Time To “Green Up” Your Business
As the climate crisis intensifies, customers, employees, partners and governments are putting pressure on businesses to become more sustainable. This includes not only large corporations but small businesses. Considering that we are a long way from solving the problems facing our environment, this pressure is only going to get more intense in years to come.
So, no matter the size of your company, there has never been a better time than now to get serious about sustainability.
Get Serious About Sustainability
When I say “green up” this is an umbrella term for any action that is focused on conserving and improving the world we live in, specifically protecting our planet resources and the environment. And just as there are an incredible number of ways individuals interact with our environment, there are an incredible number of ways your business does. There are so many ways your business can be more environmentally friendly. This article will focus on the most impactful and cost-effective steps small and medium enterprises (SMEs) can take to be more green.
Benefits of Sustainable Business
To many peoples’ surprise, going green in your business doesn’t have to be expensive. While some up-front investment is often needed, the cost-savings that come from sustainable business practices are immediate and significant. Additionally, becoming more eco-friendly can benefit your business in terms of attracting eco-minded customers and employees, differentiating yourself from competitors, and staying ahead of government regulations. Let’s take a look at seven ideas to transform your small business.
Idea #1 Engage employees and create a green culture
An important first step in greening up your business is to promote a culture of sustainability in the workplace. This is a key differentiator between companies that truly embody sustainability and those that struggle to meet green goals.
The most important first step in engaging your employees should be a kickoff meeting that announces the company’s focus on sustainability, establishes new green targets, and educates on the why and how behind the decision to pursue sustainability.
If feasible, the creation of a Green Team made up of people who already value environmental sustainability can be very useful as they will focus efforts and recognize opportunities for improvement. On this Green Team, include employees from as many different departments as possible, as they will each provide important insights into what improvements are possible and feasible.
For an in-depth guide on engaging your employees on making your business green, check out the article “How to Create a Green Culture and Engage Employees”.
Idea #2 Reduce Energy Consumption
Energy consumption not only leads to the fossil fuel use that drives climate change, but is also a significant expense for businesses. Thus, by reducing how much energy your company consumes you will have a positive impact on both the planet and your profits.
The best way to get started on this step is to have an energy audit conducted. In an energy audit, an auditor comes to your facility and assesses where the most energy use/waste is occuring. This step is crucial as it helps identify which actions will have the biggest impact on lowering your company’s energy use and provides baseline data to track your energy consumption improvements over time. There are many state-run energy auditing programs that will come to your business and provide you with an audit for free. In Massachusetts, for example, Mass Save is a trusted authority. If you can’t find a government-run program in your area, there are many companies that perform cost-effective energy audits.
Once you’ve gotten data for where your company’s energy use is stemming from, it’s time to take action. What actions you can take depend on the make-up of your company. If you operate in an office, generally the biggest drain on power is lighting. By switching to LEDs, you will lower your energy load as well as maintenance costs (LEDs last far longer than incandescent bulbs). If your business operates warehouses, an initiative to reduce energy usage would be to install insulation, as many warehouses are only insulated by a thin coat of sheet metal.
Idea #3 Reduce solid waste
In addition to the benefit of environmental conservation, limiting the solid waste your company generates can lower costs by reducing the need for raw materials and disposal of waste. Also, in some cases, ‘wastes’ from your operations can be sold to other companies for use in their production processes, earning you a handsome return.
In an office, solid waste can be reduced by instituting a recycling program, composting food waste, moving away from disposables in break rooms and eliminating plastic-use as much as possible, among other initiatives. For in-depth advice on how to institute a sustainable waste management program for your office, check out “Sustainable Waste Management: Five Quick Tips To Reduce Your Waste”.
If you manufacture and/or distribute goods, a great way to decrease your solid waste stream is by using eco-packaging solutions. Use packaging products made from paper or cardboard as this is easiest to recycle, and avoid styrofoam and thin, unrecyclable plastics. Another excellent way to limit waste in your manufacturing is by repurposing it or selling it to other companies that can use it in their production processes. This is a main tenet of a circular economy: treat ‘waste’ as a resource. A prime example of this type of thinking is GM, who were able to create over $1 billion in new revenue in 2016 by selling their manufacturing waste to companies that wanted it or repurposing it in their own manufacturing processes. While carefully separating waste and finding ways to repurpose it can seem tedious, the savings that circular principles can bring to your company’s bottom line are sure to surprise you.
