Decide what sustainability means to you. Miriam Karell, founder of sustainability consulting firm Three Point Vision, says that "when it comes to sustainability, there is no separation between the environmental and social components." Every client she works with has different goals for issues like environmental consciousness and employee development, so she always suggests they think about what they truly want to achieve.
Set realistic goals. "If you start at the beginning, you're being efficient and strategic," says Karell. "But if you feel overwhelmed, then it's good to have someone keep you on track."
Not everyone needs an outside expert. Dino Lambridis, Alkis Crassas and Michael Jeffers, all 40, didn't use a consultant when they co-founded earth-friendly EVOS. Their Tampa, Florida-based fast-casual restaurant chain, which made $4 million in 2008, uses renewable wind energy and sustainable materials and serves organic ingredients. And they opened in 1994, when printing menus with soy-based inks was considered "weird."
Lambridis suggests people take small steps when educating themselves. "We simply did what we could with what was available and acceptable at that time," he says, "and we talked about it with our guests."
Be authentic. Don't fake how much you care, Lambridis cautions. "If you do something you don't believe in or understand, it will ultimately come across as inauthentic, and that's far more harmful to your cause than the sustainable effort is worth."