How to make small business environmentally sustainable

Small Business Guides

5 min read

Environmental sustainability is becoming increasingly important for small businesses. A majority of owners are taking steps towards sustainability – and many find the benefits go beyond the environment.

More green businesses than ever

A US study by Office Depot found that almost two-thirds of small businesses are actively trying to go green, and 70 percent anticipate doing more in the next two years. These green businesses are now more likely to be called sustainable because low-waste practices often help reduce costs and boost financial performance.

Sustainability: why should a small business bother?

Sustainable businesses take steps to replace, protect or conserve natural resources. Obviously that can help combat serious environmental issues like climate change and plastic pollution. But there’s more to it.

  • Sustainability may lower your costs and increase profitability
    Resources cost money so using fewer of them helps the bottom line. As a result, sustainable businesses often perform better financially according to studies by organisations like the Economist Intelligence Unit, Harvard, and MIT Sloan. 

  • Staff, customers and investors are more likely to choose you
    When deciding which brands to engage with, staff, customers and investors all say they care a lot about the societal impact of that business (according to the 2019 Edelman Global Brand Report). 

  • Governments care
    Climate disruption has already cut global GDP by 1.6%, according to the DARA Group. That makes sustainability a major concern for governments and they increasingly expect businesses to reduce their footprint.

Planning to be a sustainable business

Sustainability doesn't have to be hard or expensive. It’s easy to start small and still make a difference. But just like any other business project, you need a plan to make it work.

Set goals, a timeframe, and a way to measure and monitor progress. Build in ideas for engaging your staff – you want sustainable thinking to be part of your company culture. Consider incentives or competitions to make it fun. These could even be extended to your customers.

Sustainability tips – choose a couple

Every dollar and hour matters to every small business so there's no sense in trying to do too much. It's much more effective to focus on supporting a few initiatives that really matter to you, your staff, or your customers.

Energy use

  • Use electricity meters to find which equipment uses the most energy. See if you can use those appliances more efficiently, or switch to energy-efficient alternatives. 
  • Ask your energy providers if they can offer renewable forms such as solar or wind. 

Stationery

  • Try not to buy everything new – reuse stationery, binders and folders when they’re available.

  • Go paperless. Running your business digitally reduces waste and costs associated with paper, printers, copiers, ink cartridges, and filing cabinets.

  • If you can’t go paperless, print smarter. Use recycled paper and ink cartridges where possible, only print when necessary, avoid colour printouts, print documents two-sided, and reuse unwanted paper.

Recycling

  • Provide bins for returnable bottles, non-returnable bottles, aluminium cans, paper, and food scraps. Have clear signage for separate bins and make them easily accessible. 

  • Contact your local e-scrap recycler to get a bin for your workplace and put old hardware there instead of in a landfill. Allow your staff to bring their e-waste in from home.

Kitchen and lunchroom

  • Set up a container library in your staff kitchen, where containers can be borrowed to carry package-free food from home or local food vendors.

  • Provide real kitchenware rather than disposable cups, plates, knives, and forks.

  • Use green office cleaning products – replace cleaners, dish and hand soaps. The benefits include improved health, a reduction in allergic reactions, and a healthier planet.

Help staff

  • Gift reusables – give your staff  easy access to reusable coffee cups, water bottles, and recyclable/reusable tote shopping bags.

  • Reduce commuting by car – encourage your staff to ride, walk or take public transport to work. 

Support environmental causes

  • Community-driven programs are good for your image and public reputation, and it feels good to support something that makes a difference. 

  • Adopt a green cause and do an annual fundraising event or volunteering day. There are all sorts of conservation campaigns you can take part in; find one that’s close to your heart and involve your staff and customers.

Spread the word and educate

  • Celebrate and promote what you are doing externally through your website, newsletters and social media.

  • Partner with other local businesses to share sustainability ideas and solutions.

Choose eco-friendly vendors

  • Check your suppliers comply with laws and regulations relating to pollution and waste. 
  • Read labels and check out alternatives to items that are resource intensive or polluting. 

  • Think before ordering food – if you're ordering catering, pick an option that eliminates or minimises waste.

Business and sustainability go hand in hand

Sustainability is fast becoming a standard business principle and usual practice. It’s not just a nice or good thing to do. There is a real business case for investing in it while protecting our home, planet Earth, at the same time. It can boost your brand, your ability to attract staff, customers, and investors, while also reducing your operating costs and increasing your profitability. 

By becoming a more sustainable business you can demonstrate your leadership and commitment to a healthy and safe future for all.