With a recent move, from the outskirts of Boston back to Vermont (where I grew up), I am rediscovering my love for nature, the outdoors, and taking care of the environment. Shortly after our move, my husband and I began exploring our property to plot out a compost location and now have one that is propped on a stand for easy rotation (which to me, feels extremely fancy compared to the chicken-wire enclosure I grew up with). I also recently discovered the mass transportation system that Vermont offers, which is surprisingly convenient for such a rural area. Taking the bus twice a week combined with having one work-from-home day each week has allowed me to cut down my commuting emissions significantly. Among the other small day-to-day measures we take to ensure we are reducing our impact on the environment, my husband and I take advantage of BeesWrap instead of plastic wrap, reusable silicon sandwich bags instead of the throw-away plastic kind, and eco-modes on our hot water heater (this means quick showers!). Like many (possibly most) others, there is plenty more that we could and should be doing – but we’re working on it.
Now, I know all of these lifestyle efforts are important, especially when communities come together to promote waste reduction and environmental awareness on a larger scale (thinking about the upcoming plastics ban in Vermont), but I have recently been learning and thinking more about how crucial it is for businesses to make sustainable choices. I have attended a couple events through Vermont Businesses for Social Responsibility (VBSR) over the past few months, and I have been blown away by the level of awareness our local businesses have on these issues and the efforts that are being made at a corporate level across the state. Before these events, I thought Cx Associates was a bit of an anomaly in terms of the level of effort the company puts into making and encouraging sustainably responsible choices, but (fortunately) it seems that this is actually more of the norm in Vermont.
There are so many ways that a company can act responsibly when it comes to the environment. They can encourage their employees to live greener lives through green incentive programs, they can take measures to ensure their buildings are operating as efficiently as possible (here’s my shameless plug about hiring a commissioning agent), they can get involved in carbon-offsetting programs or even just simply make responsible and informed choices when ordering supplies. But what’s the next step? How can companies use their presence in the community and in the world to encourage a ripple effect so that everyone they interact with also begins to consider what they can do to help?
During one of the workshops I attended, Jake Elliott from SunCommon talked about the importance of asking about the sustainability efforts your clients, partners, vendors, and suppliers are making. This is such a simple concept, yet not something that I think I had ever considered. By simply asking a potential vendor if they have any green initiatives, you may encourage them to make a change.
I have personally started doing this in my daily work, and I have been pleasantly surprised by the level of effort some companies are already making and the willingness of other companies to discuss options/ideas. In instances where I learn that there aren’t policies in place that we would expect, we are either able to find another company who is acting more responsibly, or we can find our own ways to work around the issue. For example, we recently had an outing at a location that, unfortunately, was unable to compost our food scraps after lunch. Since we knew this in advance, we planned accordingly and took care of our own compost. We still operated by our values, and hopefully brought an important issue to the venue’s attention.
The more we ask for responsible behavior, the more we’re going to see it.
Another concept that came up was the idea of Issue Advocacy vs Cause Related Marketing. While there is nothing wrong with the latter, I found myself thrilled and almost surprised to learn about the former. The thought of promoting an idea or concept that is not a direct attempt to market your company seemed counter-intuitive. Based on my (quite) limited background in marketing, I have always had the impression that any messaging a company puts out needs to be for the soul purpose of marketing their services and bringing awareness to their brand. But, why shouldn’t companies engage in issue advocacy? This seems like a surefire way to educate and encourage their stakeholders to take action on issues that the company cares deeply about.
Of course, all businesses need to make money, and therefore attract customers through marketing efforts, but why can’t they also have causes they care deeply about and promote those as well? Every company is made up of individuals and all individuals have some values they hold dear. If we can leverage the public awareness of companies to promote those values and causes, why shouldn’t we? At some point we need to stop catering all our messages and efforts to what we think the customer wants and start asking them to meet us where we’re at. In doing so, we can start to encourage them to adopt our practices into their lives.
As businesses, we have an inflated opportunity to impact change in the community, and we need to take that responsibility and honor seriously.
Want to Share Your Ideas?
Have any cool ideas or strategies you’d like to share? Leave them in the comments and let’s start spreading more of these great ideas!