How to spot sustainable business opportunities (even if you have no idea where to start)

Published April 23, 2021, 11:47 a.m. by Emira Ramic

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Working with sustainability is key to business growth today. It shows you’re aware of what’s going on in the world and that you care about the future. Your company can be a positive force for change, but how do you figure out what to focus on? What’s your role going to be? Spoon’s Emira Ramic interviews Goodpoint’s sustainability expert, Sophie Hemne de Robien, about a tool that will unlock your business growth.

Sustainability should already be a part of your business.

(If it isn’t, please revisit the UN sustainable development goals and then get back to this post. We need you.)

You’re here because you know your company can be part of the solution. But how do you make your work relevant for your customers? Well, clarity is one major component behind successful communication. Facts and figures form another important piece of the puzzle. When it comes to sustainability, most customers want to see concrete data, carefully explained and illustrated, so they can better understand the impact of your business.

A great way to offer such trustworthy information is to present it in a sustainability report.

The true value of a sustainability report
Producing a sustainability report may sound difficult for a beginner, and although it’s a lot of work, it’s well worth the effort. Indeed, the report is much more than a document jam-packed with figures, it’s the entire engine that drives change forward.

Further, the report gives you an opportunity to share and explain your company’s efforts in more detail. Put differently, you get a chance to show the progress you’ve made towards your goals and the impact you’re making in society.

But hey, do people even read these reports? The short answer is: yes, yes they do.

Useful data gives clear answers
Sophie Hemne de Robien is an expert in sustainable business development and she works at Goodpoint, one of Sweden’s leading consulting firms in the industry. (Full disclosure: Spoon and Goodpoint are business partners.)

According to Sophie, more and more investors turn to sustainability reports to learn about a company’s performance and their footprint. ‘Sustainability reports contain important data on a company’s goals and its progress, which is comparable with other companies’ data. The report is your chance to show how far you’ve come with your sustainability work, and it’s all about being as transparent as possible.’

But if the sustainability report is a result of your work, how will you know what is relevant to include? And what do you communicate in a broader sense?

Data is not enough. You need to know what stories to focus on.
According to Sophie, the materiality analysis is one of your most important assets. Broadly speaking, a materiality analysis is a tool where you investigate which issues are most important to your company and its stakeholders, especially when it comes to impact.

The analysis acts as a starting point and forces your company to work more strategically and proactively with certain challenges that you are equipped to tackle. Often, you conduct this analysis through stakeholder research and a series of workshops.

Eventually, you’ll know which topics and stories you should focus on in your external communication. When you tell engaging stories based on your sustainability efforts, you strengthen your brand while boosting sales. Why? Because sustainability plays an important role for today’s consumers.

According to a survey made by Ungdomsbarometern, 53 per cent of young Swedes said they would stop buying products from companies, if they wouldn’t work to reduce its climate impact. Younger generations, in particular, care about how companies work with sustainability. Neglect this fact at your own risk – or start right now to make your business more sustainable.

Make a materiality analysis – get a strategic tool for business growth
With this analysis, you will be able to both:

- Keep track of your stakeholders’ interests, and
- Spot any negative development in your business.

In other words, your organisation gathers useful feedback which you can act on ahead of time. As a result, you become more proactive and strategic in your business operations. Maybe you’ll even find new possibilities to do business.

‘The materiality analysis clearly shows the issues you should focus on, and thus how to work with sustainability. In that way, a materiality analysis is more of a strategic tool that you should work with in parallel with the business plan’, Sophie says.

Clearly, sustainability marketing adds business value. And a well carried-out materiality analysis can open new doors for your business, such as knowledge of the company’s strengths and weaknesses, competitive advantage as well as new target groups.

On top of that, communicating about your sustainability work can make your company highly relevant among your customers, not to mention make its mark in the current debate.

Three ways you can make your sustainability report more relevant

1. The materiality analysis is the foundation of a sustainability report, but a well-performed one will have positive effects far beyond the report itself. The result of the materiality analysis will help the organisation prioritise and ensure you use internal resources where they are needed the most.

2. You will get more credibility for your sustainability communication when you can show data on impact and progress towards the organisation’s goals.

3. Global challenges, such as climate change and unsustainable consumption, can also mean new business opportunities. A materiality analysis will help you identify yours.

Over to you
If you want to learn more about sustainable business growth, please read our guide on how to become an impact-driven company, with the help of great stories:

Download the guide