April 22 is Earth Day, an opportunity for us to commit to enacting the change needed to protect the planet we call home. Many of us already practice sustainability in some way, shape, or form – but when it comes right down to it, no matter how diligent and mindful we are, there’s always room for improvement.
The ravages of climate change have made us acutely aware of how we shape the future of our planet. With sustainability becoming more important to consumers, we wanted to provide our small business community with easy and actionable tips to use Earth Day as a launchpad to minimize their environmental impact all year long.
12 tips to make your small business more eco-friendly
Sixty percent of consumers worldwide rate sustainability as an important factor in their purchases, according to a recent report by global strategy and pricing consultancy Simon-Kucher & Partners. Here’s how to ensure your small business meets your customers’ sustainability standards.
1. Reduce plastic and single-use item usage
Single-use plastics are everywhere. Around 36% of all plastics produced are turned into single-use food and drink containers, and other forms of packaging, 85% of which winds up in landfills or as unregulated waste, per the UN Environment Programme. Plastics don’t disappear, either. Instead, they break down into microplastics that can enter the human body – a worrisome finding, even if the health impacts of microplastics aren’t entirely clear.
As a small business owner, you can turn the tide by replacing single-use kitchenware with reusable and/or compostable alternatives. If you use a pod coffee machine, swapping it out for a traditional coffee maker will keep a lot of waste out of landfills. (Plus, the coffee will taste way better.)
Today, merchants and food service providers have many options for eco-friendly containers, food wraps, and carry-out bags. Though they tend to be more expensive, your customers will appreciate the switch and won’t mind paying a few cents more — especially if you let them know in advance and explain why. Reusable shopping bags are also an opportunity to extend your branding beyond the front door.
2. Reduce energy costs
Due to a number of factors, including the pandemic and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, energy costs are on the rise. Reducing your reliance on gas and lowering your electricity usage will help you cut down on both costs and carbon emissions, so it’s a win-win all around. Here are a few ideas to get you going:
· If you use gas-powered tools and machinery, think about what you could replace with propane or electric alternatives. Propane is produced domestically, so it’s far preferable to gas for many reasons. Electric tools might not be as powerful as their gas-powered counterparts, but the trade-off is cleaner air, less noise, and lower costs.
- Replace your incandescent light bulbs and fluorescent tubes with LEDs. They cost more initially, but they last longer and use only a fraction of the electricity.
- Install a smart lighting system. Smart LED bulbs can either be connected to a smart home hub or programmed to turn on and off at preset times.
- Smart thermostats optimize energy use and maintain optimum temperatures throughout the day and night.
- Maintain your HVAC systems seasonally. Even the small task of replacing filters helps your HVAC systems run at peak efficiency, reducing costs and extending the life of your equipment.
- Unplug electronics when not in use. Most computers and electronics are still technically “on” even when shut down. By unplugging (if that’s feasible for you), you’ll reduce the energy load by about 10%.
3. Reduce water usage
Water is one of Earth’s most precious and life-sustaining resources. Industry accounts for about a fifth of the world’s freshwater consumption, a recent UNESCO report found. In other words, conserving or reducing the amount of water your business uses can make a huge impact – and it’s easy to do.
- Generally: Check for leaks throughout your building and property, including all faucets and sprinkler systems. Maintain or replace regularly.
- Salons and restaurants: Install low-flow water valves and toilets to reduce water use.
- All: Reuse water when possible for maintaining landscaping and watering plants. This could mean melted ice, leftover wash water (as long as you use biodegradable soaps), kettle water, and any other water you would typically pour down the sink.
4. Buy second-hand
From office furniture to restaurant equipment to décor of all kinds, purchasing second-hand keeps things out of the landfill and gives perfectly good stuff a second life. Even if you need to install a kitchen, flooring, or cabinetry of any kind, you can often find great deals at your local Habitat for Humanity ReStore, salvage yards, or even through local contractors.
Restaurant equipment frequently gets auctioned when places go out of business, giving you a chance to pick up commercial-grade (often brand-new) items for pennies on the dollar.
5. Donate items you no longer need
Downsizing or upgrading your gear is an excellent opportunity to donate. Do whatever you can to keep things out of our landfills. Here are a few ideas:
- Choose a local charity or cause to donate to.
- Offer your stuff to other local businesses.
- Post your items on social marketplaces for free.
- If the items are repairable, fix them and give them away.
- Donate to film studio prop lockups for use in productions.
- Donate raw materials to schools or art studios for use in projects (or turn them into art yourself!).
- Give used electronics to Goodwill so they can be refurbished and resold.
6. Choose sustainable sources
Where you source your products, equipment, packaging, and raw materials can speak volumes about your sustainability commitment. The companies and products you align with become part of your inner circle, so it’s critical to choose mindfully.
Before you purchase any products, no matter how simple the decision might be, do some research first. Know where your products are coming from, where they’re made, and how raw materials are sourced. Big brands are very up-front about their sustainability and carbon reduction commitments. Choosing suppliers based on shared ideals strengthens your sustainability program and supports a circular economy.
