In the past, many organizations considered sustainability issues outside the wheelhouse of business. And yet, there’s an important business case to be made for sustainability. More and more companies are embracing the concept of the triple bottom line, recognizing that there’s room to realize profit and social and environmental benefits—and that doing so can sometimes bring unexpected business advantages.

This realization has led to the development of a whole new business model known as corporate social responsibility (CSR), wherein even for-profit businesses work to achieve social and environmental goals in addition to their organizational objectives.

With this in mind, businesses seeking to embrace sustainability in its various forms can pursue several different strategies. Below is an overview of four different types of sustainable business practices you may want to consider pursuing.

Examples of Sustainable Business Practices

1. Partner With Nonprofit Organizations

Many organizations interested in embracing sustainability stop short of implementing any concrete initiatives simply because it’s new to them, and the learning curve can be quite extensive. An employee or sustainability board tasked with generating a sustainability plan for the organization can quickly become overwhelmed, leading to inaction.

One way around this, especially for businesses new to the world of sustainability, is to form partnerships with nonprofit organizations in the space that interests them. Many such organizations exist and have the resources and experience necessary to help you get your efforts off the ground. Even those that cannot help you conceptualize or implement policies in your organization will be happy for support, which can help you make an impact even while you’re first getting started.

Whether you’re interested in racial or gender equity, labor concerns, environmental issues, or something else, a nonprofit likely exists that aligns with your organization’s specific goals.

Sustainable Business Strategy

2. Educate Your Employees

Often, the businesses with the most impactful sustainability initiatives are successful because they educate their employees about the issues and include them in the process.

This is important for multiple reasons. First, educating your employees increases buy-in throughout the organizational chart, making it less likely that you’ll slip back into old ways. Second, it empowers your employees to do their part, which can go far in boosting morale and helping everyone realize they have a role to play.

Exactly how you go about educating your employees about the issues that your organization cares about will depend on your situation. Some options include weaving language around sustainability into company addresses; organizing webinars, lectures, or lunch-and-learns for employees to attend; or even purchasing corporate social responsibility training.

3. Encourage Volunteerism

Another excellent means of involving your employees in the sustainability process is to take steps that encourage volunteerism. There are many strategies you might pursue to achieve this goal.

For example, you might provide paid time off for employees who wish to volunteer, sometimes known as volunteer time off (VTO). Even providing as little as one or two days of VTO per year can go a long way in empowering your employees. Similarly, you can consider organizing a company-wide volunteer drive or day of giving, wherein your employees are encouraged to volunteer at local charities or for causes they’re passionate about.

Related: 5 Examples of Successful Sustainability Initiatives

4. Rethink Your Supply Chain

If your business produces and sells a physical product, analyzing your supply chain has the potential to illuminate significant opportunities to embrace sustainability, such as:

  • Sourcing materials responsibly: If you source raw materials or individual components from outside vendors, do you know how these materials are procured? The simple act of ensuring that your partners follow fair labor practices, such as disavowing child labor or embracing fair-trade agreements, can have a lasting impact on your company’s social footprint.
  • Reducing consumption of natural resources: While it may not be obvious at first glance, there may be significant opportunities to reduce the number of natural resources your company consumes as a part of doing business. You might, for example, rethink your packaging or streamline your manufacturing process to reduce plastic waste.
  • Reducing carbon emissions: Likewise, there are many ways you might reduce your organization’s carbon emissions. Installing smart sensors within your facilities can ensure that heating, cooling, and electricity are automatically shut off when it isn’t necessary. Moving the production of physical goods closer to the end customer can significantly reduce transportation-related emissions. On-site solar- or wind-power installations can allow you to replace some, if not all, of your electrical needs.

One Destination, Many Paths

There are many different paths a business can take to become more socially and environmentally sustainable. The one you choose will ultimately depend on several factors, including your organization’s size and structure, whether you produce a physical product, and your specific sustainability goals. Partnering with nonprofit organizations, educating your employees about the issues, encouraging volunteerism, and rethinking each aspect of your supply chain can all be excellent methods of becoming more sustainable.

Of course, an organization that has never pursued a sustainability initiative may experience some growing pains as it works through its first campaign. Professionals who are interested in embracing sustainability in their current, or future, roles can benefit from completing an online sustainability course, like Sustainable Business Strategy offered by HBS Online.

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In Sustainable Business Strategy, you’ll learn how to analyze the different business models capable of driving change and explore how a business can consciously address some of today’s widest-reaching challenges, such as climate change and income inequality. You’ll also examine the role of the government, investors, and customers in driving demand for sustainability.

Are you interested in leading your business to a more sustainable future? Explore our three-week online course Sustainable Business Strategy to become a purpose-driven leader, or view the other courses that fall within our Business in Society topic area.

Tim Stobierski

About the Author

Tim Stobierski is a marketing specialist and contributing writer for Harvard Business School Online.