In the 12 years that have passed since Al Gore shocked the world with his famous climate change documentary, the issues of climate change and environmental impact have become more than just an “Inconvenient Truth”. It’s a complicated puzzle that will only be solved if every piece slots into place. Business has an important role to play and it’s no longer enough to pop a recycling bin next to the photocopier.
Increasing numbers of customers are actively seeking out businesses that walk the talk when it comes to sustainability. Making judicious purchasing decisions is very much an extension of their personal greening efforts. Companies who outsource or make use of subcontractors are similarly paying close attention to the ‘green’ sections of tender documents, sales materials and contracts. They are keen to establish and maintain their own credibility as socially conscious businesses (and maybe ‘borrow’ a little by association).
In better news
Small business owners have the advantage when it comes to implementing environmental programs. When you are the main decision maker and influencer of company culture, processes and policies, you are well placed to effect change.
There are also real economic benefits to riding the wave of eco-consciousness for small business (in addition to the ‘warm and fuzzies’ you’ll enjoy):
- It’s a public relations win, generating community goodwill towards your business
- You can increase your prices to cover any costs (customers have been proven to be happy to invest as much as 10% more in “eco-friendly” purchases)
- Cost reductions in running your business – using less resources can generate both short and long-term savings
- Employee satisfaction – social responsibility policies have been proven to result in a more engaged, happier and therefore more productive team.
I mentor my Tenfold coaching clients to make small but powerful changes to their processes and policies to realise these great benefits in their business:
- Go digital to save paper and ink
Cloud storage, document sharing apps, email campaigns, record keeping software, online banking, project management apps… there are so many ways to digitise our records and communications, it is hard to think of many scenarios where you would have to print something. If you do discover some latent need for a hardcopy document, make sure that you use recycled paper, reduce the font-size and set the printer to double-sided. These small changes could save a chunk of rainforest over time.You may also need to pay some attention to managing your snail mail. If you find yourself regularly sending promotional and subscription publications to the recycling bin, take a moment to unsubscribe and place a ‘no junk mail’ on your mailbox. Similarly, keep your own customer database clean. If someone hasn’t done business with you in over a decade or you consistently get mail returned due to incorrect contact information, don’t waste your time, money and precious paper sending out that offer, catalogue or leaflet.
- Avoid costly convenience
Disposable food and drink containers, cutlery, serviettes, paper towels, bottled water, single use tea, coffee and sugar packets… sure they save us time and effort (and washing up), but what are these convenience items really costing us? If we want to reduce the mountains of landfill that Australian businesses produce every year, all it takes is a few minutes of extra effort. There are reusable items to replace almost any convenience item you can imagine. Why use 261 paper cups when you can drink your daily takeout coffee from a single reusable travel cup? Some cafes even offer a discount on coffee to customers who BYO reusable alternatives… cha-ching!
- Make sustainability a team sport
If your small business employs a team of staff, get them involved in your greening efforts. Team building exercises can include working together in a community garden, participating in a clean-up projects or planting trees. Encourage staff to ride, walk or carpool to work. If your business model allows, you could even support your staff in regularly working remotely or from home to reduce their need to travel.
- Power down and cash up
Check that lightbulbs are compact fluorescent lamp (CFL) – they use up to 75% less energy than regular bulbs. Combined with making sure you turn your lights off at the end of the day, you’ll make a real dent in your electricity bill.Make efficiency a part of your purchase decision and choose tech and appliances according to their energy rating. Once installed, make use of every power saving setting available. You might care to note that laptops use 90% less power than PCs and you will save an average of $100 per computer per year if you turn them off completely each night.If your workspace is airconditioned, adjusting the thermostat just a few degrees can save surprising amounts of energy. Aim to just take the edge off extreme temperatures. Hint: if you need to put a jumper on inside during an Australian summer, then the aircon is on too high.
