Sustainability has become a hot topic in recent years — and for a good reason. Environmental researchers have long warned that the Earth will not be able to maintain peoples' current habits in terms of fossil fuel consumption, forest clearing, and waste generation. As the impacts of such human behavior start to become evident (as seen in climate change, for example), people all over the world are calling for change.
As a small business owner, you can do your part by engaging in sustainable business practices. Implementing environmentally conscious procedures, policies, and practices in your day-to-day operations will help create an eco-friendly business.
This is practical both from an environmental standpoint and from a business standpoint. Consumers are increasingly championing sustainable companies. Further, many sustainable policies can save businesses money, cutting costs and allowing for greater profits.
Read on to find out how you can implement sustainable practices as a small business owner.
What Is Small Business Sustainability?
Before defining small business sustainability, it's helpful to first answer the question: What is sustainability? Sustainability is about maintaining current human needs (e.g., food, shelter, and clean water) in a way that ensures those needs can still be met in the future.
Take food, for example — an essential need. In the past, food was grown naturally, without the help of pesticides. Today, food is often mass-produced and frequently treated with pesticides to ensure larger, more profitable crop yields. However, overuse of soil can sap it of natural nutrients, making it harder to maintain future growth, while the use of pesticides harms useful insects like bees. These practices endanger future abilities to grow nutritious food for humans to consume.
Further, in the past, a lack of chemical preservatives meant that food was sourced locally. It had to be. Goods like dairy, meat, and fresh produce couldn't be transported for lengthy periods or they would spoil. Today, preservatives are used to keep food "fresh" and transport it across long distances.
Transport via trucks and airplanes increases greenhouse gas emissions, contributing to climate change. The environmental impact of the planet's rising temperatures is already evident. As polar ice caps melt, sea levels are rising and natural habitats are being destroyed. Climate change is also associated with more volatile weather, such as droughts and large storms. This endangers the human need for a safe habitat in the future. Areas that are habitable now may not be later.
Small business sustainability is about implementing procedures, policies, and practices in day-to-day business that minimize such environmental impacts. Many individual sustainability efforts add up to produce meaningful small business sustainability. Taking these actions now can help ensure humans' access to critical needs (food, shelter, and water) in the future.
10 Sustainable Small Business Practices
Building a sustainable business requires a holistic approach. There are many elements you can address to reduce your company's environmental impact. Here are some ideas:
Recycle Whenever Possible
Implement an in-house recycling program to help minimize the amount of trash your business sends to landfills. Paper, glass, and cans can all be sorted and recycled instead of thrown in the garbage. Goods like fluorescent lightbulbs and old computer monitors can also be recycled. Make sure to follow legal guidelines and best practices for electronics disposal.
Even better than recycling paper is to not use it at all, minimizing the need for cutting down the trees needed to produce paper products. Thanks to modern technology, it's easier than ever to go paperless. Digital signatures are often accepted on paperwork, for example, while tools like Google Docs make it easy to edit documentation on the screen — no pen and paper needed. If you need paper, use it sparingly (e.g., double-sided printing).
Use Green-Certified Office Products
Your small business relies on all kinds of equipment to maintain operations, from cleaning products to office supplies. Buy sustainable products that are certified green. Green products are designed to reduce waste and maximize natural resource efficiency. For example, they might be made using environmentally friendly practices and with toxic-free ingredients.
This index provides an overview of green seal-certified goods ranging from sanitary paper products to printing and writing paper, industrial cleaning solutions, construction equipment, and more.
Switch to Eco-Friendly Product Packaging
If you run a product-based business, take a look at your packaging. How eco-friendly is it? If you're packing your goods with loads of plastic and adding unnecessary boxes, packaging peanuts, or bubble wrap, consider making a change. These goods can further clutter up overwhelmed landfills.
Opt for recycled cardboard and invest in biodegradable packing peanuts. You can replace bubble wrap with corrugated cardboard or inflatable air "pillows" made of recycled goods. There will be even more options for sustainable packaging in the future, as people are increasingly experimenting with packaging made of cornstarch, mushrooms, and seaweed.
Switch to Energy-Efficient Lighting
You can enhance energy efficiency and reduce energy consumption by investing in the right lights. Prioritize light-emitting diodes (LED) or carbon fluorescent lamps (CFLs). Both of these options generate less heat, contain less mercury, and use less energy than incandescent bulbs. Further, make use of natural light to minimize lighting needs. Open the curtains and let the sun in!
Buy Used Products
When making purchasing decisions, look into buying used products. While this isn't possible in all cases, some used goods can be perfectly serviceable. For example, if you need a company car, get a used model. You can also often buy industrial machinery, technological devices, and office equipment and furniture used.
Choose Your Suppliers Wisely
Ideally, your suppliers will share your commitment to sustainability. Look at your business partners and vendors: Do they practice sustainable production processes? Are they committed to using sustainable materials in their packaging? Do they use clean energy or renewable energy to power production? Prioritize sustainable partnerships if possible.
Get Employees on Board With Green Practices
In-house sustainability requires everyone to take part. If your small business has employees, provide guidelines on how they can support your commitment to a more eco-conscious standard. For example, you might provide them with tips for recycling, reusing, or disposing of goods. You can also empower your employees to come up with their own suggestions for reducing waste.
Offer Remote Work
While not possible for all business models, allowing for remote work is another way to implement sustainable business practices. When they work remotely, employees don't have to commute and burn valuable fossil fuels by driving to work. They also won't get takeout for lunch (sparing excess packaging), and you won't have to power up the workplace (saving energy).
Hold Yourself Accountable
Draw up a business plan outlining the steps your company will take to go green. This is part of your overall commitment to corporate social responsibility; writing down your goals will help hold you accountable. You can define metrics to track your progress. For example, tracking power bills will help you determine whether you're keeping up with energy-efficiency initiatives.
Revisit your plan on a quarterly basis to track progress, identify bottlenecks, and add new measures. As your business grows, you might expand your efforts. Today, a shift toward greater sustainability could mean ditching incandescent bulbs. In five years, it could mean installing solar panels on your business roof.
Financially Plan for Your Switch to Sustainability With Skynova
Implementing a comprehensive sustainability program can have a positive impact. By going green, you can enjoy the confidence of knowing that you're doing your part to maintain a safe and healthy planet for the future. Your sustainability initiatives can also help you save money and attract positive attention from stakeholders, giving you a competitive advantage in the market.
That said, establishing a green business takes careful attention and planning. As the above list makes clear, it's about more than simply recycling old bottles. Many elements of the supply chain, from production to logistics, need to be considered. This can mean significantly overhauling your business strategy, processes, and partnerships.
Detailed financial planning can help support your shift toward greater sustainability. Skynova's accounting software makes it easy to track invoices, expenses, purchase orders, and more. As you evolve your business model, you'll have consistent oversight of the financial impact and the potential savings you'll enjoy from greater ecological consciousness.
Notice to the Reader
This content is intended as general information and may not apply to you. Effective sustainability planning must be tailored to your business's unique needs. For financial planning and accounting practices, consult a qualified professional accountant to make sure you're adhering to best practices and all laws.