As environmental problems grow in scale, we all feel the pressure help save the planet and create a sustainable environment.
Across the globe businesses, families, large organizations, and schools are growing increasingly aware of the importance of sustainable practices. There’s always something new to learn about environmentally friendly manufacturing, farming, energy, education… the list goes on.
While a lot of what we hear about in the news is on a large scale, it’s also true that every little bit counts. That’s where small businesses come in. Plenty of small business owners care deeply about the environment, but are unsure how to play a role in protecting it.
Today we will take a look at some tips to get you started on your journey of becoming an eco-friendly business. The earlier you jump on board, the sooner you’ll be contributing to protecting and restoring the environment, hopefully setting an example for others to follow.
1. Start with a sustainability policy
Having a sustainability policy is a great way to set the wheels in motion and encourage your team to practice what you preach. Write down your values and publish them internally – perhaps on your intranet, or on a list on the wall – on recycled paper of course. You can also publicise it by having it on your website.
The majority of consumers prefer to give their hard earned money to sustainable businesses, so it’s important that you promote yourself as an eco-friendly company. Some good policy examples include:
- At Xero accounting software, we believe cloud computing is a positive step towards helping small businesses reduce their paper output, in some cases cutting it out altogether. We also have a sustainability policy to remind ourselves and our customers that the principles of sustainability are part of our business planning and practice.
- Cafe Venue in San Francisco is “deeply aware of the tremendous impact the food service industry has on our environment.” Its environmental policy includes a list of practices it implements to reduce their carbon footprint, like using compostable cutlery and to-go containers.
- Spirit Printing Services, Inc. in California uses their website to declare it is ecologically and environmentally responsible, using products and processes that won’t harm people or their surroundings. They recycle 100% of their press plates and 90% of their paper waste, which saves 40 tons of greenhouse gas emissions annually.
Things you might like to include in your own sustainability policy are:
Who your company is and what you do – It’s important to introduce yourself. Someone may have just stumbled across your website, or a new customer may have just entered your office. Even if they are familiar with your business, it’s good to establish who you see yourselves as.
Why sustainability is important to you – This will convince readers that you are genuine and help you gain their trust.
Give examples of sustainability measures – Walk the talk. And be honest – if sustainability is a new endeavour for you, tell people. Perhaps include a statement along the lines of:
“Although our environmentally conscious journey is relatively new, we are extremely passionate about it. Our goal for 2014 is to reduce paper usage by 80% by moving to the cloud and using online tools. We know sustainability is important to our customers too, so we welcome your advice!”
2. Figure out which sustainable practices will work for you
There are plenty of environmentally friendly practices small business can make work.
Use compost to make your scraps go further – If you’re not sure of what to do with your scraps, see if a staff member or a local school is interested in taking them. Some areas even have compost collection services such CompostNow, based in North Carolina. If not, you could chat to them about setting something up in your community.
Give away your leftovers – It’s true that one person’s trash is another’s treasure. Cafés may be able to donate leftover food to people in need – there are plenty of organisations who will accept the food on their behalf. City Harvest in New York rescues around 126,000 pounds (that’s around 57,153 kilograms) of food every day. Again, if there’s no program set up in your area yet, it could be a rewarding project for your small business to start one.
Cut down on paper – Look at using online services instead of print where possible. Perhaps start with social media for your marketing, online accounting for your finances and email for advertising and correspondence.
You can even use email to introduce your sustainability policy and direct people to your website to find out more.
If you must print something, try to use double-sided printing and make sure the paper gets recycled.
At Xero, we’re part of the Paperless Coalition, which launched a new campaign earlier this year, called “Paperless 2013”. It’s a drive to help people become less dependent on paper, and highlights how simple is can be to become part of a paperless world.
Recycle – It’s basic, but effective – remind staff that almost everything can be recycled. Having large bins that are easily accessible and regularly emptied will encourage people to get in the habit.
3. Learn the benefits to your small business
By promoting and practicing sustainability, your business will reap countless benefits, along with the planet, including:
A friendlier, more appealing business image
Caring about the environment proves to customers that you’re community-minded, on both a local and global scale. Currently, there’s a lot of pressure on large companies and corporations to implement sustainable practices, but less so on small and medium-sized businesses. Yet plenty of small businesses are taking it upon themselves to become more eco-friendly – so why not take up the challenge and become an environmental ambassador in your community?
By publicizing your efforts, the community is more likely to associate your brand with positive measures – this is known as ‘cause marketing’. It’s a point of difference that many customers are actively looking for – according to The Guardian’s 2013 Mood of the Nation survey, ethics are one of the most important factors that make consumers “happy”. And a happy customer is more likely to return!
A motivated, positive workplace
Showing your employees that you care about the environment and getting them involved can be a fantastic team-building and motivational tool. Staff will feel like they’re part of an organization that genuinely cares about doing what’s right and making the world a better place.
If you want to take this a step further, you could think about supporting employees to volunteer a couple of hours of their time during business hours – perhaps to the local community garden or to collect nearby compost bins. Think of it as a PR or marketing investment, or a win for staff wellness!
For example, Cafe Venue pays employees to volunteer up to two days at local non-profit organizations. Spirit Printing Services, Inc. relocated their facility to be closer to their employees’ homes and cut down on waste by means of commuting.
Using fewer resources and producing less waste is good for your bank balance as well as the environment. Reducing paper wastage, turning off lights unused lights and appliances and sharing resources will save your small business unnecessary expense.
With the rise of free and low-cost cloud computing tools, going paperless or near-paperless is easier than ever before. Look into online accounting, e-invoicing, internet storage, video conferencing and electronic receipts and ticketing – if you need it, there’s a good chance there’s an app for it!