There’s no such thing as a good excuse


December 17, 2013 - 12:22

“We’re a small business…”

“We don’t own our facility…”

“We’re an office-based company…”

“We recycle…”

“It’s too expensive…”

“We don’t care…”

What do these statements have in common? They all end with “…so we don’t have a sustainability program.”

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard these objections. For many of us in the sustainability world, we know there are simple solutions to these statements, and for that reason it’s becoming increasingly frustrating to continue receiving excuses, and not legitimate reasons for avoiding corporate sustainability programs. The problem – and admittedly, I’ve done this myself – is that our responses to these types of statements do little to reflect the fact that we are receiving excuses, and not legitimate reasons for avoiding corporate sustainability programs.

Recently, we were involved in guiding the procurement process to select a services provider for a client of ours. It was a half a million dollar contract – while not huge, it was no small potatoes. It can probably go without saying that sustainability performance was an important requirement for the successful candidate.

During the course of discussion with one of the applicants, it was asked: “Does your company have a sustainability program, and if so, what are the focuses of the program?” The response was quick and certain: “We rent our offices so we don’t have a program.” Strike 1, strike 2 and strike 3. After this response I was actually wondering if I should feel insulted by the responder’s view of my intelligence. Nonetheless, it was a strikeout.

I’m a firm believer in the notion that you have to start by starting. There will always be an excuse to not acting. This is true of many things, including healthy living and exercising. You can always say “I don’t have time to go to the gym or to prepare healthy meals,” but the truth is, healthy living leads to greater productivity in life due to higher amounts of energy and enhanced ability to focus. Parallel benefits can be said of sustainability programs that result in productivity enhancements, allowing more time to focus on core activities. Travelling to meetings is a perfect example of this. By implementing online meetings you can save time, become more productive, consume less of a non-renewable resource and focus on more important things than the road or flight delays. This is just one example, there are many more.

The benefits of sustainability are well understood at this point so I’m not going to write the clichéd “10 easy steps to adopting sustainable practices in your business” blog. It’s definitely been done. What I would say is that a well-known and highly experienced company just lost out on a good chunk of business because of their gamble to not pursue the important element of sustainable business.

The applicant I’m speaking about, who will remain anonymous, is missing the boat. If they don’t care about environmental issues, that’s one thing. If they don’t think environmental issues are an important business aspect, that’s completely different. To me, a simple question should have been asked by the service provider at that point: “As time goes on, is it more or less likely that we’ll receive corporate sustainability questions again?”

While the prospect of investing in the startup of a sustainability program may seem costly, it probably would have cost about 5% of the business they just lost out on. No brainer? I think so. I also think this is important story to tell those that are currently missing the boat on sustainable business practices. Share this story with them, or use your own. Make sure they know the full risks of not acting.

For all of the other objections you’ll come up against:
Toronto Sustainability Speaker Series offers a great paper on sustainability objection handling. It’s worth a read – click here to check it out.

Let us know by joining the discussion on our LinkedIn Group, our Twitter feed or just send us an message if you’re not the social media type.


Evan DiValentino, VP Sales & Marketing