What is sustainability and why is it important?

“Sustainability” is a bit of a buzzword at the moment and companies are shouting about being a “sustainable business” on social media platforms, hoping for some good PR. However, what does being a sustainable business actually mean? We look at what it really takes to be a sustainable business and why it’s important.

What does sustainability mean in business?

Sustainability in business means that the business operates without negatively impacting the community/society or the environment. Sustainable business strategy revolves around trying to make sure you have a positive impact on at least one of these.

You may have also heard about the Three Pillars of Sustainability:

3 Pillars of Sustainability

Each pillar looks at sustainability from an economic, social and environmental view:

Economic Viability: considering the financial benefits of each decision your company makes to ensure you can continue to make a profit while paying out the essentials and considering the businesses you work with, to ensure their growth alongside you.

Social Equity – thinking about who your business benefits. Are you being fair to the wider population? Is there anyone that is at a detriment because of your business and how can you change this to make sure you’re both successful and helpful within the community?

Environmental Protection – this is the biggest concern globally at the moment. Wastage and consumption of fossil fuels are having a massive impact on our planet and it’s important to do your bit to save it.

Incorporating the three pillars of sustainability into your long-term business plan is your Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR). With the world’s population growing year on year, especially in lower economic countries, it’s important that we do our bit to ensure we consider the environment and our place within the economy to avoid wasted resources and improve our future global prospects.

Why is Sustainability so Important?

With the increase of technology and global travel, our carbon footprint as a planet increases yearly. We have a responsibility to protect our environment for future generations.

We’re now in such a serious situation that the holes in our o-zone layer are causing global warming; our ice caps are melting, and our global climate is changing more quickly than ever. We’re already at a point where many species of animals and plants that we know and love today, will no longer be here in 10-20-years’ time.

Our oceans are also at panic stations with oil and plastic pollution, and it’s now reached a point that every baby turtle born has particles of plastic already in their stomachs. The fish are no longer as nutritious because of the harmful chemicals they consume daily and in turn, other animals further up the food chain are struggling to survive because of the dwindling food sources.

It’s important that we act fast to change this before it’s too late and it’s every business’ responsibility to do their part for our environment and the communities that are already suffering as a result.

While some larger companies have now begun to place sustainability aspects into their future plans, many smaller, start-up businesses are building their whole model around the ideals of sustainability to prepare for their future.

Beyond helping with these global challenges, sustainability is a key player in business success. Many investors such ESG metrics (environmental, social and governance) to measure a company’s ethical impact and analyse their sustainability practices. Companies with a high ESG rating will therefore end up with a higher company valuation.

Research has also shown that companies with high ESG ratings have a lower debt:equity ratio, plus, their sustainability initiatives help improve their financial performance. Whether a company cares about sustainability or not has a big impact on how attractive they are to top talent. Many candidates look at this before deciding where to apply for jobs.

Examples of sustainable businesses

So, what does a sustainable business look like? There are a few brands out there who scream sustainability from the rooftops and will probably be a very obvious choice for associating them with the word sustainability. These brands include Patagonia or Lush Cosmetics, but let’s look at two big organisations who have been working on their sustainability and are doing it well.


When HelloFresh started in 2011, they were always thinking about the future and are now one of the leading companies in sustainability. Their whole business model was focused on how to save on wastage, which has been one of the biggest reasons for their success today. They created a new model supply chain, cutting out the middleman and supporting local farming businesses by buying direct. This also reduced the extra packaging, chemical preservatives used and saved on the fossil fuels for transportation – overall, creating a massive reduction on their carbon footprint.

Their whole business is centred around reducing food wastage too – sending out just the right amount of ingredients for each recipe means they can start to reduce the 4.5 million tonnes of food that gets added to landfills each year.


Larger, more established companies such as Cisco have chosen to approach the issue of sustainability from an educational perspective. They aim to get everyone involved across the globe by increasing learning resources regarding environmental issues and supporting others on projects to sustain the environment and benefit localized communities. They regularly launch sustainability projects within local communities, helping with trash clean up days, local vegetable planting and beehive maintenance.

Their whole business model is also focused on reuse and recycling of old telephony equipment. Rather than the chemical release and emission build up caused by creating brand new technological devices, they choose to reuse old ones to make it a cheaper and environmentally safer operation.

How to make your business sustainable

So, how can you start making your business sustainable? We’re not saying that you need to become a Certified B Corp (yet!), but there are lots of ways you can help bring a positive impact. We’ve listed a few here, but there are many other things that can be done:

  • Recycling – Recycling is at the forefront of people’s minds when they’re at home. You have different recycling days for plastics and metals, cardboard and garden waste. Why not implement these same procedures in your workplace? Recycling can drastically decrease the amount of waste that goes to landfills – a single piece of hard plastic can take up to 450 years to biodegrade on its own. The plastic and metal that you recycle can also go into making brand new products, cutting out the chemical process.
  • Go Paperless – There’s no need to print everything out. These days, all documents can be emailed between businesses and clients, signatures can be returned online, and training can be completed using online platforms. In fact, there’s no need for your office to have a printer at all. Think how many trees have had to be cut down to make sure your business runs every year. Going paperless won’t stop your business being successful, but it will help forests to grow, oxygen levels to increase and animals to keep their homes. Remember, we love trees here at Complex Creative! Please help us plant more trees 🙂
  • Energy Saving Technology – It requires a lot of electricity to power your business, so switch your bulbs to energy saving alternatives. Having bulbs on a sensor that turn off when you’re not in the room can reduce your energy consumption by up to 10% and therefore, will save your business money too!
  • Up-cycle – The traditional office space with characterless office chairs and countless pine desks is out. Up-cycled furniture is cheaper for you to buy and brings a quirky, unique feel to your office environment. Remember that you don’t need to have everything matching. The creation of all that brand new office furniture and the delivery is actually causing much more damage to the environment than you realise. Buy second hand and reduce your carbon footprint.
  • Employee Travel – Business owners normally assume no responsibility for how their staff get to work, but this needs to change. Survey how your staff get to the office and consider how big the carbon footprint is for your office if your whole workforce goes in. Why not look at a car sharing scheme, a cycle to work scheme, or even more working from home options, now that companies have realised it can work. You can introduce reward schemes for your staff if they cut down on their carbon footprint.

How are Complex Creative helping with sustainability?

Well, we are always looking to give back as a company, hence the reason we do things like run a pro-bono programme. But over the last year, we’ve become quite big on sustainability.

We signed up to Ecologi, who are a fantastic not-for-profit organisation who are helping individuals and companies offset their carbon footprint. Since signing up, we have supported protecting and restoring forests in Papua New Guinea, geothermal power production in West Java, Indonesia and various other projects.

We have reduced employee travel drastically, been recycling, are a paperless organisation and we have a pledge to go Carbon Negative by 2022!

Who knows… maybe B Cert next?!