7. Reuse when possible
Office supplies and other expendables are among the most wasteful products. Sticky notes, paper, ball pens, pencils, and paper are common culprits, and many can be replaced with renewable items or done away with altogether.
- Stop buying plastic pens.
- Use cartridge pens that can be refilled.
- Ditch the sticky notes for whiteboards or online tools, like Evernote.
8. Upgrade your recycling program
So many things can be recycled or composted, and there’s no better day than Earth Day to start a new program. Be sure you have enough bins to separate different recyclables and compost all food waste and compostable packaging.
Take your composting a step further by choosing take-out and food suppliers that only use compostable packaging. Most cities have green bin programs, and if you use a waste management service, you can request a compost bin. Check with your service supplier to find out what programs they support and how you can participate.
Old electronics can be recycled either by donating the items to Goodwill (as mentioned above) or to other refurbish programs. If you do use an electronics recycler, ask about their sustainability measures. Choose one that has an e-Steward certification or search through earth911. BestBuy and Staples also have e-recycling programs, and you might even receive a store credit in return!
9. Go paperless
We’re living in a digital age. In the vast majority of cases, paper is unnecessary. Here are a few ways to go paperless and the benefits you’ll enjoy by doing so:
- Switch to a virtual mail provider and ditch your postal mail (which will also save you time and payroll hours).
- Digitize all your paper files. You’ll never lose or misplace another file or search for a document ever again.
- Switch to an online platform like Invoice2go for estimates, invoicing, banking, accounting, and CRM.
10. Prioritize sustainability in business partnerships
The businesses and people you partner with should reflect your ideals, including your sustainability commitment.
Examine all your professional partnerships (including those with existing vendors and software partners) to learn about their environmental and carbon reduction programs. If you find troubling information, such as irresponsible materials sourcing, unethical labor practices, or reliance on unsustainable sources or processes, find new partners.
Maintaining relationships with organizations that don’t share your values contradicts your sustainability statements — and if there’s any controversy, your customers may not give you the benefit of the doubt.
Here’s how to do it:
- Start as close to home as possible. Support your community in improving its environmental footprint and become a sustainability champion.
- Donate supplies and equipment when possible.
- Facilitate recycling and reuse between local businesses.
- Become green-certified if that makes sense for your business. Green certifications are available for builders, roofers, events professionals, supply chain, infrastructure, zero-waste programs, circular economy pioneers, and much more.
11. Incentivize your employees
Big changes require big effort. If you’re implementing new programs in the workplace, you need to champion those results. Getting your employees involved is a great way to multiply and accelerate your results, and you might just reach your goals that much faster.
Sustainability is everybody’s responsibility, but it’s also crucial for each individual to know how their efforts impact the bigger picture — including the bottom line. Be sure to walk your employees through the processes, so they understand the “why” as well as the “how.” Connecting the action to the result improves follow-through.
- Build your internal culture around environmental goals and sustainability.
- Incentivize and reward good habits to show employees how much you value their commitment.
- Involve your team in the process. Solicit feedback and ideas to improve sustainability programs within the company and the community.
- Set clear and measurable goals and celebrate those wins!
12. Purchase carbon credits
Even the most sustainably-minded businesses produce a lot of carbon, some more than others. There are many things a company can do to reduce its carbon emissions, but not all are economically or practically feasible. Delivery services must use vehicles, and not all can afford to switch their fleets to electric — ditto for landscapers and builders, many of whom can reduce but maybe can’t eliminate their impact.
We can only do what we can do. Fortunately, there are ways to offset the damage by buying carbon credits.
What are carbon credits? Simply put, one carbon credit is equal to one metric ton of carbon dioxide or equivalent gasses. You can buy carbon credits from organizations involved in environmental projects, such as reforestation, mangrove restoration, seagrass rejuvenation, or clean energy infrastructure projects, like renewable energy. The money invested goes toward projects to help repair environmental damage and support sustainable development.
The cool thing about carbon credits is that you can choose where your money goes, just like donating to a cause you care about. You receive carbon credits to offset your emissions and can report your impact to your customers and the public. You can track the progress of the projects you back and see the difference your contribution makes. Some companies even get their customers in on the action by building carbon credits into their purchases — a terrific idea to create excitement in your environmentally conscious audience.
If you’re interested in purchasing carbon credits, be sure you research your investment first. Back projects that are trackable, certified, and verified by Gold Standard, a globally-recognized certifying body dedicated to transparency. They ensure that the money you invest goes where it’s supposed to, and provide traceability tools and certificates to verify your purchases.
It’s worth remembering that while carbon credits can buy us time until we lower overall emissions, we still need large-scale political, economic, and technical solutions to curb climate change at a systemic level, as Vox points out.
Still, applying even a couple of these ideas can help reduce your business’s impact on the planet and demonstrate your commitment to improving the environment. What’s next? Put the word out, of course! Don’t be shy about your efforts. People want to know! And though you might not be doing it for the accolades, we guarantee some heads will turn your way. You might even inspire others to get on board, too — and that’s how we change the world. Millions of baby steps can add up to giant leaps.