Our sustainable business success story

Most of the time we go through life doing our best and hoping that we are getting it right. We don't generally get prizes for the many challenges of parenthood or the daily grind of keeping a business on track - we learn instead to tune in to the significance of the little moments of appreciation and connection, of the gently passing markers and milestones.

Which makes it all the more remarkable to me, to be here looking at the Natural Products New Zealand Sustainability Award 2014 sitting on my desk.

We won! We scrambled to condense all our years of sustainability focus and achievements into a six page presentation in time for deadline, and we won serious industry recognition.

It feels mighty good on a personal level. Right back at the start when I founded Absolute Essential, I knew that environmental stewardship was key to long-term success and the natural health goal has always been to contribute towards a positive and permanent difference in people's lives.

But it is the professional recognition that really helps to make our efforts worthwhile - not because it adds any further environmental impact to this year's new re-usable, bamboo display solutions, but because it puts this and our many other evolutions in the spotlight as both an example and an inspiration.

It sends a message that it is entirely possible to create integral, naturally healthy business moves that will contribute to our children's children's futures even as it supports us in the present.

The most important steps towards creating sustainable business

Define your understanding of sustainability

It's not just about using recycled paper in the printer because even if you do, unless you have a clear, comprehensive approach, you may well cancel out the positive of that in other areas that slip off the radar.

On our Sustainability Award's application we defined our principle areas of sustainability as being:

  • Maintaining and, if possible, enhancing your people's quality of life
  • Enhancing economic vitality - essential to sustainability
  • Promoting social equality and mutual partnership
  • Maintaining, and if possible, enhancing the quality of the environment
  • Using a consensus-building, participatory process for decisions

We were also able to add as an appendix the sustainability plan that is published on our website.

Identify your potential for action

One of the things that the judges commented on was how our sustainability initiatives were integrated across all areas of our business.

Once you have a clear idea of the principles you are striving to put into action, look at your business and all corners of its influence and impact. If you break everything down it becomes much easier to see where there is room for improvement and to work towards a more consistent effort.

Our range of sustainability in action outlined in our application included:

  • Practicing collaborative, consensual management
  • Investing in a healthy, energy-efficient working environmenT
  • Upgrading recycled paper stock and environmentally friendly packaging
  • Promoting non-paper communications via digital newsletters and catalogues
  • Investing in organic/wild certification with goal for 100% by 2017
  • Planting trees on site and mulching paper waste
  • Practicing efficient water consumption
  • Using only eco-cleaning products and non-toxic pest control
  • Implementing intelligent resource management and recycling for a no-waste policy
  • Direct collaboration with suppliers to promote fair trade and environmental and social sustainability
  • Employing locally to contribute to local economy and lower carbon imprint
  • Investing in diversification for economic vitality
  • Promoting sustainable health care with accessible education initiatives

Monitor your progress with measurable targets

Evaluating your sustainability efforts as you would say your financial progress might seem tricky because it doesn't always involve hard figures that you can chart, but it is possible to outline each action with professional intent and follow-through.

Decide what your areas of action are and create realistic targets for improvement. So for example, if you would like to reduce the amount of ground-fill waste that your company produces and you currently produce 2 bags per week, you might decide to implement a recycling initiative over the course of a month, towards reducing to just 1 bag. Whatever your time frame, you can review your progress when you reach that projected marker.

Other efforts can be measured by relative/comparative analysis.

Some facts that we presented to illustrate the impact of our sustainability plan were:

  • Our small, home-grown company has evolved and stood fast for 26 years and has emerged as a leading brand in its field when 95% of small businesses are seen to fail
  • We relocated from an urban office setting to create a protected natural environment around existing buildings renovated to eco-friendly specifications.
  • We have established two areas of natural wetlands and over 325 trees and native plants on previously under-populated land
  • We have increased by over 70% our offering of certifiably organic products in just five years
  • We have upgraded to 100% recycled paper stock for packaging and eco-friendly, re-usable point of sale displays

So what is the 1,2,3 of sustainability?

  1. Get clear on sustainable principles
  2. Make a sustainable plan of action
  3. Monitor your progress and review your plan regularly - there is always room for improvement

And of course always CELEBRATE your successes as a team!