Look at how pollution affects our surroundings: Due to pollution from garment factories, the color of the rivers in Bangladesh are often determined by the fashionable colors of the season. The amount of waste generated by product manufacturing, building construction, and single-use items is showing up in garbage patches in the middle of the ocean and in the stomachs of marine life. The effects of pollution on the environment have made it clear that we need to change the concept of “business as usual.”
From startup owners to industry leaders, entrepreneurs have taken notice. Industries and businesses are incorporating more sustainable and environmentally conscious policies into their operations, and there are many important reasons we should be supporting them.
Sustainable From the Start
A new era is upon us. Startups and small companies are putting sustainable business practices first. It is built into their business plans with the same importance as meeting their financial goals. Sustainability focuses on the 3 Es: environment, equity, and economics. One area of focus is the origin of their products and protecting those who produce them. Companies are investing in fair trade products because they support social equity.
Fair trade is instrumental to both protecting the farmers and workers who contribute to production but also the environment in which they work. Many farmers, both in the U.S. and abroad, are subjected to long hours of manual labor for very little pay. Factory workers are typically uneducated as a result of their socioeconomic status and struggle to make ends meet. Workers find themselves in these jobs without protection of a union or job security, making them more willing to work in poor conditions to simply feed their families.
As a consumer, you can use your purchasing power to demand higher rates of pay for coffee and cocoa farmers and better working conditions for factory workers. It is one thing to demand better pay and working conditions, but it is another to put your money where your mouth is. If there is not a market for fair trade items, companies who support fair trade practices will be unable to remain in business. When the option is available, choose products the have the Fair Trade Certified logo on their packaging.
Packaging continues to be a concern for manufacturers. Although some companies have become aware how reducing waste can impact their bottom line, there continues to be millions of pounds of waste sent to landfill each year. The mega-corporation Walmart came to quickly realize the effects they could have by reducing waste in their operations in the 1990s.
For a practical example of these changes, consider how the corporation changed their policies on deodorant. Walmart carries over 60 kinds of deodorant, so each store’s shelves are stocked with hundreds of sticks. Their refusal to carry any deodorant brands that put their sticks in boxes forced brands to fit their marketing all onto the stick itself. This resulted in the savings of hundreds of dollars for the manufacturers (savings they passed on to their customers), the reduction of trees cut down for production of cardboard, and a decrease in waste. Showing support for companies that reduce the amount of packaging they use, plastic in particular, is one of many ways to continue to see needed change continue.
With the increase in online retail purchases, there is a newfound importance of supporting companies who use recycled materials when shipping items to customers. When shipping items, companies are implementing strategies, such as using recycled pallets or paper, to be more sustainable and environmentally conscious. If given a choice, always choose the company with the least environmental impact. If your favorite brands haven’t wised up, send them an email asking why.
From the Ground Up
Sustainable and environmentally friendly business practices goes beyond optimizing manufacturing processes. They can encompass every facet of their company. A sustainable business model — such as Patagonia’s, which promotes repairing old pieces before buying new, designing products from recycled materials, and paying their employees a livable wage — should be celebrated. However, the fact that Patagonia has also invested in clean energy and supports environmental activists with financial backing in the forms of grants and donations is what makes them one of the highest ranked eco-friendly businesses in operation.
Sustainability concerns aren’t limited to businesses offering products. Construction companies are investing more in sustainability and creating more environmentally friendly designs, from sustainably designed barns to skyscrapers. It is important to support construction companies who design buildings in more sustainable ways to encourage more companies to follow suit. In the end, it may cost you a few more dollars, but the long-term effects on the environment that you would have otherwise had are irreversible.
Many companies are making the strides toward more environmental practices as a result of the feedback they have received from their customers, particularly younger generations who love eco-conscious brands. You can continue to let your voice be heard by being an educated and intentional consumer. In a consumer-driven market, you have the power to drive change by supporting those that are striving to conduct business in a sustainable manner.