A sustainable business is good for all.

  • Green-friendly business models help the planet and demonstrate responsibility to customers.
  • Discover how going paperless can save significant amounts of money and reduce carbon emissions.
  • Learn the pillars of sustainability and how you can apply them.

What is business sustainability?

All businesses need to look at their bottom line. But success can be more than your profits being greater than expenses.

A sustainable business (also called a green business) is one that strives for less negative impact on the environment. Sustainable businesses help fight climate change and reduce greenhouse gas emissions from waste as well. Some are even trying to achieve carbon neutrality.

Some examples of sustainable business practices include reducing packaging or using biodegradable packaging, reducing water use, reducing waste, reducing emissions, and reevaluating the supply chain.

Why is business sustainability important?

Why is sustainability important? The importance of business sustainability for people and the planet is apparent. Businesses can have a huge impact on the natural environment, individual people, and social systems, and they need to consider whether that impact is positive.

Sustainability is sometimes understood as a bonus to normal operations or a purely altruistic practice, but the reality is it’s also profitable. The most successful companies invest in sustainability for its positive economic impact.

The reasons range from non-sustainable materials becoming more expensive to a shift in consumer preferences over the last decade. Sustainable products are selling faster and driving huge growth according to Harvard Business Review. Purchasing behavior backs up what consumers are saying about their desire to buy products that are environmentally friendly and humanitarian.

While businesses can sometimes ignore social and environmental impacts to turn a quick profit, they miss out on short-term growth and long-term profits. Investors evaluate companies based on their ESG metrics — that is, their environmental, social, and corporate governance. High-scoring companies perform better in the market.

Asking whether your business is sustainable for people and the planet has become essentially the same as asking whether it is economically sustainable. Your business’s impact on people and the environment is no longer just for kudos. It’s a foundational business practice that is integral to success in the modern economy.

A potter sitting on a stool making a clay pot on a pottery wheel
A potter brushing the edge of a clay bowl in their studio

What types of sustainability are there?

As a business going paperless can be a powerful initial step in a sustainability initiative. But it goes beyond that. It’s commonly said that sustainable businesses work toward the “triple bottom line” — focusing on people, planet, and profit. Another framework suggests that there are four pillars to sustainability. In addition to the environmental and financial impact, these pillars include both a human and social impact.


The human impact considers the welfare of individual people, whether they are employees, suppliers, or anyone involved in or influenced by the business. Human sustainability comes down to both human capital and human rights. Healthcare, skill development, working conditions, and living conditions are all important components.


Socially sustainable businesses consider social systems, with an eye toward the social components of running a business and equality in the communities impacted by the business. It can include social justice, urban design, preserving regional culture, and developing economic systems for marginalized groups.


This is the main thing people think of when they hear the word sustainability. Trying to conserve energy and natural resources in the process of running a business is key to environmental sustainability.


Finally, the fourth pillar refers to economic sustainability and financial performance, or minding the sustainability of the bottom line and turning a profit. However, financial sustainability shouldn’t come at the expense of the environmental or social aspects of sustainability.

Take your first steps toward sustainability.

How can a business be sustainable? For a business that’s looking to turn toward sustainability, there are a number of small ways to start, like leaning into the benefits of going paperless by incorporating PDFs into editing processes to cut down on paper usage. Many of these small tasks fall under the larger pillars of environmental, social, and financial sustainability. Sustainability is never perfect, but any steps forward are better than no steps at all.

1. Find out how your business impacts the environment.

An environmentally conscious business is one that puts climate impact, fossil fuel consumption, paper consumption, and consumption of other resources at the forefront of its sustainability efforts. Many companies have switched to renewable energy to try and lower their carbon footprint and improve energy efficiency. That’s a pretty big first step, but you can accomplish smaller objectives first.

For example, going paperless at work by instituting office recycling programs and reducing the overall consumption of paper products and other nonrenewable materials is as easy as getting a few recycling bins, signing up for a service, and getting the office on board. Viewing documents with the Adobe Acrobat extension for Google Chrome is a simple way to make an environmental impact at the office. You can also use Acrobat Reader on mobile to quickly and efficiently view documents while on the go.

A graphic of editing a PDF on a laptop computer

2. Prioritize social responsibility.

A socially responsible business is one that doesn’t prioritize profits over culture and people. Sustainable companies that embrace diversity, equity, and inclusion practices (DEI) with an emphasis on fair hiring, creating employee resource groups (ERGs), and embracing nontraditional management structures often result in happier employees and a more sustainable office culture that lasts. Creating partnerships with employees to raise their standard of living and have a positive social impact are core pillars of social responsibility.

3. Be mindful of finances.

Financial sustainability refers to the nuts and bolts of sustainable business practices. In a perfect world, a financially sustainable business can run indefinitely.

Part of that process is reviewing the annual operating budget to help with figuring out exactly what makes your business money, and what costs you money. Once you’ve done that, you’ll be able to see how you can link financial sustainability with environmental and social sustainability. Many businesses often have waste or other inefficient practices that keep them from being as sustainable as they might be.

Auditing your financial sustainability involves identifying:

  • The materials and staffing needs of your business
  • How much those needs will cost
  • An evaluation of current resources
  • Estimations of additional required resources
  • Who the customer is and how you’ll get a product to them and for what price

Answering these questions can help you find ways to improve processes and to become more efficient. Plus, you’ll likely find suppliers who provide greener and possibly more affordable materials.

4. Educate your team.

To implement real business sustainability, you’ll need to involve and educate members of your organization at every level. Start by ensuring that everyone understands the concept and purpose of sustainability, and then move to educating employees and partners about the specific goals your organization is trying to achieve.

An education initiative will be meaningless unless it involves a change in operations. Develop programs and take meaningful steps so that team members can immediately apply sustainability training.

Getting everyone on board involves listening too. The team members who are most involved in day-to-day operations might have the best ideas on how to achieve sustainability. Involve them in the planning process, and you might find the best ideas. They might even be the only ones who can really understand which sustainability practices your specific organization needs to implement.

A photo of a plant store owner talking on the phone while looking down at their laptop on a table

Partner with Adobe Acrobat for a paperless world.

When it comes to managing your paper load, a more eco-conscious workflow starts a day at a time.

Move away from paper.

Paperless document management and digitizing documents wherever you can, including processes like e-signatures, is one way to improve sustainability in an office environment. Digitizing with Adobe Acrobat Pro and Adobe Scan is as easy as scanning the documents with a free scanner app, sorting and organizing them, and creating all new documents in a fully digital environment.

Protect and secure files safely.

Whether documents are stored locally or in the cloud, your documents are more secure when they’re protected by an application like Acrobat Pro. You can add password protection for PDF documents with high-grade encryption so the wrong people never access sensitive information.

Track and store documents.

Edit PDFs from anywhere, reducing your overall footprint and making collaboration easier, especially in remote working environments. Full-page editing functionality and powerful collaboration tools ensure that you can work with teams, stakeholders, and other parties no matter where they’re located. No more shipping documents and far less paper waste mean a more sustainable business environment.

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