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Why sustainable strategies are the path to competitive advantage

Sustainability is not just a buzzword. It’s a strategy that can transform your business and is key to thriving in today’s market. That could be through attracting eco-conscious customers and talented employees. Or by increasing your competitive advantage and reducing costs.

Sustainability often goes hand in hand with the environment. But as far back as 1987, the UN saw it in a much wider context:

“Meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs”.

United Nations

In other words, it’s about long-term thinking over short-term goals. And ensuring that resources are not consumed faster than they’re replaced.

For a business to be sustainable, it’s important to consider the Triple Bottom Line:

  1. People: including customers, employees, and local communities, or the wider impact on society.
  2. Profit: creating positive change in the world without hindering financial performance.
  3. Planet: making a positive impact on the planet.

Why is sustainability becoming more important for businesses?

Our planet has limited resources, which have been declining as demand increases. But businesses can reduce their impact, helping sustain the environment for future generations.

Today’s consumers are also more aware of greenwashing * and misleading marketing messages. They’d rather see a genuine intent to leave the planet and people better off. This could be via:

  • Reducing carbon footprint.
  • Ethical sourcing of raw materials.
  • Using waste conscious packaging.
  • Creating circular products, meaning less landfill waste at end of life.

* Greenwashing: using deceptive advertising or marketing to make a business appear environmentally friendly.

The environment is arguably the most important reason to consider sustainability. But there are plenty of business advantages too.

1.  Improving your competitive advantage

The UK government has set a target to achieve net zero emissions by 2050. This has put more emphasis onto businesses to reduce their carbon emissions.

We’ve already seen this happening in large contract tenders. But Barnsley businesses are stepping up to the challenge. Read our net zero accelerator case studies to see how they’ve responded.

Businesses renting space in The Business Village have an added advantage too. Our own work on net zero covers the building infrastructure. And this means benefits for our tenants. If they’re asked about net zero, we have an oven-ready response they can use.

Customers will often pay more when buying from environmentally responsible brands. And investors are often looking for accountability around climate change. Other opportunities to increase your competitive advantage include:

  • Improving brand awareness as consumers look for evidence of environmental responsibility before buying.
  • Attracting new customers who are seeking sustainable businesses.
  • Increasing innovation when looking for ways to reduce emissions.
  • Differentiating your brand from the competition.

2.  Increased efficiency and cost savings

When working towards a more sustainable business, you’ll be tracking and measuring more. And this will often highlight efficiency improvements.

One simple example is the energy savings gained by switching to low energy lighting. But you’re likely to identify many more savings as time goes on.

Reducing waste can save both money and resources. And looking in-depth at daily operations can identify new, innovative ways of working.

It can also mean better operational efficiency and lower costs. Our net zero case study with Whites Bakery shares how this approach helped turn their business around.

3.  Access to new markets and business opportunities

Growing demand for sustainable products means new opportunities for business growth. Many companies are now using their sustainability credentials to attract green customers.

Tentree sell sustainable clothing, planting ten trees for every sale. And customers with an account can see how many trees their purchases have planted.

Who Gives a Crap targets green customers via recycled or fast growing bamboo toilet roll. But they go a step further by enticing socially responsible customers too. 50% of their profits help build toilets for people without proper sanitation.

There are many other examples of businesses using sustainability to create customer growth.

Creating a social or environmental element to your operations may not be as complex as you think. Carma plant trees and create employment for UK veterans. We spoke to founder, Jim Holland:

“We created Carma to make social and environmental impact simple, affordable, and accessible. Our platform makes giving back to people and the planet easy and fulfilling, while showing customers you care.”

Jim Holland, Carma

Monthly subscriptions start from £3.99 to plant 12 rainforest trees per month. They offer various subscription levels, or you can link the number of trees planted to your sales. Carma then provides the code to include a live impact dashboard on your website.

Jim says customers range from big brands through to micro businesses and individuals. Some have found conversion rates increasing by up to 10% at checkout. And they’ve helped create employment in some of the most impoverished communities in the world.

4.  Reducing risk and ensuring long-term resilience

Businesses tracking the triple bottom line will understand their social and environmental impact. And this can highlight important issues such as:

  • Income inequality
  • Racial injustice
  • Gender inequality
  • Safer working environments
  • Waste elimination
  • Water preservation
  • High polluting processes
  • Depletion of natural resources

It also means a higher likelihood of spotting and preventing potential problems. This could include non-compliance with regulations. Or even damage to reputation and disruption to supply chains.

Quicker identification of these issues can help build in business resilience and continuity.

5.  Keeping up with legislation

The UK government wants to achieve Net Zero by 2050. But they also have an interim target to achieve a 78% reduction in emissions by 2035.

To meet these targets, they’ve already announced or implemented several pieces of legislation:

  • A plastic tax introduced in April 2022 for packaging with less than 30% recycled plastic.
  • A landfill tax paid on top of normal fees for businesses getting rid of waste via landfill sites.
  • Phasing out new diesel and petrol vehicles by 2030.

Environmental legislation is already having an impact and there are penalties for non-compliance. But a proactive sustainability strategy will help businesses stay ahead of new legislation.

6.  Attracting and keeping high-quality employees

People today want to see the ethics behind brands. And that translates into where they work.

Nowadays, employees are looking for:

  • Companies to pay a living wage.
  • A positive work culture.
  • Shared values.
  • Meaning to the work they do.
  • Consideration of their health and welfare.
  • Participation in decision-making.
  • A sense of community.

But it’s not all employee driven. Businesses who look after their staff in this way often find:

  • Improved employee engagement.
  • A more productive workforce.
  • Better workplace morale.
  • Higher quality job applicants.
  • Lower staff turnover.

This has clear financial benefits. But it’s also likely to lead to better brand loyalty (and sales) as customers share similar values.

7.  Building brand reputation and loyalty

Sharing your sustainable practices can be great way to build a positive brand image.

Outdoor clothing and equipment brand, Patagonia, is well known for its environmental practices. Their products are not the cheapest, but they have a loyal customer base. And the founder, Yvon Chouinard, co-founded 1% for the Planet.

This kind of initiative shows transparency and a track record of ethical practices. And its evidence that you’re not greenwashing.

Examples of sustainable certification include:

  • 1% for the Planet
  • Fairtrade certified
  • B-Corporation certified
  • Climate Neutral certified

Building and protecting your brand in this way can give you positive PR. It improves your reputation and can create loyal customers. People buying into your brand will increase referrals. And that’s great for the bottom line.


Embracing sustainability will increase your appeal to the social and environmental consumer. But it will also attract others, such as employees and investors, who share the same values.

Thinking about people, the planet, and profit encourages a more holistic approach. And it can mean new innovations, increased efficiency, and cost savings. This will keep you ahead of the competition, reduce risk, and build resilience.

Sustainability is about long-term benefit over short-term gain. Taking small steps now will lead to a greater impact over time. It could be as simple as recycling paper and removing single-use plastics. Or it may be looking at your supply chain and choosing to work with responsible businesses.

We’re looking for Barnsley businesses to join our new Net Zero Accelerator programme. If you want to know more, we’d love to chat.

Get in touch with Kevin Steel

Business Development Manager, The Business Village

Email: ksteel@BarnsleyBIC.co.uk

Phone: 01226 249 590