As a term, sustainability is so overused it’s lost a good deal of its true meaning. For many, it has become synonymous with “environmentalism”, and while the concepts are undeniably related, true sustainable development is about so much more than just “going green”.

Sustainable development in business: a definition

A simple way to think about sustainable development is that it is a way of operating that allows a business to succeed and achieve growth today, while making it easier for future generations to do the same or better tomorrow. To be clear, that’s not just in an environmental sense, but in a socio-economic sense as well…it’s about finding ways to make a genuine, positive impact on the world.

Myth busted: why sustainable development is good for business growth

In my view, sustainable development goes hand in hand with long-term business growth precisely because it rejects short-term thinking. In 2016, people are much more conscientious consumers, workers and demand a whole lot more from businesses in terms of sustainability. They don’t want gestures, they want true sustainable development. This trend is only set to continue and businesses that aren’t looking to operate sustainably are in genuine danger of being left behind. The challenge is, of course, knowing where to start…

Putting into practice

Taking the decision to become a more sustainable business is a big one. It entails putting the environmental and socio-economic principles at the very heart of almost every decision your business makes. It is a constant battle, but an incredibly worthwhile one to fight.

We’ve learnt a lot over the years, so we wanted to share with you some ideas for ways to make a business more sustainable. Some can be implemented in just a few minutes, some will take months and others years. Not all of them are right for every business, but they all offer viable options for a more sustainable way of working.

Short-term – ideas you could do today

  1. Look for quick hits. Some things can be done immediately – energy efficient lightbulbs, recycling policies and ensuring computers are turned off at the end of the day all only take a moment to set up but are a great first step. Other ideas include ensuring lights are turned off when a room is empty, and encouraging employees to use carpool or use public transport when coming to work.
  2. Create a sustainability mission statement. Doing so will help you to define your goals, and give you something to work towards. Writing your statement down will help to shape your thought process and a paragraph is certainly enough for starters.
Medium-term – ideas to do this year
  1. Develop a long-term plan. As soon as is reasonable, develop a plan that sets out what your targets are, how you are going to achieve them, and by when. Set milestones and measure performance against them. Whether you overachieve or underachieve, use this information to become more effective in the future.
  2. Change the way you operate. In the medium-term, you can look to make more substantial changes to the way you do business. Where possible tie these changes into your growth objectives to ensure you have a strong business case to make.
  3. Consider a staff well-being programme. There are numerous ways you can engage your team to make them happier and more productive. Early finishes on Friday, gym memberships, learning and development programmes are all options to consider.
  4. Engage with stakeholders. Once a sustainability programme is up and running, it’s a good idea to keep your team members, your customers and your suppliers in the loop about your accomplishments. Doing so will give your image a boost, and can inspire customer loyalty and generate new business opportunities.
Long-term – ideas to do in the next five years
  1. Sustainable sourcing. At Union, we created Union Direct Trade, our coffee sourcing initiative which enables us to select high quality coffee while improving the livelihoods of coffee farmers. This means we can ensure that the money we pay farmers for their coffee covers their cost of production, allows them to invest in their land, and enables them to provide for their families. We think this is the truest example of sustainability because coffee farming is often their only access to cash. Responsible sourcing is applicable to every business in every industry, and this requires interrogating the decision making process on how resources and materials are sourced.
  2. Be consistent. New initiatives often fail when the initial enthusiasm fades which is why it’s important to keep at it. Team members at every level of the organisation need to be proactively engaged and on-board. You might also consider becoming a member of the Ethical Trading Initiative ( which can support the development of new processes.
  3. Zero landfill. For manufacturers, or food companies, aim to achieve a zero landfill scenario. Research online whether your by-products may be of use elsewhere…you may even earn a profit from it!

By Steven Macatonia, Co-founder of Union Hand-Roasted Coffee