Many individual people have picked up the gauntlet, making small changes in their lives to go green. Individuals are recycling, composting and dragging their reusable coffee cups to the local Starbucks, all in the name of sustainability. Some big corporations are following suit. Companies such as Wal-Mart, Kohls and Target are seeking LEED certification as they build new energy efficient, low carbon footprint buildings. Some are even working to become zero waste in the foreseeable future. Today, we need to call upon our small businesses to make a change towards green.
The Impact of Small Business America was built upon small businesses. Even today, despite the fact that big business dominates the manufacturing and services landscape, owning one’s own small business is still part of the American dream. But that dream goes both ways; small business is part of what makes America what it is, meaning that every business has an obligation to be a positive part of society. In today’s world that means keeping an eye on the green – eco-friendly green, that is.
How every small business in America treats sustainability says something about their company identity, but it also speaks to how they view their role in society. And while some people may think that small business is too small to have a noticeable carbon footprint, they would be wrong. Sure, one person in one small business may not seem like much. But when you consider that the U.S. Census Bureau reports that there are over 5.2 million small businesses in the U.S. who have between 1 and 19 employees, this is a lot of people. In fact, if you look at the number of people who work in businesses with less than 100 employees, there are 42 million employees in these smaller businesses.
It all Adds Up Let’s imagine for a moment the supplies that these small business employees use. Assume that each employee drank one cup of coffee from a disposable cup a day, ate their lunch out two days a week, and packed a lunch in a paper bag with baggies from home three days a week. Following is an example of how much of an impact these employees would make on landfills and other waste systems in a year:
- Assuming one paper coffee cup, five days a week, this group would use just under 11 billion paper coffee cups in a single year.
- Assuming that each employee used a napkin with their morning doughnut and one with their lunch, this group would use nearly 22 billion napkins in a year.
- Assuming that this group bought carry out lunch one day a week, this group would use 2.1 billion foam carry-out containers a year.
- If this group packed their lunch for work in disposable containers three days a week, they would use 6.5 billion paper bags and 13 billion plastic baggies each year.
All of this represents billions of wasted items, thousands of pounds into landfills, thousands of trees destroyed, and more. Additionally, imagine all of the water that these employees use, between drinking, use the restroom and washing their hands; this amounts to billions of gallons of water each year.
It Goes Even Deeper These shocking numbers look only at the actual waste these small businesses create. Think about it… these cups require trees for materials, fuel to run the machines and transport them, packaging, water to fabricate them and so on. In fact, the World Wildlife Fund estimates that it takes more than 200 liters of water to create a single cup of coffee, including coffee and cup together. And of course, we think that these cups are paper, so they can be recycled. The sad truth is that these cups are coated with plastic which makes them not recyclable and not compostable. And, few of them include any recycled materials in their creation.
Making a Difference Small businesses have a unique opportunity to help make a difference in sustainability. These independent companies can, of course, reduce their own usage and thus reduce their carbon footprint. They can also help start up grass roots efforts at sustainability around the country. By working closely with employees, small businesses can help people to learn about sustainable business practices and sustainable personal choices. Working together they can educate employees and their families, considering this to be a type of global community service and an excellent step towards being a responsible business citizen.