Making Your SME More Sustainable
In the UK, almost 20% of greenhouse gas emissions come from businesses. In the aftermath of countless studies and David Attenborough TV shows, the number of consumers and investors that want to only associate with businesses who are sustainable and socially responsible is increasing.
Fortunately, there are several simple steps that businesses can take to help them improve their environmental impact.
What are the benefits of becoming a sustainable business?
Over the years, sustainability has grown, and is no longer just a fad. Today, businesses can really benefit from introducing sustainable policies in a variety of manners.
Improved brand image
One of the biggest benefits of becoming a sustainable business is an improved brand image. Modern consumers are much more likely to consider the environmental impact of a purchase than they would have been previously. As a result, whether your business is sustainable or not could have a direct impact on your sales.
Once you have sustainability policies in place, you can promote these as part of your business’ regular marketing.
Increased productivity and reduced costs
Developing sustainable practices often involves streamlining existing processes and conserving resources. Streamlined processes benefit productivity by making it easier and faster for your staff to carry out their daily tasks.
All of this gives your business a chance to reduce expenses whilst increasing income.
Attract new employees and investors
People, especially the younger generations, would prefer to be associated with businesses that are doing their bit to protect the environment. They definitely do not want to be associated with businesses who have had a part in either environmental disasters or welfare scandals. By making your company sustainable and socially conscious, you will attract new employees and investors.
What is the difference between going green and going sustainable?
Sustainability and going green are often used interchangeably, and there are certainly many similarities between the two concepts. A business sustainability plan certainly will include “green” aspects and changes.
Green products or services are those that have a lower impact on the environment when compared to their alternatives. Sustainability will make use of green services and products, but at its heart, sustainability is a broader concept.
Sustainability is all about the long-term impact of your services or product, not just the here and now.
Have a green team
Create a green team or assign a champion for sustainability. This gives your employees a chance to voice their ideas, brainstorm changes, and help your business become more eco-friendly over time.
Giving staff the chance to make these decisions and introduce new policies will encourage them to uphold their end of the ingredient. Ideally, if you have a team responsible for sustainability, you want to include staff from all around the business.
As an example, you would want to include shop-front staff for ideas on in-store sustainability, your pickers and packers might have ideas on packaging, and your marketing team can help tie the entire package together.
Make it fun
People respond well to challenges. Make sustainability a little more fun by setting up challenges for your staff. You could encourage your staff to avoid all plastic cutlery for a month, and reward anyone who does complete the challenge with a little prize. Ideally that is eco-friendly or reusable!
If you want to give your staff something to display to celebrate their achievement, you could opt for printed certificates. Or, for something that your staff can use regularly, consider getting winners mugs printed for your best performers!
Recycle everything possible
A lot of businesses recycle paper, plastic, and ink, however there is so much more that can be done. Coffee pods for most coffee machines can now be recycled through services like Podback, waste metal can be recycled, and so can glass. If your business has outdoor spaces where you grow plants, you could even compost food waste.
In addition, think outside the box! If you need new office furniture, consider buying second-hand rather than new. If the second-hand furniture available doesn’t suit your office space, you could always encourage your staff to upcycle the furniture to give it a new lease of life.
Benefits of recycling for businesses
There are a variety of benefits of recycling for businesses, and that is outside of just looking after the environment. Businesses that do not recycle today can prosper by implementing a recycling policy.
By recycling more of your waste, you can potentially save money on your waste management plan, especially if you recycle in-house. Over time, this can have great benefits for your profit margins.
Motivate your employees
Most of your employees likely recycle at home, and many of your employees would welcome the chance to recycle at work too. The simple act of giving your employees the ability to recycle at work can boost morale and encourage them to see your business in a positive light.
Many suppliers offer extra discounts for businesses who recycle. As an example, many suppliers offer discounts for those who send back their empty ink or toner cartridges for them to be reused.
Lower carbon footprint
Recycling is a really simple way to reduce a business’ carbon footprint. It is a simple change that can be made quickly, and without needing to completely reinvent the wheel.
