A sustainability policy is a bit like a mission statement in that it provides a commitment to an ideal or at least to a goal. Like a mission statement though a sustainability policy needs to be flexible enough to give the company wriggle room as the business changes and hopefully grows on the basis of its commitment.
A sustainability policy is a starting point for much more ambitious ideals yet it costs only the time it takes to define it. Any company can have a policy, even if they don't manage to fulfill it one hundred percent of the time. In a way that is the point. You want to have an idea of what your commitment should be, even if you aren't able to fulfill it in its entirety. Although, maybe that is a lazy way to go, rather like collecting money for a good cause and then sitting on it instead of spending on the good cause? The point is to have a policy in the first place and then to worry about implementing it well.
So what should a sustainability policy look like? It should outline the company's basic environmental philosophy, beginning with an acknowledgement that the environment should be a consideration in all aspects of the business's activities. It should include positions on waste and emissions reduction, materials recycling and reuse, plus policies for consumables sourcing and encouraging a corporate culture that prioritises the environment. Customers as well as employees would appreciate knowing more about the business owners' environmental values and objectives.
Perhaps the biggest value in a sustainability policy is the thought that has to go into coming up with it in the first place. Once business owners start thinking about sustainability in ways that can be expressed in simple yet meaningful terms, the brain and imagination kick in. And once this happens ideas for implementing the policy soon follow, hopefully the ideas are things that can be put in place without too much fiscal trauma.
It is of course much harder than it sounds, because sustainability is only truly valuable if it is part of the fabric of a business. This depth of commitment is evident in companies such as Ricoh which has been at it for many years. It is becoming more obvious in companies more lately interested in reducing environmental impact such as EFI, HP and Heidelberg. If these monster organisations can have credible sustainability policies, can it really be so hard for the smaller ones? Let's hope not.