According to NASA, “human activities (primarily the burning of fossil fuels) have fundamentally increased the concentration of greenhouse gases in Earth’s atmosphere, warming the planet.” Without human intervention, experts fear that the planet is projected to be pushed towards a cooling period.
When it comes to the future of our world, the 31.7 million small businesses in the U.S. are in a unique position to effect positive change by employing sustainable practices. Working together to choose eco-friendlier options, small-business owners may be able to make a significant difference.
“As climate change causes unprecedented damage, the impact businesses have on the environment is in the spotlight,” says Kathy Bennett, founder and CEO of Bennett Packaging, a custom packaging and retail display manufacturing company. “To help mitigate climate change, our company sources recycled and organic materials and creates sustainable packaging solutions for clients,” says Bennett. “We’ve promoted these sustainable measures among our network of clients and partners, further increasing the impact.”
The Benefits of an Environmentally Sustainable Small Business
When your business takes sustainable steps and operates in a way that lessens its negative impact on the environment, you may find that you've uncovered a competitive advantage.
“In addition to strengthening your reputation, adopting sustainability can save money and increase profits,” says Jonathan Ben Zvi, CEO of All Forward, a technology platform that allows freight forwarders to request and receive quotes from around the world in real time. Zvi’s company has adopted sustainability practices such as reducing energy consumption, using environmentally friendly products, recycling and going paperless.
Sustainability is becoming increasingly important to a large portion of the population, agrees Bruce McMeekin, CEO and founder of BKM Marketing, a direct marketing agency that started a net-zero carbon footprint initiative. “Today's consumers, investors and workforce value supporting businesses that stand for something, and climate ranks high among these causes,” says McMeekin. “Every business can choose sustainable business practices, and odds are your customers will value that choice.”
7 Tips for Making Your Business More Sustainable
No matter what type of business you run, it’s possible to do your part to embrace eco-friendly practices. Here are some ideas for decreasing your company’s carbon footprint.
Measure your emissions and create internal policies and reasonable time goals to lower them. [...] Come up with a detailed plan by breaking the goals down into smaller timeframes. As you work toward sustainability goals, measure and report on progress and review the plan and revise as necessary. —Shashi Menon, CEO, EcoEngineers
1. Encourage telecommuting when possible.
Working from home can decrease your company’s carbon footprint. According to U.S. Census Bureau data released in March 2021, in 2019, the average one-way commute in the U.S. was 27.6 minutes. Given that transportation is the highest source of greenhouse gas emissions, according to the EPA, working from home or a driving a hybrid model car can make an impact. If your company or industry requires that employees commute, investigate public transit or carpooling initiative incentives in your area for your team.
2. Go paperless.
Considering that paper comprises the largest component of solid municipal waste, according to EPA statistics, going paperless is a great way to make your company more sustainable. A paperless work environment dovetails well with remote work and virtually servicing clients. “Going digital is eco-friendly and cost-effective. For example, my company saved a significant amount of our operations budget by cutting down on paper,” says Brogan Renshaw, director of Modelers Central, which makes modeling kits. “We found that processes such as invoicing, employee forms, service agreements and internal memos could all be migrated online to reduce the office's paper use.”
3. Recycle and repurpose.
Recycling can make a big dent in waste reduction. Look around your office, and you’ll likely see many items that can be recycled, notes Nicholas Rubright, founder of New Reach Marketing. “Recycle printer cartridges and broken electronic equipment, reuse paper when printing and donate old, functional computers,” suggests Rubright.
4. Discourage and eliminate single-use items.
At Sam Browne’s company HARO SEO, he focuses sustainability efforts on reducing the use of disposable items. “By lowering our reliance on single-use items, we simultaneously cut trash output and our environmental imprint,” says Browne, the company’s CEO. “We encourage workers to use refillable and reusable drinking bottles and containers, instead of disposable. We've also switched from paper towels to hand dryers in the restrooms.”
5. Source and use sustainable products.
If your company produces products, you can make a big impact on sustainability by sourcing sustainable raw materials, like Stephen Light’s company does. He is CMO and co-owner of Nolah Mattress. “Mattresses are notorious for choking landfills and including harsh chemicals in their composition,” says Light. “In 2021, our company committed to an eco-friendlier footprint and launched products made with sustainable latex and bamboo materials. We sourced all-natural and sustainable materials like Talalay latex, organic cotton and wool and recycled steel coils. All of this has allowed us to focus on the sustainability and durability of our mattresses.” Light’s company ensures sustainability continues with returns. “Returned products are donated to charity or recycled through a local state program to avoid waste,” he says. Eco-friendly packaging also comes into play. “We use eco-friendly boxes that reduce the shipping volume by 80 percent compared to a conventional mattress, allowing us to ship more for less with fewer carbon emissions,” says Light.
6. Reduce energy consumption.
Energy-efficient products such as LED light bulbs and lighting systems can greatly reduce energy costs and your company’s carbon footprint. At All Forward, in addition to using energy-efficient lighting and appliances, they put rechargeable batteries in office equipment like computer mice and keyboards. Another sustainable move is to turn off electronics via power strips, which reduces vampire loads (power still drawn by devices even when they're turned off).
7. Develop a sustainability plan.
To become eco-friendly for the long haul, it’s a good idea to assess your company’s situation and come up with a plan, advises Shashi Menon, CEO of EcoEngineers, which assists companies with becoming sustainable. “Measure your emissions and create internal policies and reasonable time goals to lower them,” says Menon. “Come up with a detailed plan by breaking the goals down into smaller timeframes. As you work toward sustainability goals, measure and report on progress and review the plan and revise as necessary.” Menon also suggests being transparent with the results of your sustainability goals and sharing those results with your company’s stakeholders. Having a third party verify your progress is even better, as it will add credibility to your decarbonization goals.
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