How To Make Your Business More Sustainable
I decided to write this blog post after an overwhelming response from you - my community - after I posted on Instagram about a self-directed sustainability audit I’m currently undertaking for my creative business. You were super keen to hear more about what I’m doing and why, so I’ve put together some thoughts and resources in the hopes that sharing my experience will encourage you to consider doing something similar of your own.
WHAT IS A SUSTAINABILITY AUDIT AND WHY WOULD YOU DO ONE?
As someone who worked a corporate admin job for years, the word audit sends a shudder through my very soul. It evokes images of boring men in suits in stuffy conference rooms, pouring over spreadsheets and getting mad at you because you’re behind on your filing. But don’t worry - this is not that I promise! To me, a Sustainability Audit is the best way to describe the review that I’m currently doing of my own business, design practices, suppliers, manufacturing processes and brand ethos in an attempt to ensure that my business is operating as best it can from an environmentally and ethically conscious place. (Sustainability in this context is purely related to environmental and ethical considerations, not longevity/success as a business). This is a self-directed project prompted by my own personal desire to continue to learn, grow and improve in the area of sustainability in both my personal and business life.
Despite many years dedicated to living and working ethically and sustainably, I believe there’s always room to learn and improve and having never done an official audit exercise, I was interested to see what a review of my business could uncover and to get creative with ways to be even more sustainably and ethically conscious than I currently am. As the world advances there will continuously be more ways to improve on sustainable/ethical business practices, so I’d like to think that making this type of audit a regular thing could really benefit my craft-based design business for years to come. Having never done anything like this before, this is a huge learning experiment for me, so I welcome your feedback and perspectives as I go along!
WHY IS IT IMPORTANT FOR BUSINESSES TO BE MORE SUSTAINABLE AND ETHICAL ?
A recent survey found that 9 out of 10 Australian consumers are more likely to purchase ethical and sustainable products, and that 85% of consumers want retailers and brands to be more transparent about the sustainability of their products and services. With the undeniable threat of Climate Change looming and the increase in awareness of social justice issues, I believe it is our responsibility as producers of services and products to ensure that we aren’t contributing to these issues and are in fact, working to improve them and making a positive impact within our own communities in our own ways. Individual stances on sustainability and ethics are obviously very nuanced and personal to the individual, but there’s no denying that consumers are looking at business and brands closely on these matters, because they do matter, and so I feel it’s important that we step up where we can to encourage positive change.
SO HOW DOES A SUSTAINABILITY AUDIT WORK?
I’m a huge fan of systems and processes so I’m going totally nerd out on this project and create some real juicy ones to help guide me through. The first thing I thought was important to do is to figure out my aim and desired outcomes for this project. Here’s what I’m currently sitting with:
Aim: To assess my business in the context of its current sustainable and ethical practices and highlight areas where I can improve (but also celebrate things I’m already doing well).
Desired Outcome: Create an official Sustainability Statement (sounds dry AF but will be fun and totally Kitiya Palaskas-ified and will probably include leopard print in its design somewhere) that I can share on my website and communicate to clients. Also, to create a plan of improvement and action for the year to come.
The next step as I see it is to generate a list of questions to ask myself that can help me get an overall picture of how my business is looking from a sustainability perspective, and then from there highlight areas to improve. After some research and brainstorming, I’ll hopefully then be able to start generating an action plan for improvement, and then finally when that’s all done, add some leopard print ;)
QUESTIONS TO CONSIDER IN YOUR AUDIT
Here’s a glimpse at just some of the questions I’ve been working with so far in my Sustainability Audit process. The more I get into it the more things I think of to consider so I imagine this list will grow the further along I get. For some context, I’m coming at this as a craft-based designer with a service-based business that includes prop and installation design, creative workshop facilitation, and DIY content creation as a basic overview. I also sell digital products and produce digital content, and produce work for clients in Australia and internationally. The kinds of questions you might be asking if you were to do a similar project could end up being quite different based on your specific business.
Materials, supplies and manufacturing
* Where am I sourcing my materials from? What are the sustainability practices of my suppliers and manufacturers?
* Are the materials I work with sustainable? What is the impact of their production?
* What sustainable alternatives can I find for materials I currently use?
* What is the life cycle of the materials I use?
* How am I engaging with suppliers to promote sustainability?
Working with clients
* What are my boundaries when it comes to saying yes to a client?
* Are the clients I choose aligned with my ethics? And if not, why am I choosing to work with them?
* Am I engaging in dialogue with clients about sustainability in relation to my client projects? If not, how can I do this?
* Am I offering sustainable alternatives and ideas in the project concept phase? If not, how can this be raised?
Working with other creatives
* When hiring sub-contractors, how am I ensuring they are paid and treated well?
* How can I ensure diversity in my hires?
* What means do I have in place to protect my hires in the workplace?
* What kinds of waste do I produce and how is it being disposed of?
* What is my waste management plan?
* What am I doing to reduce waste and how can I improve?
* How am I closing the loop with clients on waste management of props and materials?
Supporting the community
* How am I giving back to and elevating my community?
* What are my goals and plans for financial support of my community and organisations I believe in?
* What am I doing to minimise the enivronmental footprint of my business?
* What am I doing to conserve resources?
Impacts on me
* How am I structuring my workflow to protect my wellbeing?
* What are some areas of improvement when it comes to protecting my wellbeing at work?
* Am I paying myself what I deserve?
REMEMBER, IT’S NOT ALL DOOM AND GLOOM!
One thing I’ve noticed so far as I move through this project is that it’s really easy to feel bleak and hopeless about the future of our planet when you start asking yourself all these questions and scrutinising yourself as a business. There have points where I’ve felt really guilty about some of my choices, and the way I’ve operated in the past in my business. I’ve found myself feeling like I wasn’t doing enough for our planet. I’ve felt torn about my love of certain aesthetics, materials and design processes not traditionally being the greatest for the environment but still really wanting to do them anyway and not inhibit my artistic passions (more on this in a future post). At times I’ve even said dumb shit like, “what’s even the point of moving forward with my business when every little action I take has an impact on our planet?! I am the worst person ever, I’m just going to go live in a cave in the forest. My career might as well be OVER”. Wow. Chill babe.
I think when you start to look closer into the finer details of anything that involves questioning yourself and your actions, it can sometimes feel like opening a Pandora’s Box of doom and gloom. You can easily turn on yourself and start to beat yourself up over the smallest things. But it’s important to remember that we are not perfect, and we don’t have to be. We’re just humans out here trying to make beautiful creative stuff while also considering our impact on the world around us. We don’t have to have it all figured out and be these beacons of purity and perfection, because that’s impossible to achieve. We just have to try, in our own unique ways, to do the best we can.
If you have been inspired to try something similar for your own business or brand, remember that this is a self-directed project. The only person that should be judging it is you. You don’t have to share the results with anyone. Your views on sustainability and ethics are completely unique to you. It’s your business and your project, and only you get to choose what that looks like.
WHERE TO FROM HERE?
I will check back in soon with an update on how my Sustainability Audit is going and if you’re interested, share some of the results. In the meantime, I’d love to hear what questions you would include on your audit list, and if you’re thinking of or have done something like this for your own business. Let me know in the comments, or send me a DM on Instagram.