Guide to a sustainable business

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We here present a few tips on how you can work with sustainability in new or existing businesses. The information is divided into eight sections. Each section has questions. We hope that considering these will help you develop your sustainability management. Which sections are relevant to you and your business depends on, amongst other things: whether you sell goods or services; which business sectors you are active in; and, how far your sustainability management has progressed.

As a support for the guide, there is a PDF (see below) that you can download and complete. It will help you with your future sustainability management.
To the PDF – Questions to consider in your sustainability management.

Business concept

The key to sustainable business rests largely in the business model itself (i.e. how revenues come in, how goods and services are produced and how customers use your goods or services). Digital solutions offer plenty of opportunities for creating business based on hiring out and sharing rather than on selling. This type of “function-based” business model often goes hand in hand with reduced resource consumption and customer relationships that are more long term.

You do not need to start a new enterprise to make your business concept sustainable. Review how you can make your present business model more resource-efficient. Additionally, implement changes that help make your products more sustainable.

Questions to consider
  • Do you have to offer a product rather than a service?
  • Can you ensure that the product you offer is used more efficiently (e.g. via hiring out, sharing, repairing, organising a second-hand market, etc.)
  • What happens to your product at the end of its service life? Does it contain materials that you (or someone else) can use?
  • Is your business concept sustainable?
  • Can you increase business benefit by thinking more about sustainability in the business concept development stage?

Links and further reading

The Swedish Agency for Economic and Regional Growth has compiled information on circular business models.
Read more about circular business models (Swedish Agency for Economic and regional Growth’s website) in Swedish.

The Swedish Environmental Protection Agency has information on sustainable business models for the textile industry.
Read more about sustainable business models for textiles (Swedish Environmental Protection Agency’s website) in Swedish.

Along with a number of other bodies, the Swedish Industrial Design Foundation (SVID) has produced a sustainability guide for product development.
Read the sustainability guide (SVID’s website).

Governance and managing

By setting goals and reporting on your sustainability initiatives, you reinforce the right conditions for achieving results. At the same time, you also create transparency and creditability while strengthening your brand (for customers and employees alike).
Consider which sustainability aspects are most important for your operations and what you want to achieve. Include goals and values in your enterprise’s policies. Report on internal and external progress.

An environmental management system can be a good way of creating a structure for your sustainability work. Such a system does not necessarily have to be certified. It can be detailed in a standard document. Monitor how your business is satisfying the sustainability goals you have set. You could even appoint someone to have sustainability as his/her area of responsibility.

Questions to consider
  • Which sustainability issues are of greatest importance in your operations? Consider this in terms of both risks (climate change, supplier chains, etc.) and new opportunities. How is your business facing these challenges?
  • Does sustainability feature (e.g. as policies and visions) in your enterprise’s governing documents. How do you keep these governing documents living and meaningful for your employees
  • Is your business legally obliged to submit sustainability reports? (This applies to businesses with more than 250 employees.)
Links and further reading

On the Sweden’s environmental objectives website run by the Swedish Environmental Protection Agency, there are quick guides on how small businesses can formulate their environmental policies. These guides cover service, trading and goods producing businesses.
Read more about environmental objectives (Sweden’s environmental objectives website) in Swedish.

Product development and design

When designing and developing a product, you should take into account material selection and how this can affect the environment. Where it is avoidable, products should not contain substances that are hazardous to the environment or health. There is legislation on which substances may and may not be used. There are also provisions on exceptions. Hazardous substances can affect ecological systems and mankind at many points.

At the development and design stage, you can consider how to give customers user information on maximising the service lives of your products. Here, you should also consider how each product can be dismantled for certain parts to be reused or recycled.

If you have considered hiring out a product, you should additionally consider how it can be designed to facilitate repair and cleaning so that subsequent customers feel they are receiving something new and fresh.

No matter what products you manufacture, you are covered by legislation on chemicals. Thus, you must establish whether your products contain hazardous substances. You are under an obligation to inform your customers if your products contain hazardous substances. To avoid damage/injury, you also have to provide information on product handling.

You may even need to enter your products on the register maintained by the Swedish Chemicals Agency. In its Products Register, the Swedish Chemicals Agency records information on the nature and use of chemical products and biotechnological organisms that are made or brought into Sweden.

Questions to consider
  • Are your products designed to be easily shared by several users, repaired, upgraded, reused, and recycled?
  • Have you taken hazardous substances into consideration at the product development stage?
  • Can you provide information on how your products should be used to minimise negative environmental impact?
Links and further reading

Along with a number of other bodies, the Swedish Industrial Design Foundation (SVID) has produced a sustainability guide for product development.
Read the Sustainability Guide on SVID’s website.

The Swedish Chemicals Agency has chemicals information and guidance for companies. The Products Register is also on the agency’s website.
To the Companies section of the Swedish Chemicals Agency’s website.
To the Products Register (Swedish Chemicals Agency’s website).

A number of products must satisfy certain minimum requirements in respect of energy efficiency. These ecodesign requirements aim to reduce the negative environmental impact of products.
Read more about ecodesign requirements (EU’s website).

On verksamt.se, we have compiled information on ecolabelling and certifications.
Read more about ecolabelling and certifications, in Swedish.

Production

Products must be: produced with consideration for mankind and the environment; safe; and, free from hazardous chemicals. By using modern environmental technology (cleantech) and digitisation, you can make your production both more efficient and less harmful to the environment. To avoid the major, negative environmental impact of transport, production should be as close as possible to consumers. Thus, explore the conditions for own manufacture or, alternatively, the location of factories that could possibly make your products.

