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5 Practical Ways to Implement Sustainable Practices in Business

Daria Gavrilova, Instructor of Research, Communication, and Media, reviews the current landscape of sustainability in the business world.

Human demands on the planet exceed supply. For over half a century we have been consuming more than we can produce, and social and environmental sustainability is an urgent priority. As customers, politicians, and investors put more importance on sustainable practices, following the old maxim “the purpose of business is maximizing profits” becomes increasingly difficult without implementing sustainable solutions.

While the idea “We need to go green!” might be clear enough, the question that is likely to interest entrepreneurs and managers is how to implement sustainable solutions in practice.

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1. Think Long-Term

Sustainable business means focusing not only on short-term profits but paying equal attention to long-term thinking and planning. A decision that might save money now may lead to substantial loss both in profit and competitive advantage five years down the road, when, for example, a government introduces new restrictions that the production simply does not meet.

An example of such can be the Italian steel production plant, ILVA. A case study describes how ILVA relied on the slow and reluctant attitude of local courts and kept using outdated polluting technology, despite Italy being subject to EU regulations on emissions and pollution. As a result, in 2012 ILVA was ordered to immediately shut down, accused of “creating an unprecedented environmental disaster”.

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2. Be Systematic

Sustainable initiatives in business often fail because entrepreneurs tend to think of them as “add-ons,” rather than an integral part of the process. Thus, the cost of managing and running the initiative also becomes “add-ons”, on top of running “business as usual.”

Companies that are successful in the implementation of sustainable practices and yield financial and ecological benefits, think of the business process as a whole. Regardless of whether you are launching a start-up or trying to bring an existing company up-to-date, successful sustainability decisions need to be integrated into the very model of your business, not treated as an optional “extra.”

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3. Create Value From Waste

A variation on the circular approach, this sustainable practice suggests eliminating the idea of “waste” altogether. Instead of seeing something as “waste” and discarding it, a business can turn its by-product into useful input to other production. An example of such are the many wineries in the La Rioja region of Spain that use residues such as stalks and sludge from the water treatment plant as fertilizer.

To help reduce waste, businesses can also design for recycling. That means thinking about how to recycle and reuse a product at the very stage of creating it in the first place.

4. Deliver Functionality Rather than Ownership

We are all familiar with this business model. The most common examples are city bikes and carsharing, enterprises that allow you to get somewhere without actually owning a vehicle. It is familiar ““ but is it contributing to sustainability? Research suggests it is.
Firstly, such an approach encourages manufacturers to focus on enhancing the product’s durability: if you are selling bikes to a city, the short life span of the product will lead to non-renewed contracts, not more purchases. Product life extension is an important part of sustainable practices in business.
Secondly, it gives the manufacturer more control over through-life and end-of-life issues, making it easier to recycle the materials and close the loop.

5. Talk and Learn

While less hands-on, this practice is extremely important ““ according to research, when sustainable innovation fails, it is most often due to communication and motivation problems. Thus, a successful sustainable company not only does the right thing, but it also invests in explaining to and educating their consumers.
For any innovation to succeed, communication strategies within companies need to focus on three things. First, key managers need to understand why the innovation is being implemented and what it will contribute to the company. They need to have the power to make important decisions and have a certain sense of urgency about it.
Secondly, the focus should be on customers, potential customers, and the local community at large. A poor relationship with the community may result in boycotts and even changes to the law damaging the business, while continuous dialogue improves the company’s perception and makes it better positioned to anticipate and react to change.
And lastly, research. Strategic investment in research makes a company more resilient in the long term.
Daria Gavrilova is an author, journalist, and educator. She has published in such media as, TV3, Meduza and Wonderzine. Daria graduated from the journalism faculty of Moscow State University and received a master’s degree from Complutense University. As a Faculty member, Daria currently teaches Writing, Media, and Communication at Geneva Business School in Barcelona.

Reference List

Atasu, A., Dumas, C. and Van Wassenhove, L. N. (2021) The Circular Business Model. Pick a strategy that fits your resources and capabilities. Harvard Business Review. Accessed August 15, 2021 at

Bocken, N. M. P., Short, S. W., Rana, P. & Evans, S. (2014). A literature and practice review to develop sustainable business model archetypes, Journal of Cleaner Production, 65(0), 42″“56. doi: 10.1016/j.jclepro.2013.11.039.

European Commission (2001). Business, environment and wine: from the winegrape to the bottle. Vertical integration of the environment in the wine production process and horizontal optimization of resources. Accessed August 20, 2021 at

Geissdoerfer, M. (2019) SUSTAINABLE BUSINESS MODEL INNOVATION. Sustainable Business Accessed August 10, 2021 at

Milton, F. (1970). A Friedman Doctrine: The Social Responsibility of Business is to Increase Its Profits. The New York Times Magazine. Accessed August 20, 2021 at

Tonelli, F., Short, S.W. and Taticchi, P. (2013). Case study of ILVA, Italy: The impact of failing to consider sustainability as a driver of business model evolution. Berlin: 11th Global Conference on Sustainable Manufacturing (CIRP).

WWF (2012) Living Planet Report 2012. Accessed August 18, 2021 at