Idea #4 Reduce water usage
Reducing your company’s water usage, like many of the tips on this list, has a “two birds with one stone” effect on both the environment and your bottom line. The financial impact is expected to become even more pronounced in coming years, given that water scarcity is becoming a serious issue in many areas. Now, not all companies will be able to invest in water-saving technologies due to capital constraints or because they lease their facilities. But if you are in a position to invest into your place of business, the payback period is sure to be very brief – leading to significant long-term savings.
Some of the water-saving technologies I alluded to above include low-flow toilets and automatic, aerated taps. Also, considering that plenty of water is used by businesses to irrigate the gardens surrounding their facilities, water-use can be greatly reduced by installing rain-sensors in your sprinkling system and/or by planting native plants that require little to no irrigation to thrive. If you operate in a leased building or strata-managed complex, reach out to your leasor or strata manager to suggest that they adopt water-saving technologies to save money and conserve water.
As a kicker, some states such as California and Texas offer free water-use audits and incentives for the purchase of water-saving technologies. A quick Google search will show you whether your local government offers similar programs.
Idea #5 Source Locally
Sourcing locally is an up-and coming trend that isn’t only relevant to restaurants and grocers. In fact, any company can benefit from a shortened supply chain – as has been proven by the procurement nightmare brought-on by the Covid-19 pandemic. A short supply chain makes your company more agile and lowers costs associated with shipping and holding excessive inventory. Additionally, being able to say your company sources locally can be leveraged as an important part of your larger PR strategy around social and environmental responsibility.
Look to local suppliers for office supplies, raw materials, and any other inputs your company requires. While sourcing locally won’t always be a cost-effective option, it should be a key consideration in your company’s purchasing decisions.
Idea #6 Go digital, go remote, go virtual
In today’s day-and-age, everything can be done online. So why are businesses behind the times? In addition to reducing deforestation, moving away from paper can save your company money and is easier for employees, vendors and customers as they don’t have to hold on to physical copies of important documents or do everything face-to-face.
A reason why businesses have been slow to go paperless is because it seems that making the switch would be too disruptive to current systems. But what this idea ignores is that the transition to digital doesn’t have to be done all at once. Start with the low-hanging fruit of banning paper memos, storing company data on the cloud and emphasizing digital over traditional marketing. You’ll be shocked by the cost-savings and efficiencies this transition will bring.
Another point of hesitancy, particular to cloud data storage, is centered around the threat of cyberattacks. This fear is largely unfounded, however, as cloud infrastructure providers have established security measures to protect your data. Plus, let’s be real, Russian hackers are probably too busy going after pipelines to care about your SME.
Web Hosting Canada is a company that offers website hosting, cloud storage and online marketing services all performed paperless and on renewable energy. Whether you operate in the U.S. or Canada, they can assist you in your digital transition.
Idea #7 Promote ‘green’ transportation
Seeing as transportation emissions are a leading cause of climate change, this step can be a major part of greening up your business. It is at the bottom of this list because it can have high up-front costs and is potentially disruptive for employees.
There are many ways you can promote green transport in your company. An easy yet effective step is to put-up posters around the office comparing the cost of commuting in a single-passenger car vs. transit or carpooling. You can also increase the likelihood that people will bike to work by installing bike racks and, if possible, employee showers so they can freshen up after their commute.
If your company has a fleet of vehicles, it would be wise to invest in EVs when it’s time to replace old vehicles. This investment not only makes financial sense (especially with skyrocketing gas prices) but projects a positive company image to anyone that sees your vehicles on the road. As the range of these vehicles increases and more models are introduced, it will make even more sense to ditch gas guzzlers.
Conclusion: Going Green Is Easy and Good For Business
Going green in your business is not only the right thing to do ethically, but also financially.
Ride the green wave surging through the business world by following the tips outlined in this article. If you’re interested in more in-depth, office-specific tips on lowering your environmental footprint, check out my article on the topic. If you feel like you don’t have enough hours to dedicate to becoming green and/or displaying your sustainability commitment to the world, the Green Business Bureau with our host of easy-to-use and affordable tools can guide you on your journey.
About The Author
GBB Green Ambassador
Dylan West is a content creator for the Green Business Bureau who is passionate about the pursuit of a better future through sustainable business. He is currently working toward an undergraduate degree in Business Management from the University of Western Ontario in Canada. Outside of his professional life, Dylan enjoys playing sports and exploring the natural splendor that surrounds his home in Vancouver.