Sending waste to landfill releases a huge amount of carbon dioxide and methane, and by recycling, you will stop most of your waste ending up there in the first place.
Adopt a no-landfill strategy
In addition to recycling, there are other steps that businesses can take as part of a no-landfill strategy. Businesses can easily send crazy amounts of waste to landfill, and there are easy ways to limit this.
As an example, replace disposable cutlery with either reusable cutlery or more eco-friendly materials like bamboo. Give staff reusable water bottles and cups, and swap out old fluorescent or halogen lighting for LED.
The coronavirus pandemic has greatly increased the amount of people that are regularly working from home, but this practice offers benefits outside of the pandemic.
Remote working, even just a couple of days a week, can greatly reduce your carbon footprint. According to the Carbon Trust, increasing the amount of people who work from home across the UK could save millions of tonnes of carbon emissions each year.
Working from home will reduce the amount of electricity used and reduce individuals’ carbon footprints as they won’t be commuting every day.
There are a range of ways that you can make your office spaces or physical locations green. Sometimes literally!
Add shrubs and plants to your offices. This will improve your business’ air quality, and help it look at lot more attractive. Combined, this will help create a more positive, happy space for your employees.
If you can, try to make use of natural light sources rather than relying on artificial lighting all the time. If you can’t use natural lighting all the time, swap out your traditional, inefficient lighting for modern, LED alternatives.
Sustainability policies should be implemented for every step of the process, and should not be restricted to your physical locations. The dispatch and shipping process is often neglected, but there are many changes that can be made here to make your business more sustainable.
Packaging is a key contributor to waste. We’ve all had parcels delivered where the item is in a box that is far too big, and the gaps have been filled with hundreds of packing beans or air pockets.
Use packaging that is as compact as possible. This will not only reduce cost, but will also reduce the amount of space your parcel takes up in the van. Over time, this will result in fewer trips being made and lowered emissions.
You should also aim to reduce the “Russian doll” effect of putting boxes in boxes. If your product comes in a box that is shipping ready, there is no need to put it in another one.
You can also consider the courier that you are using and any steps that they are taking to increase their sustainability. Find out whether their delivery vans are electric, or what emissions standards they comply with.
Some couriers will even use renewable energy sources where they can, and limit the amount of air transport they use. If they cannot make these changes themselves, some couriers will make use of carbon offsetting schemes.
Responsibly sourced paper
Getting rid of paper all together is very rarely an option for businesses. One way to tackle the environmental impact of paper usage is to opt for responsibly sourced paper.
FSC certified paper
The popularity of FSC certified paper is always increasing, and so it has almost become an industry standard already. FSC certified paper might sometimes be more expensive, however it is much better for the environment than many alternatives.
FSC is endorsed by major charities, such as The Woodland Trust. The FSC scheme aims to protect the world’s forests, ensuring that they are there for future generations to enjoy. It also looks after the rights of any indigenous people who use the forest, and some areas might be protected from felling entirely in order to protect rare animals.
In addition to making changes to your own business, consider making donations to charities that carry out environmental work around the world.
There are multiple ways that this can be achieved. You could donate a percentage of either sales or profits to environmental causes, for example, or set up a fundraiser that benefits these causes.
Alternatively, you could run a promotion that could both increase your sales and benefit the planet. As an example, you could plant a tree for every 10 sales you make, or for every review of your business that is published.
Sign up to environmental certifications or initiatives
If you want to show off your sustainability to your staff, potential investors, and consumers, you want to be able to back it up. Today, there are a range of certifications that businesses can apply for to demonstrate their commitment to socially and environmentally responsible practices.
Once such scheme is the B Corp scheme. This is a voluntary scheme in which businesses are certified every two years for their impact on social and environmental issues.
In addition to the certification itself, being part of a scheme such as B Corp will give you a network of other businesses who will be able to make suggestions and offer advice based on their own experiences.