Sustainability is at the heart of the debates, especially at a time where environmental activists are helping to raise awareness about the climate change threat. As such, the sustainable development of the EU has become an absolute priority. However, the efforts to ensure that the three essential pillars of sustainability – economic, environmental and social activities – can cooperate and support each other to guarantee the survival of future generations are divided. While world leaders have agreed on a set of 17 sustainable goals and over 160 targets to be achieved by 2030, businesses have struggled to turn their green efforts into day-to-day strategies. 

 

The EU trade policy has promoted sustainable development via trade agreements, special incentives and development policies. An unfortunate consequence of turning green issues into legal matters is that it has stripped citizens of their responsibility. Indeed, as the EU trade policy makes sustainability a business and governmental affair, it shifts the blame from everyone onto brands, companies and commercial institutions. While there is no denying that industries can have a dramatic impact on the environment, these industries all consist of a variety of individuals who are pushed to make the environment a company’s goal rather than a personal choice. Sustainability, however, should become a collective effort that brings together people, whether they sit at an office or by a chain factory. 

Ultimately, companies have to report on it 

It would be unfair to pretend that individuals can drive changes without the support of legal agreements. As such, it makes sense that the EU has made sustainability a series of laws and regulations for companies. Since 2017, the EU requires from large companies with more than 500 employees to report on their policies, risks and results regarding sustainability. By encouraging transparency, officials hope to influence smaller companies to make sustainable choices. Green procurement practices, indoor plants, and paperless offices are some of the preferred approaches for businesses on a tight budget. 

The essential sustainable agenda for SMEs

By 2030, the EU hopes to develop a sustainable programme across SMEs in an effort to drive environmentally-aware behaviours. While it is unclear whether financial support will be available for energy audit and implementation or process transformation, cost-effective and manageable solutions are already in place, such as commercial rubbish removal to ensure ethical disposal. With more and more energy management advisors and environmental experts, small businesses have access to the necessary knowledge to make informed decisions. Unfortunately, knowledge without capital can’t preserve the planet. 

Going the extra green mile with your team

When cost isn’t an obstacle, making sustainability sustainable remains a challenge. Indeed, incentives and policies fail to earn individual support. Businesses need to make environmental decisions “easy” for their team by introducing green support throughout the company. Simple additions of reusable, hygienic products, for instance, in the ladies’ bathrooms can also encourage employees to rethink their habits. Sustainability needs to be part of a large-scale communication campaign inside businesses, such as offering discounted prices for fresh local products or encouraging remote work, for example. 

Making companies the sole actors of our sustainable behaviour is an unfair and unrealistic expectation. The responsibility needs to be shared, by organisations and individuals at every level of their day-to-day interactions.