How to Be More Sustainable as a Small Business

One of the positive changes of the last two decades has been the striking heightened environmental awareness in the global community. As the economy’s main drivers, consumers today are unprecedentedly cognizant of their role in achieving a sustainable economy, which is reflected more and more in their purchasing behavior.

Often, the onus is put on large corporations to behave ethically and contribute to sustainable development by minimizing or abstaining from practices that harm natural environments. But the environmental impact of small businesses is not negligible, nor are they apathetic about the issue.

The barriers that hinder the involvement of small businesses are time and financial constraints, but a lack of awareness as to what they can do to contribute seems to be a more significant factor.

Profitability and being proactive about environmental issues are not mutually exclusive, and there are ways in which small businesses can reduce their carbon footprint and save money at the same time.

Source Sustainable Materials

All business sustainability starts at the source. Small businesses that manufacture consumer products or use raw materials and supplies during the course of their services can reduce their costs and increase their revenue by paying more attention to their supply chain. Depending on the nature of the business, the sourcing of the raw materials may contribute to deforestation, loss of habitat, harm to wildlife, and other adverse impacts on natural environments.

Given the average consumer’s pursuit of a sustainable life, sustainable sourcing grants you differentiation and competitive advantage, which in turn boosts your brand and grows your market share.

The assessment needs to go as far back as possible to make sure that the method by which each of those ingredients is sourced is ethical and sustainable. Finding alternatives may be a temporary hassle, but you should view it as risk management against fines, litigations, and supply chain disruptions.

Offer a More Lenient Telecommuting Polices

One of the biggest legacies of COVID-19 was the mass adoption of remote working, something against which many employers were reluctant. However, the sudden shift necessitated many businesses to implement or adapt their infrastructure for telecommuting. By embracing and continuing this new working paradigm, they can significantly cut down their ecological footprint, even if it is done in the form of a hybrid work model.

According to the United States Environmental Protection Agency, transportation is the single largest contributor to U.S. greenhouse gas emissions. Allowing the employees to telecommute when possible not only reduces fossil fuel usage and air pollution but also cuts down your business’s overall energy consumption, which equates to saving more money on energy bills and everyday workplace consumables.

Use Eco-Friendly Containers and Packaging

In the U.S., about a quarter of the materials reaching landfills belong to containers and packages, and they “make up a major portion of municipal solid waste.”

A massive step toward sustainability for any small business would be to use containers and packaging that are either recyclable or, even better, have been made from recycled materials.

If your business involves shipping products, you can substitute plastic mailing bags with their biodegradable counterparts. For fragile products, you can use recycled cardboard boxes along with shredded paper or biodegradable packaging peanuts as fillers instead of plastic bubble wraps.

If you sell products in a brick and mortar retail outlet, offering custom reusable shopping bags to customers can be a fantastic eco-ethical alternative to a single-use plastic bag Since the mid-twentieth century, around 8.3 billion tons of plastic have been produced globally, of which half were produced in the last 15 years.

Another point for improvement in this regard is avoiding excessive packaging. The materials used are important, but using eco-friendly materials more than what is necessary is still a waste of resources.

Digitize Paper-Based Processes

Manufacturing paper-based products involves processes that use tremendous amounts of water and energy (e.g., 10 liters of water per piece of A4 paper), produce greenhouse gases, and contribute to deforestation. In fact, the earth has lost around 10% of its tree cover over the last two decades alone. And although recycling can mitigate the adverse effects to some degree, the majority of paper waste winds up in landfills as currently only 7% of the paper production volume is recycled.

Minimizing the use of physical paper in the work environment or even eliminating it altogether is not a stretch of the imagination, especially in this day and age when digital documents and electronic devices are so prevalent. Yet most businesses today primarily rely on paper in their daily operations.

There are countless benefits to going paperless. Finding or organizing paper files is not time well spent when it could be used elsewhere on more vital tasks. There are better uses for commercial space taken up by bulky filing cabinets and bookshelves. In addition, digitizing workplace processes saves money spent on papers and ink, streamlines operations via centralization, and provides better security for essential documents.