Sustainability is a hot topic these days, and big companies far and wide are leading the charge toward a sustainable future. While larger organizations can use their huge budgets and surpluses to invest in environmental causes, though, the question is, how can small businesses do their part to build a more eco-friendly business model?
The Benefits of Sustainability in Business
Big companies around the globe are showing their support for a brighter future by investing in countless green initiatives aimed at repairing and preserving the Earth. Just a few examples of this include:
- Keurig Green Mountain aiming for 100% recyclable K-Cups.
- Ford Motor’s “Go Green Dealership Program.”
- Starbucks pledging to get rid of disposable straws.
- Amazon generating one million megawatts of renewable wind energy every year.
Everywhere you look, there’s no shortage of bigwig organizations making splashy moves to improve the environment over the last several years. And no wonder, too. There are many benefits, both obvious and subtle, that come with incorporating sustainability into your business mission, model, and goals. In addition to the obvious eco-friendly benefits that come from operating with the environment in mind, sustainability has also become:
- A key ingredient in maintaining brand reputation.
- A powerful marketing tool that can increase brand awareness and customer loyalty.
- A means to reduce operational energy costs and waste.
- An option to boost productivity and increase efficiency in work-related activities.
The synergy of operational improvements, brand reputation, and environmental benefits makes sustainability a required investment for any brand that wishes to both survive and thrive in the modern marketplace.
Easy Ways to Incorporate Sustainability in Your Business
While the effectiveness of operating sustainably isn’t difficult to highlight, properly incorporating sustainability into ongoing business operations can be a bit harder to accomplish. Doing so on a small- or medium-sized business (SMB) level can be particularly challenging.
Many of the ways that an SMB operates are likely due to some combination of limited funds, a lack of available resources, and finite time. Fortunately, there are many comparatively easy ways that entrepreneurs can weave sustainability into their business model without breaking the bank or completely upsetting the status quo of their day-to-day operations.
Gauge the Impact of Your Business Activities
It’s hard to trim your budget if you don’t know how much you’re spending. A weight-loss diet is only so effective if you don’t know how much weight you originally needed to lose. In the same vein, you can’t improve your sustainability if you don’t know the environmental impact of your operation in the first place.
With that said, one of the first things that you can do to improve your company’s sustainability is simply gauging what activities you’re engaged in that are impacting the environment in the first place. You can do so by taking the time to research:
- Your industry to recognize common pollution and inefficiency hotspots.
- Your competition to find out what eco-friendly areas they’ve identified as worthy of addressing.
- Your own company’s activities to find the areas where you’re either the least efficient or the most unsustainable.
By identifying the impact of your operation, it enables you to begin to strategize ways that you can go about addressing ongoing issues. For instance, if a construction company discovers that its activity is adding to local water pollution, it can then take steps to fix the problem by preventing soil erosion, disposing of waste properly, and keeping its vehicles in good condition.
Sweat the Small Stuff
It’s easy to overlook small things to make big changes. However, if you are truly committed to finding more sustainable ways to operate, you should start with the basics. This can include — though it is certainly not limited to — activities like:
- Changing out lightbulbs for LED alternatives.
- Eliminating company-purchased plastic bottle usage.
- Installing a smart thermostat to avoid unnecessary energy consumption when you aren’t on the premises.
- Using green cleaning products.
Additionally, you can also strive to implement the “three R’s” throughout your organization. That is, strive to:
- Repair: If something is broken, fix it.
- Repurpose: Also referred to as “reuse,” this refers to the concept of finding a new purpose for something when it can no longer serve its original function.
- Recycle: When an item’s life had finally run its course, make sure to look for any and every way to recycle it properly rather than simply throwing it away.
While there are many highly effective sustainability initiatives on this list, starting small is always the best, most authentic first step that any organization can take.
Consider All Uses of Resources
Another area of potential sustainability within a smaller enterprise comes in the form of reviewing your resource consumption — everywhere. For instance, you can:
- Consider the size of your space and the cost that it takes to heat and cool it.
- Measure your water consumption and consider implementing a commercial greywater system or even harvest rainwater on the premises.
- Review the efficiency of your supply chain and warehouse management.
By considering your use of resources, you ensure that your company is being as efficient as possible throughout its activities.
Embrace Full-Time Remote Work
Many of the above suggestions apply to a physical office environment. While you can reduce the impact of the intra-office activity, though, you can also eliminate it entirely by simply going remote.
Remote work is a growing phenomenon that has had a prodigious amount of light shed on it ever since the coronavirus started. In fact, multiple large companies like Twitter and Shopify have used the pandemic as a catalyst to go 100% remote.
While the specific effects of working from home “en masse” are yet to be seen, there’s no doubt that strategically working remotely can certainly be beneficial to a business’s sustainability efforts. The lack of heating and cooling an office space, regular commutes, and even small things like using coffee pods or napkins can all quickly add up to substantial sustainability-linked savings.
Weave Sustainability into Your Company Culture
It doesn’t matter if your employees are physically working in the same space or they’re remotely employed and scattered to the four winds, if they aren’t on board with your sustainability efforts, it will be difficult to maintain any eco-friendly traction over time. No matter what environmentally-friendly activities you discover or sustainability initiatives you put into place, if your team doesn’t support them, everything will atrophy before long.
With that in mind, a key element of long-term sustainability in a business revolves around the culture that you cultivate. Company culture is an extremely important — albeit fairly nebulous — part of any business. In essence, your culture helps to define the beliefs, values, and goals of your organization. Taken altogether, your company culture should look a bit like a “personality” for your business.
Naturally, then, if you want sustainability to be an important and impactful part of your business operations, you must weave it right into your company’s culture. You can do this by:
- Clearly communicating your company’s values and goals to your entire staff.
- Educating your employees about sustainability and how you see it impacting their professional activity.
- Encouraging employees to get involved in sustainability initiatives both inside and outside of the workplace.
- Creating a team focused on green initiatives — if you don’t have the manpower for a dedicated team, assign the task to the existing employees with the bandwidth in their current workload to handle the added responsibility.
By cultivating a company culture that includes sustainability, you ensure that your organization will operate in an eco-friendly manner over the long-term, regardless of the specific manner that each sustainability initiative may take at any one given moment.
Think Outside the Box
Finally, don’t be afraid to think outside of the box while incorporating sustainability into your business. Sometimes the thought of being sustainable can feel at odds with other professional priorities.
For example, a hospital should never put sustainability before the welfare of its patients. Nevertheless, a little creative effort can quickly and easily shed light on many different eco-friendly strategies that can be uniquely applied to the healthcare industry.
Simple things like shifting to digital records, utilizing telemedicine, or even adding more greenery into the landscaping can all make a small-yet-significant difference in a healthcare organization’s sustainability without compromising the quality of their services.
Other options for effectively thinking outside the box could include things like:
- Inviting staff to brainstorm sustainability ideas.
- Offering PTO for eco-friendly volunteer opportunities outside of work.
- Providing rewards, such as additional vacation days or a coveted parking spot, for employees who demonstrate unique environmentally considerate behavior.
By thinking outside of the box, you can find an endless number of cleverly effective ideas to easily improve your company’s sustainability.
Building Toward a Sustainable Future
The benefits of sustainability are clear — no matter what size business you operate. That said, it’s important for business owners great and small to consider how they can reduce the impact that their organization has on the Earth. From sweating the small stuff to company culture and thinking outside of the box, there are many ways that SMBs can incorporate sustainability into their culture both now and far into the future. All it takes is a little strategizing and a willingness to put the resulting plan into action.