If you use subcontractors, you can impose requirements in respect of working actively with sustainability. If your products or components are produced abroad, you should have requirements regarding good working conditions and work environments. For example, you could require that: workers have protective clothing and regulated working hours; there are collective agreements; and, workers are free to be union members. Ensure also that if, for example, hazardous substances are handled, the correct equipment is available.

Questions to consider
  • Do you require active sustainability management from your suppliers?
  • Do you monitor suppliers’ sustainability management?
  • Do you check your suppliers’ work environments?
  • Do you check your suppliers’ working conditions?
  • Do you use environment-friendly materials/raw materials in your products?
  • When purchasing, do you chose products that have some form of eco or Fairtrade labelling?
  • Do the products you sell have some form of eco or Fairtrade labelling?
  • Do you take materials, chemicals, water use and animal protection into consideration when planning your production?
Links and further reading

On verksamt.se, we have compiled information on ecolabelling and certifications.
Read more about ecolabelling and certifications, in Swedish.

Sweden’s National Agency for Public Procurement has compiled information on the regulations that apply to public procurements. Although the public sector is the target group for the information, there are tips as regards: the requirements you can impose on your suppliers; and, what can be expected of you as a supplier.
To the National Agency for Public Procurement’s web page on sustainability.

Distribution and transport

There are a number of things you should consider before handing your goods over for transport to customers. These include: how your product packaging could be reused or recycled; smart solutions for carriers to take charge of your packaging; and, whether you can use environment-friendly transport alternatives.

If packaging is reusable, reuse should be possible up until recycling is finally necessary. Recyclable packaging is made of materials that can subsequently be put to other uses. Your packaging can be marked to show how it must be handled. In this case, marking must be as per European Commission decision 97/129/EC.

Questions to consider
  • Do you use ecological transport for the carriage and distribution of your products?
  • Is your packaging recyclable or reusable?
  • How can your goods be packaged to take up as little packaging space as possible?
  • Do your products need to be transported?
  • Which type of transport is the most energy efficient?
  • Do your transport companies have environmental certification?

Reusing and recycling

If you are a product manufacturer, you can take responsibility for your goods at all points (even after they have been sold). For example, you can investigate the business possibilities in retaining ownership of your products and selling a service that enables taking them back.

Questions to consider
  • Can you, for example, offer repair, repossession, reuse or recycling of your products?
  • Do you give customers information on how they can handle your products to reduce negative environmental impact?
Links and further reading

On the Swedish Society for Nature Conservation’s website, you can read more about circular economy and ways of perceiving your enterprise’s products.
The Swedish Society for Nature Conservation’s fact sheet on circular economy, in Swedish.

At the workplace

It is important that you create a reassuring, safe and pleasant work environment for all those in your business. To be an attractive employer, consider your enterprise’s HR policy and how you can raise its profile. HR policies usually cover issues such as: health and the work environment; equal opportunities and diversity; employee participation; and, how employees can influence their work and opportunities for development.

By drawing up an environmental policy, you adopt a structured stance on the environment. An environmental policy often contains provisions on workplace approaches to waste, food, staff travel, electricity and energy consumption, chemicals, transport, etc.

Questions to consider
  • How do you manage the work environment as regards, for example, diversity and equal opportunities in your business?
  • Do you deal with issues such as employee pension fund investments and helping employees to have sustainable pension saving?
  • Have you implemented measures to reduce emissions from, for example, travel and energy savings for staff?
  • Instead of travelling, could you hold telemeetings?
  • Do you sort waste at source?
Links and further reading

On the Sweden’s environmental objectives website, there are environmental policy suggestions for small service, trading and goods producing businesses.
Environmental policy suggestions for small businesses, in Swedish.

The Energy and Climate Council helps with tips and advice on how you can influence your energy consumption and what you should do to have as little negative impact as possible on the environment.
Carry out a simple energy review (Energy and Climate Council’s website) in Swedish.

On the Swedish Energy Authority’s website, there is information on how you can streamline energy consumption in your business.
Support and guidance.

Tips on how to get work environment management started.
Work environment management – verksamt.se, in Swedish.

Use the Swedish Work Environment Authority’s checklists and guides.
Getting work environment management started (Swedish Work Environment Authority’s website).

The Jämställ.nu portal is excellent for anyone seeking: facts on equal opportunities; and, practical examples and concrete tools for equal opportunities initiatives.
Working with equal opportunities at the workplace – Jämställ.nu, in Swedish.

All employers must implement “active measures” to counteract discrimination and promote equal rights and opportunities at the workplace. These measures are detailed in Sweden’s Discrimination Act.
Your obligations as an employer – the Equality Ombudsman, in Swedish.

Communication

Sustainability and the impact products have on the environment and society are amongst consumers’ top questions. Thus, it is important that you communicate your sustainability initiatives. You can do this by clearly showing your customers how you promote sustainability and the advantages, from a sustainability viewpoint, of buying your products.

Questions to consider
  • Is sustainability a central message in your communications?
  • Do you describe how you work with sustainability: on your website; when you meet customers; and, in social media or other channels?
Links and further reading

Basing a marketing plan on an analysis of your customers and competitors is a good start.
Read more about marketing (verksamt.se).

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Responsible: Swedish Agency for Economic and Regional Growth

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