To say sustainability has become one of the most discussed topics of recent times would be an understatement. Google it, and over one billion results will come back – it is an issue of interest and concern to an incredibly broad and diverse audience.

For businesses, the pressure to be more sustainable can come from several different directions. It might be from staff, customers, or regulators. Operating sustainably can benefit your reputation and boost your profitability. But to really make it work you have to commit to the idea. And ensure your whole organisation is involved.

The energy transition, from carbon-based, fossil fuels to the use of renewables, continues to gather pace, with the UK reducing its reliance on hydrocarbons year-on-year.

The energy transition, from carbon-based, fossil fuels to the use of renewables, continues to gather pace, with the latest figures from the energy industry regulator Ofgem showing that the contribution of renewables reached a record 29.4% of the electricity mix – compared to just 2.3% from coal-fired power stations.

Green at heart
But to really embrace the change you need to go further than that. A strategy that puts the energy transition and sustainability at the heart of your operations is essential.

You can see this in action across the business world. Consider the growing number of organisations, particularly FTSE 100 firms, using the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals to benchmark their own performance.

At RS, we’re using more recycled and recyclable packaging for customer orders. Between October 2018 to August 2019, we saw a reduction of 72.8m tonnes in the amount of paper-based packaging we are using as a result of using an Autopack machine in our Nuneaton distribution centre. We’re no longer shipping empty air in packaging. Instead, we’ve made our packaging fit more efficiently where possible. We’re also doing away with as much surplus packaging as we can and making it easy for our customers to recycle the boxes and parcels we send them.

“If the boxes are a better size and shape, you can ship more but with a smaller footprint. It’s more efficient, more cost-effective, and reduces CO2. It’s a small but important change.”John Barnacle-Bowd, Vice President Global Environment, Health & Safety, RS Group

Help at hand
There is a growing sense of environmental awareness in the B2B sector, and we are increasingly seeing it in maintenance, repair and operations (MRO) procurement.

But it’s important suppliers and partners like RS remember we need to help educate and encourage our customers, and not just expect they will be ready for as much change as we can throw at them.

After all, there’s one set of circumstances in which making it easy for customers to separate packaging into the right bins won’t work – when they don’t have the facilities on site to recycle. But we’re able to unpack items, and handle the recycling on customers’ behalf.

With services like RS ScanStock® – our managed inventory service – we can take control of a customer’s store needs from start to finish, including disposal where necessary.

Being able to do more than merely supply the right thing at the right time and price is an area where value can genuinely be added – helping your customers solve their problems through your own actions and advice.

User adoption and engagement is a key part of our core MRO business. We regularly talk with customers who have perfectly serviceable procurement contracts in place, but are challenged by ad hoc purchasing patterns from their site staff.

“One of our key differentiators is the way in which we can introduce greater purchasing control through making it as easy as possible for everyone in the customer’s business.”John Barnacle-Bowd, Vice President Global Environment, Health & Safety, RS Group

A collective effort
In a similar way, when it came to the question of how RS should expand its green credentials, we turned to our colleagues for advice. A business wanting to introduce change can achieve a lot with new policies and procedures. But it’ll get a lot closer to its goals if its employees are the brains behind them.

We canvassed our entire workforce for sustainability ideas, and created a shortlist of the ones that were most common, or that we felt we could put into action. Then we asked our staff to vote for what mattered most to them.

As a result, we have several initiatives in place here in the UK and in other parts of the business too, that are helping reduce our carbon footprint, boost energy efficiency, and keep us on the sustainability path. We’ve committed to a range of measures, including:

• Working towards zero landfill
• Analysing and auditing customer feedback
• Involving staff and canvassing ideas
• Accepting that you don’t have to change everything to make a positive difference
• Continuing to reduce our use of packaging filler materials

Efforts to act more sustainably are more likely to deliver business benefits if they are part of a coherent strategy. That could include creating a great place to work, so that you attract talented people who also share your environmental views. And by acting as an inspirational partner, you will also spread your values to the wider community you work with.