4 Steps for Small Businesses to Implement Sustainable Solutions

Last Updated: 

April 28, 2024

All small businesses need to be looking for ways to make a positive environmental impact at the moment, both as a means of impressing climate-conscious customers and in order to minimise costs. Yet if you don’t know what represents a good starting point in this endeavour, you’ll probably be prevented from taking even the simplest first steps.

To avert this state of eco paralysis, here are a few small but significant things you can do, and why they work.

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Key Takeaways on Implementing Sustainable Solutions in Business

  1. Start with the Basics: Begin sustainability efforts by minimising office waste, including going paperless, setting up recycling stations, and optimising printing.
  2. Revamp Packaging Solutions: Embrace eco-friendly packaging materials such as recycled or biodegradable options and consider reusable designs to appeal to environmentally conscious consumers.
  3. Optimise Energy Usage: Streamline energy consumption by conducting audits, switching to LED lighting, and investing in smart thermostats to reduce costs and carbon emissions.
  4. Address Transportation Impact: Implement sustainable transport solutions like carpooling incentives, transitioning to electric vehicles, and optimising delivery routes to reduce the carbon footprint of transportation.
  5. Consider Long-Term Benefits: While changes may take time to show significant results, prioritising sustainability not only benefits the environment but also enhances customer satisfaction and long-term cost savings.
  6. Stay Informed: Keep abreast of evolving eco-friendly practices and technologies to continually improve sustainability efforts and stay competitive in the market.
  7. Collaborate for Impact: Partner with like-minded businesses and organisations to amplify sustainability initiatives and create a larger positive environmental impact.
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Step 1: Minimising Office Waste

The foundation of any sustainability initiative starts with the basics - reducing waste in your daily operations. Small businesses often overlook simple measures that can significantly decrease their environmental footprint and operational costs - so here’s what it involves:

  • Go Paperless: Transition to digital documents and communications. Not only does this reduce paper waste, but it also speeds up processes and enhances accessibility.
  • Implement Recycling Stations: Set up clearly marked recycling bins throughout your workplace to encourage proper disposal practices among employees.
  • Optimise Printing: If printing is essential, set printers to double-sided printing by default and use recycled paper.

The EPA has been pushing for a reduction in waste paper and cardboard for many years - and while usage peaked in the early 2000s and has declined since, we’re sitting at a bit of a plateau at the moment, with almost 70 million tons being produced annually. 

Doing your bit by cutting out this type of waste as much as possible will give you solid eco credentials, as well as meaning you aren’t pouring money into a bottomless pit of paper.

Step 2: Embracing Eco-Friendly Packaging

Once your day-to-day operations are leaning towards sustainability, the next impactful step is to overhaul your packaging solutions. 

Here’s where to start:

  • Choose Sustainable Materials: Opt for packaging made from recycled or biodegradable materials. Materials like cardboard, bamboo, or even mushroom packaging are excellent alternatives. Working with a renewable and sustainable packaging company like Earthwise Packaging is a good way to go about this.
  • Reduce Packaging Size: Streamline packages to fit products snugly without unnecessary space, reducing material usage and shipping costs.
  • Incorporate Reusable Designs: Consider designs that encourage consumers to reuse the packaging, adding value to their purchase and reducing waste.

Research suggests that 43% of consumers now place packaging material at the top of the pile in terms of what shapes their buying decisions - which means you really cannot take your foot off the gas here. 

Better yet, there’s a willingness among the most committed eco-shoppers to pay more for sustainably packaged products, so even if there’s a cost involved in making this change, you can recoup it with a price increase to recoup your initial outlay.

Step 3: Streamlining Energy Consumption

Another essential step in weaving sustainability into your business operations involves optimising how energy is used within your workspace. Given that estimates for the carbon emissions of buildings range from 26% to 39%, this is no small matter. 

Here’s how to achieve efficiency:

  • Conduct an Energy Audit: Hire professionals to assess where you're using the most energy and identify opportunities for savings.
  • Switch to LED Lighting: Replace old bulbs with LED alternatives that consume less power and last longer, saving money on both electricity bills and replacement costs.
  • Invest in Smart Thermostats: These devices automatically adjust heating and cooling based on the time of day and whether someone is in the room, which helps avoid unnecessary energy consumption.

All of this matters for purely financial reasons as well - with experts warning that recent rises in energy costs could hamper growth for a protracted period. So if you’re keen to shield your company from further fluctuations, going green is the best route forward.

Step 4: Adopting Sustainable Transport Solutions

Transport and logistics are often major contributors to a small business's carbon footprint, especially if your operations involve frequent deliveries or employee commuting. While efforts to cut emissions are being made, there was still a 3% rise reported in 2022, and so making strides in this area can significantly enhance your sustainability credentials. 

Steps here can include:

  • Encourage Carpooling and Public Transport: Offer incentives for employees who carpool or use public transit. Benefits could include subsidised travel passes or preferred parking for carpool vehicles.
  • Adopt Electric Vehicles (EVs): If your business requires a vehicle fleet, consider transitioning to EVs. These vehicles reduce greenhouse gas emissions and, increasingly, total ownership costs.
  • Optimise Delivery Routes: Use route planning software to ensure that delivery routes are as efficient as possible, minimising drive times and fuel consumption.

Of course the most eco-conscious option is to eliminate the need for transport wherever possible. So if employees can work from home rather than commuting to the office, go for it!

Final Thoughts

These are just some uncomplex switches that small businesses can make to be genuinely sustainable - and while they might take time to bear fruit, you have to take a long view when tackling the environment, and the short term benefits in terms of keeping customers happy will incentivise you to start taking action rather than merely treading water.

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