; 43% Choose to buy from brands with sustainable practices; 36% Reduce their consumption of animal products

Stuck inside and armed with their computers, many Americans have had the time and resources to become more educated about brands and their stances on sustainability. Numerous online directories, such as Good On You, have popped up during the pandemic where users can easily type in a company name and see how they’re rated on their ethical and sustainable practices. Have a bad rating on one of these directories and you’ll risk consumers refusing to do business with you. 

Green certifications have also become increasingly commonplace with Americans checking for fair trade symbols, certified-organic stickers, or energy star ratings before making purchases. 4 out of 10 people say they are more likely to buy a product with a green seal or certification mark.

Going green isn’t limited to the products we buy – it’s also influencing the way we work. Despite a global pandemic, the amount of green jobs in America are growing. Jobs in renewable energy and the environment have increased 237% over the past five years (compared to jobs in the oil field which have only grown 19%). This is only expected to increase as green government initiatives continue to be passed into legislation. Currently, 3 million American jobs are green jobs.

Experts predict that there will be 24 million new jobs globally created by the shift towards sustainability. In preparation for the surge in green jobs, Americans have started to reskill and upskill themselves to master green skills. Want to learn about the green skills most needed for the future? Check out our whitepaper Skills for the Green Economy for a breakdown of the skills both workers and companies need to invest in.  

Who exactly is going green?

While reports show an increase in green behavior across all generational groups, some are emerging more sustainable than others, according to one study.  Younger millennials (ages 25-32) account for 30% of retail sales (an estimated $1.4 trillion a year). 75% of them say they consider sustainability when making a purchase, almost 10% higher than the average of all respondents.

As for the older generations? Pre-Boomers, Baby Boomers, Gen X, and older millennials are similarly engaged in sustainable practices, focusing more on individual behaviors. The most reported behaviors include limiting single-use plastics, reducing air travel, and shopping online.

While the greenest countries in the world have traditionally been European, the United States is picking up pace. Half of American consumers rate sustainability as a top 5 priority when making a purchase while the global willingness to pay for sustainable products is the highest in the United States.

How to make your business more sustainable

As consumers are becoming more sustainable, they are also becoming more educated, making it harder and harder to win over their trust and loyalty. However, businesses big and small can adopt greener practices to both appeal to their clients and future-proof their organization. Here’s how:

Create a sustainability plan

If you don’t already have one, creating a sustainability plan is the first step in developing a greener organization. First, investigate any environmental risks your business is contributing to. Does your company rely on fossil fuels? Can you downsize your offices? Does your company recycle any waste from manufacturing? Check this full list of business environmental risks and see which your organization can address.

Next, craft your plan with the aim to reduce these risks. This could be something as simple as cutting water usage over the next three months or creating monthly green challenges for your team members to participate in. Your goals should have clear objectives, a target completion date, and be measurable. Communicate these goals clearly to your organization – employees will need to know why and how you’re working to become more sustainable to be fully on board with adopting greener practices.

Be transparent

In becoming greener you won’t just need the trust of your employees – you’ll need to win over the trust of your consumers and clients. Havas’ Meaningful Brands Report found that just 34% of consumers think companies are transparent about their promises and commitments to sustainability.   

This means as a business you’ll have to go above and beyond to establish trust with your consumers, clients, and investors. Establish this transparency through sustainability reporting where you can fully disclose and communicate your sustainability goals and publicize data on how you’re working toward these goals. Luckily, there are several established reporting frameworks you can utilize:

Sustainability reporting is quickly becoming industry standard as 96% of the world’s top 250 companies and 80% of all companies globally release this data yearly.

Certify your environmental efforts

You go to the store looking to buy organic beef. One steak is packaged with a USDA certified organic label while another is packaged in plain saran wrap. Which do you walk out of the grocery store with?

Green certifications are another way to establish trust with your consumer and are instantly recognizable. By having an independent third party establishing that your product is green, buyers don’t have to worry that your business is over-inflating its environmental commitments.

Not all green certifications are made equal. As more and more are popping up in stores and supermarkets Americans are becoming more confused – and more distrustful – about unknown certifications. With over 350 green labels stick to the most well-known: The Green Seal, Energy Star, and Good Housekeeping seal to name a few.

Avoid greenwashing

As sustainable practices become more appealing to consumers and investors, companies are updating their marketing tactics to convey their environmental commitments. The problem? Many of these marketing campaigns embellish their stance on sustainability through a phenomenon called greenwashing.

Changing branding colors, using unverified green certifications, and making unsubstantiated claims in advertising campaigns are different types of greenwashing. For example, Coca-Cola launched a campaign for its Coca Cola Life product: Bottles were packaged with green labels emphasizing the recyclability of said bottles when in reality the Coca Cola company was ranked by Greenpeace as the leading plastic polluter in 2019

To avoid this, be clear about the environmental benefits of your products and back up any claims with data from your sustainability reports. Greenwashing can destroy any trust you’ve built in consumers in seconds, so make sure not to exaggerate any claims or produce misleading marketing campaigns. And don’t underestimate your consumer: Three-quarters of adults say they can determine whether a green claim is true or false.

Develop sustainable partnerships

Since the pandemic, companies have seen increased pressure to join other organizations in making sustainable initiatives. Make meaningful partnerships with green investors, local communities, nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), and other sustainable companies to foster real change and bring more trust/ awareness to your company. Register your business with the US Green Chamber of Congress to find partners and make connections with likeminded business leaders. 

Ensure that all supplies come from green sources. Working with any supplier that produces a lot of waste or exploits workers could be construed as supporting these practices and can damage trust established with your customers.

Sustainability isn’t just good for the environment- it’s good for business too. Sustainable businesses continue to outperform companies with no environmental stance while consumers are becoming more exclusive in the organizations they support. Since Americans are loyal to only a select few brands (thanks to an establishment of trust and similar ethical/environmental priorities), research has found that 75% of brands could disappear overnight and most people would find a replacement. Don’t be one of those brands. Develop a sustainability plan, show genuine care for environmental causes and you’ll have a loyal base of consumers and investors supporting your business.

At Adecco, we work to help make your company future-proof, including by helping make your business more sustainable. For more insights on how environmental initiatives are driving the future of work, read our article on green game-changers or see which skills are in high demand for companies as we enter the new green economy.