When talking about my business to people, one word that I use frequently is ‘sustainability’ and I am always greeted with the same semi-stern smile and sympathetic nodding of head. Sustainability has become a buzz word for all things green, but for me it goes deeper – sustainability can be a guiding principle for running your business successfully.
I would argue that sustainability is about ensuring the other high street businesses around you are thriving. Working with local specialists such as bakers and butchers can benefit everyone and bring a positive halo effect to all involved.
If a local community (particularly children) can be educated about food, on how it is grown, what is in season, what can be purchased locally and where, you can create a strong long-standing market for these products.
A truly sustainable business needs to be interacting with its customers above and beyond the normal day to day. Providing raffle prizes and some local sponsorship goes some way to achieving this, but by using close supplier relationships and being willing to work with local groups means you could be actually organising the events that you once provided the prize for.
I will never forget the horror on the children’s faces as our local sausage producer did a demonstration in their school kitchen on what goes into a factory-made sausage compared with his, or explaining to the puzzled customers that the incredibly fresh local cucumbers and tomatoes were only available for a couple of months of the year. It gives me a platform to tell them about food miles, rising costs of raw materials and our growing dependence on imported foods, and relate it to something tangible that they can understand.
A sustainable business is just that, one that will be there year after year. You don’t need a big social agenda, just a desire to inspire a small change where you are. Gaining competitive advantage from this approach is almost the by-product of successful implementation in my book.