How to Write a Sustainability & Ethics Policy

Having a sustainability & ethics policy is standard practice for forward-thinking businesses now. Not every client or customer will read it but many will gain comfort from knowing that you have one.

Writing a sustainability & ethics policy isn’t rocket science and it’s something that a business owner or manager can undertake themselves if they have the time to do so.

To help make the process a bit more efficient I’ve put together some questions that you can use as a guide for the content of your policy document. This is a generic list and won’t relate to every business.

If you’d prefer to have a more tailored list generated for you we’ll happily quote to create one for you. Also if you’d prefer to outsource the writing of your policy document completely we can quote you for that too.

Before we start with the questions there are a few best-practice tips on maximising the impact of your S&E policy.

  • Be specific. List what your currently doing and what your targets are. Reducing your waste levels doesn’t have the same impact as reducing it by 10% by 2022.
  • Be honest. If you’re currently using single-use non-recyclable plastic packaging own up to it and outline how your trying to reduce the need for any packaging or at least switch to a less-bad option.
  • Be jargon free. If you want to use a technical term to explain your innovative water cleaning system be sure to explain in lay-person’s terms what it means or link to a webpage that does.
  • Be ambitious. Recycling your waste or using recycled paper in your office just doesn’t cut it anymore with savvy customers and clients. It’s fine to include items like this in a long list of other actions but when I see it in a sparse S&E policy I know the business just doesn’t understand sustainability.

Okay, on to the questions

Materials & Finishes

  • Are there recycled versions of the virgin materials that you’re using? If you’re not using the recycled versions, why not? Are they inferior? Is it down to reliable supply? Or Cost? Ideally aim to express this in terms of percentage of overall material usage down the line.
  • Are the fabrics you used certified by OEKO-TEX, or organic certified, FSC or PEFC, or cradle-to-cradle, or Ecocert?
  • Do you use any toxic treatments that could be replaced with more benign alternatives?
  • How do the finishes you use affect reuse opportunities or impact on end-of-life disposal?

Supply Chain

  • Are all the factories you source from SA8000 certified?
  • Do your factories have a sustainability and ethics policy?
  • Are your factories members of a fairwork programme?
  • Do your factories use renewable energy?
  • Are your factories tracking their energy, water and waste?
  • Do any of your factories operate a close-loop system, i.e. no chemicals or waste is discharged from the site, instead they’re cleaned and fed back into production?
  • Are you ordering from any non-profits, social enterprise or co-ops?
  • Are you willing to publish your suppliers and factories in a move towards transparency?

Packaging

  • Have you reviewed your packaging needs with a view to reducing it overall?
  • Have you made efforts to reduce all single-use items in the company? If so, what?
  • Have you swapped out virgin plastic for recyclable plastic?
  • Have you tried swapping out non-recyclable plastic for recyclable plastic?
  • If you are using recyclable materials? How do they get back into the recycling system?
  • Where recyclable packaging isn’t feasible have you switched to compostable recycle paper or card?
  • Have you considered reusable packaging? If not why?

Transport

  • Can you give examples of how your products have been design to reduced transport emissions due to more efficient stacking options?
  • Have you used more sustainable forms of transportation, i.e. Fors? or wind-powered shipping by Fairtransport? or clean fuel shipping?
  • How does the location of your factories minimise transport emissions?
  • How have you changed how you operate to minimise travel and transport?

Design Stage

  • How have you designed your products to be easy to repair or upgrade? Do you offer spare parts or repair guides?
  • How have you designed your products to minimise waste in the manufacture of your products? Are you able to use off-cuts as materials in other production processes?
  • How have you designed your products to standardised or minimised components in the manufacture of your products?

Reuse

  • How do you facilitate reuse of your products? Or in your office operations?

Corporate Responsibility

  • Are you a member of One percent for the planet, i.e. you donate 1% of your gross sales to environmental charities? Or do you donate to any environmental charities?
  • Do you allow local community groups and non-profits to use your meeting room for meetings/events?
  • Do you offer reduced price services to environmental charities and NGO’s?
  • Do you offset the carbon emissions that you generate as a service business and/or as a manufacturer?

Head Office

  • Run your office on renewable energy?
  • Do you use hosting companies run on renewable energy like Netuxo or Greenhost?
  • Do you monitor energy & water usage in the company? And set targets for reduction?
  • Do provide digital brochures instead of printed versions?
  • When printing brochures do you use uncoated FSC certified or recycled paper and water-soluble inks?
  • Do you monitor waste generated and operate a minimal-waste policy that seeks to reduce all waste?
  • Do you use reusable cups and plates in the staff canteen?
  • Do you prioritise plant-based meals in the staff canteen?
  • Do you reward staff that use public transport or car pool when travelling to work?
  • How do you minimise travelling, particularly air travel, for work?

Happy writing!

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