11 Big Ideas for Small Business Sustainability
Your business can make a positive impact in the world.
Business operations aren’t what they used to be 10 years ago — or even five! Until recently, most people haven’t even heard the term “single use plastics” or thought of replacing a plastic straw with a paper one. Today, sustainability is one of the biggest factors people consider when buying a product or service — and it’s only getting more important.
As a small business owner, you might not think your business practices can make a real impact, but they are more important than ever. Not only do more and more people want to do business with eco-friendly companies, but it’s simply the right thing to do.
Every business is unique, so no two sustainability journeys are going to be the same. However, there is a common thread to all sustainability initiatives: people, planet, and profit. It’s what sustainability gurus call the triple bottom line. And it’s not just more corporate jargon.
The traditional bottom line in business is profit. However, that model is increasingly becoming dated and out-of-touch with today’s reality. Many businesses, including big box stores like Target, Kroger and Walmart, are shifting away from the pure-profit model of business and incorporating purpose-led KPIs (key performance indicators). You have no doubt seen or heard companies phasing out plastic grocery sacks and installing solar panels.
This shift toward more sustainable business practices is not just a push from investors. It represents a shift in consumer attitudes towards the impact that businesses inevitably have on people and the planet. Average consumers can now hold companies more accountable for the full cost of their business — not just on how much money they make.
Thus, the triple bottom line, also referred to as the three P’s of corporate and social responsibility, is the new gold standard for doing business.
The great thing about small businesses is that you don’t have to deal with the dreaded “red tape” that can often plague corporate giants just to add a recycling bin. In fact, you can get started today!
Here are 11 green business ideas to get you started on your journey into better business.
Before you begin implementing anything, it’s important to know where you stand. A sustainability audit helps you identify the areas where you already excel, where you could improve, and ideas you’ve never considered. Green America provides a quick-and-easy sustainability audit that will help you begin framing your sustainability plan.
Once you’ve got the status of your business down, consider creating a dedicated “green team” in your workplace. Similar to a “culture” team that corporations create to boost morale and employee engagement, businesses are also doing the same in regard to environmental and social sustainability!
These folks will lead your initiatives and make sure your business follows the green brick road.
We’ll always support recycling bins in the workplace. There are tons of benefits to recycling besides reducing waste and conserving resources. In fact, we list 24 of those benefits on our blog. That said, recycling may look great on paper — but in practice, it can quickly become a burden.
The problem is people accidentally throw things into the recycling bin that actually belongs in the trash. This wishful recycling is what causes otherwise good recycled materials to be thrown into landfills.
The solution: slap an instruction guide above the bin so people know what can go in and what can’t. If you’re not sure, we offer an entirely free guide on how to recycle. You can even print it out and use ours!
While this isn’t a plug, we genuinely believe that choosing to power your business with renewable energy is the easiest and one of the most effective ways to reduce your carbon footprint — AKA your environmental impact.
One way is to install solar panels directly onto your business. That way, you create your own energy and can share it with other homes and businesses around you (also called net metering). But another way is to simply purchase a renewable energy plan.
Becoming a B Corporation is one of the highest sustainability achievements for a business. Certified B Corporations are “businesses that meet the highest standards of verified social and environmental performance, public transparency, and legal accountability to balance profit and purpose.”
Clothier Patagonia, for example, is a hallmark of CSR and responsible business practices. Not only do B Corporations exhibit the highest standards for sustainability, but the title of becoming a certified B Corp is its own reward.
Even though it’s not well-suited for the novice sustainer, it’s definitely a goal you should consider adding to your green business plan.
By replacing just five light bulbs in your business with LED versions, you could save $75 a year in energy costs — and that’s only five bulbs! The trick is that LEDs are insanely efficient at using energy, whereas traditional incandescent bulbs waste 95% of electricity for heat alone. Only 5% of electricity is used for light.
LEDs last much longer too — thousands of hours longer. The particular number varies by company and light bulb, but LEDs on average can last 50,000 hours. That’s 50 times longer than incandescents and 8 to 10 times longer than CFLs.
Check out our blog on LED light bulbs to learn more about their money- and planet-saving benefits.
Plastics aren’t bad. They’ve utterly transformed humanity for the good. However, we have now reached the point that the pollution from throwing away plastics instead of reusing or recycling them threatens to overwhelm us. Thus, reducing plastic usage should be a goal of any responsible business.
Here are a few tips for getting started:
Not only is water conservation a smart environmental decision, but it’s also smart financially. Water is relatively inexpensive, but it nonetheless has a cost you factor into your monthly overhead. More than that, heating water significantly increases your costs, so if you use hot water in your business, then you should invest in low-flow technology and limit your water usage.
We also have a blog on tips for water conservation, and it’s worth checking out.
We all want a clean workplace, but not at the expense of using toxic chemicals that could affect your workers’ and customers’ health. Therefore, you might consider switching to green cleaning products.
These products help keep the air free of chemical irritants that can promote asthma and other airborne dust and potentially toxic chemicals, and they also lower your impact on the planet as a business.
Cleaning products haven’t always had the best reputation for being green, so switching to a more conscious product could benefit more than just your people or customers.
Not only is paper tape simply better at sealing boxes, but it’s also better for the environment. Paper tape essentially bonds with cardboard, making the seal permanent, while plastic tape merely sticks to the container, leaving room for breakage.
As for the environmental benefits, you cannot recycle cardboard with plastic tape still attached. Customers will have to go through the extra step of removing the tape (which many will not do) and then throw the plastic tape in the garbage — a double whammy of waste.
With paper tape, you don’t have to do anything. Simply break the box down and throw it in the recycling bin. It’s easier, more effective and more sustainable.
Our last tip: in the event that you need new office furnishings, opt for gently used or upcycled furniture pieces. There are clear benefits both financially and sustainably:
Now, we know not everyone is a fan of used, but if you can find items that look as good as new, we urge you to choose the more sustainable option.
It’s not only the Walmarts and Targets of the world that play a role in making better choices for people and the planet. All businesses regardless of size are key to ensuring the long-term sustainability of our resources, our planet, and our people.
If we want to keep our planet green and create the future we want for our children and future generations to come, we must all do our part. If you’re ready to do yours, head on over to our solar for business page. You can make a difference today.