- Stop pouring money down the drain
Keep your water bill in check and save wasting a precious resource by monitoring for plumbing leaks. You can further reduce water usage by installing low flow taps and toilets. If cleaning forms any part of your business (or even just your maintenance needs) choose a high-pressure washer over a hose – they use far less water.
- Get your waste sorted
Of course, the best thing to do is produce as little waste as possible, but no business can eliminate wastage completely. It is important to sort any rubbish properly to make sure it doesn’t just all go to landfill. Have designated bins for kitchen compost, recycling and non-recyclable waste and place them conveniently around your work space.Some businesses generate waste that needs careful consideration. If you work in construction or a trade, consider how you dispose of your offcuts etc. Can they be better disposed of through donation or recycling programs? Businesses that make heavy use of tech need to pay attention to proper disposal of e-waste. If you are updating computers, monitors, tablets or smartphones and they have some life still left in them, consider donating them to a charity or local school etc (but be sure to properly wipe the hard drive). If something is too far gone to donate, do your research on how your local area prefers you to dispose of e-waste. https://recyclingnearyou.com.au/ is a great website powered by Planet Ark that directs you to local places where you can recycle items in the most appropriate way.
- Seek out ‘green’ suppliers
Sustainable procurement is another great way to green your business. Things to look out for when choosing suppliers:
- policies – what have they put in writing that shows their commitment to being ecologically friendly? Do they follow through?
- location – the closer the distribution model is to your business, the less carbon emissions are produced during transport
- chemicals – check ingredients and production methods for toxic chemical use
- use of recycled or recyclable products
- quality – invest in longer life items over cheaper, low quality “disposable” options (replacing these more regularly often leads to higher costs long-term anyway)
- second hand options – cost effective + sustainable = win-win!This is one area where you can show leadership in your industry and influence others in a positive way. Your suppliers face the same pressures from you, their client, as you do from your own. Let the businesses that you work with know that this issue is important to you and your brand. If they want to keep you as a client, they may well make a change for the better.
- Join the club
Look into forming partnerships with other businesses, government bodies and environmental groups who identify as ‘green’. You may be able to negotiate better rates with local suppliers, take advantage of the sharing economy by pooling assets or even cross-promote your sustainability and increase each other’s sales potential. In this age of disruption (link to previous blog?), people are far more open to doing things differently; use this business climate to your advantage.
- From little things…
Even the smallest changes in your business can have a great cumulative impact. Decorate your office with live plants to improve air quality. Make the most of natural light in your workspaces for light and warmth. Switch out expensive cleaning products for plain old vinegar and bicarb. Choose less disposable promotional items that prospects may value more (water bottles and coffee mugs vs cheap pens or balloons etc). Reductions in your use of resources will create savings in your budget over time.
- Put it on (carbon) credit
If you have done absolutely everything in your power to decrease your carbon footprint, but want to wipe the slate completely clean, investigate carbon offset credits. This is a system where you quantify the impact of your business in units of carbon, then purchase units of activity (tree planning for example) that offset that impact to the same value. It needn’t mean extra running costs for your business. You can recoup the investment by increasing your prices (remember customers are happy to pay more for ‘green’) or allow customers to choose this as an ‘add on’ to their purchase if you prefer.
‘Greenwashers’ be warned
Greenwashing is the act of falsely claiming that your company is committed to and actively aiding the environment. Indeed, such businesses often spend more on marketing themselves as ‘sustainable’ than they do actually being so. It is a big no-no. Those who are caught ‘green-handed’ will likely find themselves on the wrong side of a PR storm that will be hard to recover from. With online reviews so easily accessed and 90% of customers preferring to make an informed purchase, it’s going to negatively affect the bottom line.
It’s greener on the other side
Climate change will have a huge impact on business: from the effects of extreme weather events on supply chain through to increased energy costs. Luckily business can have a similarly significant impact on climate change by reducing their environmental footprint. It doesn’t have to hurt either: many adjustments to the way you run your business will cost you little more than extra research or a little elbow grease. By treading lightly on the earth, our legacy to future generations will be a healthier planet and stronger economy. Go green!