Small Business Tips and Tools

5 Small Business Sustainability Tips For A Greener Future

April 20, 2022
4 min read

Forget what you’ve heard about “going green” being too expensive.  Putting sustainable business practices into place may be the most effective way to boost your bottom line.

Just check out the stats. A recent report commissioned by the World Wildlife Fund found that online searches for sustainable products have grown 71% in the past five years.  Another recent study reveals that 85% of consumers have become ‘greener’ in purchasing in the last five years. Furthermore, a third of all consumers are willing to pay more for sustainable products.  Not surprisingly, sustainable businesses — those with minimal negative impact or only a positive impact on the environment — collectively generate more than $100 billion in revenue.  

Improving your business’ impact on the environment will help you attract more partners, build a more resilient supply chain, and contribute to a greener future. Plus, it doesn’t have to break the bank! That’s a win-win for you and the planet, so let’s dive in.  

Here are a few simple small business sustainability tips that small business owners can do to make a difference. 

1. Audit how eco-friendly your business is.

Sustainable businesses don’t just offer environmentally friendly products/services, they embrace principles of sustainability that drive their mission, values, and business operations.  

So let’s get clear on your path ahead to start:  

  • Assess your energy efficiency and consumption (How much energy do you waste?)
  • Assess your products (Where do you source from? What about those materials?)
  • Estimate your business’ carbon footprint with a tool like CoolClimate Calculator
  • Identify where you can make improvements. This could be as easy as saying no more plastic/paper disposable cups in office or referring to the EPA’s Greening Guide for a more comprehensive audit  
  • Write down your must-have sustainability practices, mission, and values to set a plan of action in motion!

“The climate crisis affects us all, but especially impacts our society’s most vulnerable communities, “ says Rachel Willis, founder of Vermont-based Outpatch, which turns plastics into travel patches that benefit nonprofits. “So every decision we make is rooted in that. Our guiding principles are accountable, transparent, and actionable: How much we donate profit, what materials we’re using, where we’re manufacturing.”

2. Implement small changes a little at a time. 

Do you offer paperless checkout? Have you installed LED lighting in your home and office? There are a number of easy ways to reduce your waste and energy use right now.  Zeroing in on these small eco-conscious changes can improve your impact on the environment without overwhelming you.

Six easy ways to reduce waste

  • Recycle cardboard and paper
  • Compost or regrow kitchen scraps (yes, even at the office!)
  • Repurpose furniture and supplies — gift baskets turned shelving bins and big ol’ second-hand office furniture? Yes, please! 
  • Use green cleaning products, toilet paper, and printing paper 
  • Go paperless. Offer your customers emailed/text receipts instead of printed. Pay your bills online.
  • Refuse items you don’t need like phone books or excess conference swag

Five easy ways to reduce energy use

  • Turn off the lights and take advantage of natural light when you can
  • Power down your computer when not in use
  • Unplug electronics that aren’t in use but still drawing power— idle electronics collectively waste the equivalent of 12 power plants’ output per year!
  • Use power strips to turn off all electronics with a single flip of the switch
  • Install LED bulbs — they use 75% less electricity than incandescent bulbs!

3. Rethink your sourcing, packaging, and shipping operations.

Navigating today’s supply chain and competitive e-commerce marketplace shouldn’t come at the cost of our ecosystem. Not to mention: Most consumers want sustainable products and packaging. 

Think more sustainably about how you create, package, and send your products:

  • Source locally when possible to help cut down on greenhouse gas emissions
  • Invest in green shipping materials like biodegradable mailing pouches and filler/peanuts, recycled paper and cardboard, and compostable bags
  • Build your network to help find partners and suppliers that share your mission and support you
  • Seek out carbon-neutral vendors to work with
  • Reassess your packaging 
    • Is it good for the environment?
    • Is it good for the end-user?
    • Could you go packageless?
    • Could you sell in bulk to eliminate excess packaging?

“Whether it’s the development of the product or the contract manufacturers or partners you’re working with in the supply chain, there’s opportunities all along the way to implement sustainable practices,”  Christian Heifner and Sujene Kong co-founders of NYC-based FEND, say. “For example, we implemented Shop Pay on our website, which has a strong, similar mission as us. Each purchase goes toward reducing carbon emissions.”

4. Foster a company culture of sustainability.

Set in place a culture of personal accountability and transparency, no matter your stage of the journey. Just getting off the ground or operating as a solopreneur? Note your progress on your website as you make different changes. Ask for feedback from customers, mentors, and your community to help you grow.

“We put our sustainability policies on our website,” says Cora Spearman-Chang, CEO of Hawaii-based Coradorables, “so that people can note our progress and track our progress and also hold us accountable. As we make different changes, they can see it, so we can all be partners in this process.” 

Already have employees? Consider these small business sustainability tips specific to employees as well: 

  • Encourage staff to bring reusable cups/bottles with them to work
  • Provide training around sustainability initiatives and waste reduction policies 
  • Offer remote work if possible
  • Provide public transit commuter benefits

5. Scale your sustainability goals.

Of course, improving business sustainability doesn’t happen overnight. It’s a journey. As your business grows, consider these next steps to scaling sustainably: 

  • Go solar or invest in sustainable energy
  • Offset your business travel emissions by donating to carbon-reducing projects via organizations like Cool Effect and Terrapass
  • Seek out certifications or apply to become a certified B Corp — learn how in our Set Up a B Corp guide

“As a B Corp in California, we have a legal structure that says we have to be transparent to the public,” says Sabrina Williams, owner of LA-based SEED. “We have to create reports that show that we are making a positive impact, that essentially we’re walking the walk. It allows us to stay within our ethics, our ethos, our narrative, our story, all those things.”

But remember, even if you’re just starting to incorporate the first of these small business sustainability tips: you are walking the walk!  Hop on over to the recent Hello Alice roundtable discussion, Sustainability & Small Business, to learn more small business sustainability tips and insight from small business owners like you.

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