What Does Sustainability Mean in a Service Industry?

Defining sustainability for the service industryDiscussion of sustainability efforts in the marketplace often revolves around the manufacturing sector. However, goods-producing industries accounted for only about 12 percent of jobs in the United States in 2010, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Service providers, meanwhile, made up about 78 percent of American jobs. Certainly, a fast food franchise, IT consulting firm or nursing home doesn’t have the environmental impact of a coal mine or auto plant. Still, there are many opportunities for service-based businesses to engage in sustainability initiatives to boost profits, strengthen the community and protect the environment.

If necessary, companies can start small and work toward more ambitious, long-term goals in a few major areas.

Secure a sustainable supply chain

Even if it is only for paper and computers, service providers depend to some extent on manufacturers. Ensuring all suppliers follow sustainable business practices is an admirable goal for a company – it’s important to know where, and by whom, goods and supplies are produced. Start asking questions of suppliers and push them to act responsibly.

Buy local whenever possible. Local suppliers have a vested interest in their communities and consumers also have shown a willingness to pay a premium for locally produced goods.

Green your office and operations

With so much variability in the service industry, it is difficult to provide one-size-fits-all recommendations on how to make a workplace eco-friendly. It may be worthwhile for a company to hire a consultant to perform baseline assessments of current resource usage and waste production. With that data in hand, executives can make informed decisions on how to prioritize sustainability projects.

There are some simple steps that can be applied fairly universally, however. Initiating recycling programs, turning off lights after hours and shutting down equipment when not in use are among the immediate measures that can be implemented. In addition, companies can weatherproof their facilities, switch to compact fluorescent bulbs, program the thermostat and upgrade to high-efficiency appliances, including copiers, HVAC systems and toilets.

A growing number of technological innovations are now potential allies in the move toward sustainability. For companies with clients across the state, country or world, videoconferencing can cut down on expensive travel and reduce the carbon footprint. Similarly, “cloud computing” is an option for reducing a firm’s data center costs and limiting its paper waste.

Spread the sustainability message

Among the benefits of going green are the potential marketing opportunities. A company’s sustainability efforts can help to set it apart from – and ahead of – the competition. So firms should share news of their sustainability successes with suppliers, customers and clients both through traditional avenues and social media networks.

With increasing demands being placed on the finite supply of natural resources, every economic sector has a role to play in minimizing the marketplace’s environmental impact. Establishing a sustainable supply chain is one way companies can work toward progress in the “triple bottom line” of people, planet and profit.


Matthew Speer is the founder of iSustainableEarth.com, a site dedicated to providing real solutions for real people – helping everyone embrace a sustainable lifestyle.


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