When talking about sustainable business practices, we tend to focus on what large, multinational corporations need to be doing differently. We criticize McDonald’s and Apple for their business practices. Of course, we are correct in doing so—for pushing these companies to act more sustainably.
However, small businesses and small business owners can – and should – also take charge in the quest for sustainable business. Small businesses employ almost half of all American workers, and small businesses represent 99.7% of all businesses in the United States. If every small business owner makes one change to be a bit more sustainable, the impact would be significant.
Before discussing ways that small business owners can be more sustainable, I am going to explain what I mean with that word in the first place. Sustainability and sustainable business are among those terms that are both over-used and under-explained.
What I mean by Sustainable Business Practices is an adherence to the triple bottom line – people, profits and planet – and not just to profits. Additionally, many moves to become greener and to treat people better create long term success for your business. Chasing profit may work right now, but in the long run, the triple bottom lines keep businesses open.
So, what are some ways in which your business can be sustainable?
1. Put a premium on employee health: Healthier employees are more productive employees! Many workplace health initiatives are ultimately ineffective because they aren’t engaging.
So, instead of forcing your employees to take a yoga class, make health a part of your office environment. Encourage employees to work a reasonable number of hours. Have a corporate local gym membership. If you have snacks and food available in the office, try to keep those foods healthy. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention offers a lot of good information on how to keep a healthier workplace.
2. Create community relationships: When making certain decisions, keep the entire community in mind. Your business, likely, is in a town or a city, and you need to keep that in mind for almost every decision you make.
For example, adding a bright, neon, LED sign to your storefront could be good for business, but not necessarily for the apartment across the street that will be looking at it all the time. The people in this apartment will then have ill-will towards your business and will tell their friends how obnoxious you are.
There are also positives to community relationships. If there are community-wide business events – like a Girl’s Night Out — join them! If there are volunteering opportunities for your employees, take them! As a small business, you have a great opportunity to really be involved in your community.
3. Use Incentives to Increase Energy Efficiency: Energy efficiency is one of the easiest ways that a small business can pay attention to the planet. Energy efficient lighting and technology requires upfront investment – to change your light bulbs or retrofit your current technology. The Small Business Administration has great tips and resources to increase energy efficiency – ultimately keeping your energy bill low.
4. Go Paperless: When and where you can, reduce the amount of paper that you use. This often helps with increased efficiency as well, because all your information is stored on your computer. If you move your direct marketing online – by sending emails and bolstering your social media presence – you will also save money and time. You can use Google Apps to replace a lot of memos and printed documents. Use e-receipts for both your clients and for your business-to-business transactions.
5. Cut Down on Waste: Increasing recycling and reducing waste are great ways to increase goodwill in your community. If you find yourself throwing out a lot of inventory because it becomes stale or unusable, consider taking a closer look at what you get and what sells. Consider pooling recycling efforts with other local businesses, or with the community as a whole. Donate food, clothing and home goods that are no longer usable. If you own a restaurant or grocery store, try composting if you have the space. There are many great ways to cut down on waste.
These are easy ways to cut down on waste, and you should market your efforts as well so customers see how green your business is becoming!
6. Hire a Short-Term Sustainability Consultant: Small business owners know they should be sustainable. However, constraints of time and money restrict owners from moving towards a more sustainable business. Many of these ideas do not take a huge amount of time or money. If you feel like your business is sustainable in these ways – your employees are healthy, you don’t use paper – then consider hiring a short-term sustainability consultant who can help with both ideas and actionable ways that you can become a fully green and healthy business that will succeed long term!
About the Author
Emily Teleposky writes about small businesses, impact investment and social activism for Legend Funding and is studying Business and Political Economy at New York University. She has lived in London, Shanghai and now resides in New York.