When it comes to building a “better” business, these days it’s not all about the bottom line. Savvy entrepreneurs are wise to focus on more than financial outcomes. In today’s marketplace, it’s not just what you’re selling, it’s about how you’re delivering your goods and services.

Social and environmental responsibility are key to building brand value and loyalty. This means going beyond “not harming” the environment or the community. Instead, “better” business practices mean putting standard operating procedures in place to make a positive impact and dedicating resources to charitable causes.

In addition to burnishing your brand and attracting buyers, socially and environmentally responsible businesses will also likely attract top talent from mission-aligned professionals who want to dedicate their talents to driving sales as well as affecting positive change.

Sometimes it’s hard for an entrepreneur to know how to start and build “better” practices into their company’s brand identity, so here are a few ideas for starting on the journey to making your business better.

What’s the next step? To find out, start by doing a complete accounting of past donations, volunteer hours, current environmental practices, calculating your company’s carbon footprint, identifying which causes to support, etc

#1 Set Your “Better” GPS
Many companies have mission and vision statements, but does your business have a mission focused on social and environmental responsibility? Writing down your organization’s values is a way of setting corporate GPS around where you’re steering the business. It doesn’t mean that these desired practices are already in place. The mission declares where you’re going, the direction you’re taking.

Whether it’s committing a percentage of profits to charitable causes, setting fair and safe labor standards for your supply chain, measuring, reducing, and offsetting your organization’s carbon footprint, seeking B Corp certification, or something else, this is the time to come up with top social and environmental goals and commit them to writing. Having done so, entrepreneurs will find it easier to know if they’re on course or off course as they make decisions regarding the operations of their business.

#2 Measure Current Conditions
The next step for entrepreneurs is quantitatively measuring what’s actually happening now in their business within the context of the new mission and its goals. Remember that the social and environmental mission practices outlined in the mission statement are likely a mix of actual achievements as well as aspirational goals.

So, what has been achieved so far? What’s the next step? To find out, start by doing a complete accounting of past donations, volunteer hours, current environmental practices, calculating your company’s carbon footprint, identifying which causes to support, etc…

Gather this information in a spreadsheet.

#3 Set Improvement Goals
Once a baseline has been established, it’s time for the entrepreneur to set goals around incrementally improving corporate practices year over year. As the saying goes, “Rome wasn’t built in a day.” A “better” business takes time to develop as well.

So, what changes do you want to make first? List your top priorities and set realistic timelines. Assign a team member to manage the betterment so your goals get attention and come to fruition.

These goals could include:
● Setting a code of conduct for suppliers and business partners.
● Measuring your carbon footprint and committing to buying offsets.
● Seeking a certification for your business. Options include becoming a B Corp or meeting standards for a green business, carbon-neutral or fair trade standard.
● Reducing water, electricity, or paper product usage in your office operations.
● Donating a percentage of profits to a charitable organization.
● Organizing quarterly volunteering opportunities for your team.
● Updating your employee handbook to include your new social and environmental mission and engaging in a community process to collectively set-top goals and timelines.

Reach out to corporations that share your values and seek impact partnerships. Your new corporate friends can introduce their community to your enterprise and vice versa as part of a fundraising drive, volunteering effort, carbon emissions accounting, and offsetting project or something else aligned with your goals.

#4 Educate & Involve Your Team
Kick-off your “better” business initiatives with a team meeting to celebrate and explain what social and environmental responsibility means for your company going forward. Entrepreneurs need their whole team to know that success now means more than just the bottom line. Explain that success metrics are going to be measured year over year in terms of profit as well as via the new people and planet initiatives you’ve established.

Make sure to explain why you’ve made a shift in standard operating procedures, what you hope to achieve by making the changes, how you’re going to incrementally dial-in ever-improving practices, and who will be taking point in leading this effort.

Set a schedule to have follow-up meetings on a regular schedule - whether it’s monthly, bi-annually, or yearly. The routine of meeting to discuss and review will ensure momentum is maintained.

#5 Seek Aligned Collaborations
Joining forces with like-minded entrepreneurs who are seeking to generate a positive impact through their enterprise is a great way to enhance your efforts. Plus, partnering with other enterprises with similar social and environmental goals is a way to build community, share ideas and create a ripple effect.

Reach out to corporations that share your values and seek impact partnerships. Your new corporate friends can introduce their community to your enterprise and vice versa as part of a fundraising drive, volunteering effort, carbon emissions accounting, and offsetting project or something else aligned with your goals.

These activities have the potential to expand your marketing reach. But be careful with your messaging and firm in your position that the betterment steps you’re taking are aligned with being an excellent corporate citizen - not a publicity stunt.

It’s natural to want the quick satisfaction of quick results. It’s easy to get discouraged if you’re not seeing results. The key to staying motivated is quantitatively measuring all the metrics you’re tracking and every year keeping a record of the improvements your enterprise is making in terms of its social and environmental goals. By doing so, entrepreneurs will see that their GPS is working and bit by bit their company is becoming a “better” business.

Sandra Ann Harris founded ECOlunchbox in 2008 as a socially and environmentally responsible business. Her plastic-free food container company is a certified B Corp and California Green Business that offsets its carbon emissions. Harris is the author of “Say Goodbye To Plastic: A Survival Guide For Plastic-Free Living” published in 2020 by Hatherleigh Press and distributed by Penguin Random House. Harris’ book tells the story of her mission-based entrepreneurial journey to help people worldwide say goodbye to plastic for health and environmental reasons and offers room by room tips for people interested in adopting a plastic-free lifestyle.

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