Why sustainability continues to grow within European business

With energy sustainability a top-three priority for the European Union’s Europe 2020 strategy, a series of clear-cut targets have been set out: reducing greenhouse gas emissions, increasing the share of renewables and improving energy efficiency – all by 20 per cent. Translating these ambitious goals into tangible realities requires concerted efforts from all sectors of society, including the business world.

Companies can contribute to a more sustainable Europe in a number of ways, for example:

  • Developing environmentally responsible products and services,
  • Reducing the carbon footprint of daily operations, and
  • Cutting resource consumption

These can all have a lasting positive impact but I think there’s still more that can be done. I believe that businesses have to take responsibility to foster environmental awareness among their employees and partners, encouraging them to incorporate sustainability into their daily work. Much work is already happening and it’s clear that sustainability has risen up the agenda, but what may be more difficult is how to measure the impact of these initiatives.

Digital transformation

Digital transformation is one measure that can help to mitigate negative environmental impacts, improve productivity and cuts costs. Even a simple change, such as switching from paper to electronic invoicing (e-invoicing) can bring significant savings. Research commissioned by Ricoh revealed that companies pay 2.6 times less for receiving an electronic invoice than for its paper equivalent. In the long-term, the switchover from paper invoicing to e-invoicing could drive cost savings of €243 billion for businesses across Europe.

iWorkers are the breed of the future

Companies which have already launched a digital revolution in the office will be better prepared for a future shaped by ‘intelligent workers (iWorkers).This new breed of skilled employees thrive in a digitally-connected workplace, where they have 24/7 access to all the necessary information to meet the needs of the business and its clients. While another Ricoh-commissioned study found that only four per cent of business leaders considered the majority of their workforce to align with the iWorker definition, they expect this number to rise to 37 per cent by 2018.

The potential for a sustainable economy

The European Commission is encouraging companies to exploit the great economic potential of a sustainable economy. The global market for environmental goods and services is already worth around €1 trillion per year and this is expected to double by 2020. Forward-thinking business leaders are now preparing their organisations for the upcoming era of green growth because they have realised that sustainability is not a burden but a chance to improve their company’s overall performance, build consumers’ trust and drive profits.

Beginning a green transformation may seem daunting but with the right expert help, it’s possible to produce a sustainability roadmap that offers manageable steps for companies to take. Following an initial audit, you’ll get much better insight into where inefficiencies are and some proposals on how to find solutions to the challenges that are identified.

This is first step in exploring eco-improvements but it is important to keep monitoring progress to make sure your company stays on target with its green commitments. We have found that a systematic approach can bring significant results to both large multinationals and SMEs alike. This includes a considerable reduction in paper and electricity consumption, along with renewed motivation for employees to contribute to their company’s green goals.

A journey towards sustainable business

Remember, you’re not alone on your journey. There are many companies – large and small – who have already started this journey, which means there are some great examples out there to give you ideas. Our sustainability strategy at Ricoh followed three phases. It started with passive compliance and environmental regulation, where all the legal boxes are checked but there is no ambition to drive positive change. Next, the company’s leaders defined their own environmental goals and proactively implemented green practices, setting the bar above basic regulatory requirements. It is usually at the end of this phase that sustainability efforts start to pay off, boosting profits and performance. The ultimate destination of this journey was ‘the responsible stage – a rewarding turning point where ecological solutions and business strategy complement each other to drive economic benefits for the company, consumers, the environment and the wider economy.

All businesses have the potential to move from the passive to the responsible stage.

This transition is imperative in turning the Europe 2020 sustainability targets from a grand vision into reality. Now is the time for those lagging behind on green goals to join the sustainability revolution. Inspiring examples of environmental champions and encouragement from policymakers can position green growth as a compelling target for businesses. Going green is no longer a jump into the unknown, but a smart step towards a sustainable and profitable future.

To learn more about sustainable business, fill in the form to the right to download our Ricoh UK Responsible Business Report 2017.

James Deacon

Head of Corporate Responsibility

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