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Going Green? 10 Small Business Sustainability Tips

By Jessica Elliott Reviewed By Mike Lucas
By Jessica Elliott
By Jessica Elliott Reviewed By Mike Lucas

Are you thinking about going green? Business initiatives focusing on sustainability can help the earth and improve your brand reputation while saving your company money. 

Learn why businesses should go green and use these tips to get started. 

Why Businesses Should Go Green

Going green can reduce your company’s environmental impact. However, sustainable actions also cut business expenses, fuel marketing campaigns and attract new customers. 

Purpose-driven consumers want to buy from brands that match their values, and they’re willing to change their buying habits to support sustainability. 

According to a report by the IBM Institute for Business Value and the National Retail Federation, 7 out of 10 consumers who prioritize sustainability “are willing to pay a premium for brands” with green policies and products.

But what does “going green” look like for businesses? According to the IBM data, consumers will pay more for brands that:

  • Sell clean, environmentally friendly products
  • Offer more health and wellness benefits than other brands
  • Provide items and services that make life easier
  • Use natural ingredients
  • Recycle or offer to recycle products
  • Check for product authenticity
  • Deliver full transparency about products
  • Are environmentally responsible and sustainable

Benefits of Going Green for a Business

Increasing sales is only one of the benefits of going green for a business. Eco-friendly strategies that reflect your company, employee and customer values affect your business, too.

A solid plan can give your company advantages such as:  

  • Reduce workplace energy costs: Smart appliances and tools can lower your energy use and save you hundreds of dollars annually.
  • Raise employee morale: Employees want to work for a company that aligns with their values and having a greater purpose can increase spirits.
  • Improve customer engagement: Your small business green initiatives can spark conversations online and amplify your brand.
  • Decrease employee turnover: Happy, engaged employees who feel like they’re making a difference reduces job turnover.
  • Lower business supply expenses: Switching to cloud computing and dumping paper invoices saves you paper, ink and money.

A small shop that’s green in color sprouts a plant from its roof.

How a Company Can Go Green: 10 Ideas

Going green can be an expensive endeavor. However, careful planning helps you prioritize green initiatives and select ones that offer a higher return on investment (ROI). 

Develop a sustainable action plan for your company that includes one or more of the following ideas.

1. Develop Green Office Strategies

Kick-off your planning session by building a go-green team. Try to include one person from each business department. The initial goal should be to identify ways your office can adapt to be more environmentally friendly. 

Assign a team leader and set aside time each week or month for staff to strategize and research objectives. Once you have a list of ideas, send out polls or surveys to test employees’ reactions to the changes. 

Next, delegate tasks to employees with the skill set to complete them efficiently. For instance, procurement can work on finding the best prices for low-energy bulbs or appliances, while accounting can crunch the numbers as they come in.

Then turn over the research to business leaders for additional comments. Executives should look for objectives with the greatest benefits yet compromise on solutions important to staff. 

2. Promote a Go Green Policy

Don’t create your green policy, install some light emitting diode (LED) bulbs and put your report in a drawer. Instead, enlist your marketing and human resources teams to develop an employee awareness and engagement program. 

Generate interest in your program by: 

  • Offering go-green workplace challenges 
  • Providing participation incentives
  • Sharing how the program benefits employees and the environment
  • Being open to suggestions
  • Encouraging team leaders to spearhead initiatives 

3. Reduce In-Person Meetings

According to Statista, it costs $570 per employee for internal training or team meetings and $652 per employee for senior leadership or board meetings. Some of these expenses stem from hourly wages, food and beverages or resource materials. 

Hosting virtual meetings and adhering to a strict agenda can save everyone time, increase productivity and reduce the need for disposable drinks and food items. 

Plus, you can share documents via the cloud or your video conferencing software and avoid printing everything out.

4. Take Small but Important Steps

There are dozens of ways your business can go green without spending tons of money or taking away things your employees enjoy. Look for alternatives to everyday products. 

Examples include:

  • Use LED bulbs that mimic sunlight
  • Install motion-activated sensors for closet and restroom lighting
  • Add smart thermostats programmed to conserve energy during nonbusiness hours
  • Buy energy-efficient microwaves, refrigerators and water coolers
  • Put timers on power strips to cut overnight electricity use
  • Buy reusable pens and nontoxic ink refills
  • Select earth-friendly cleaning products
  • Consider paper towel alternatives
  • Ditch the Keurig and use a reusable coffee filter
  • Keep nondisposable guest cups on hand
  • Set reminders to change your heating, ventilation and air conditioning filters
  • Use recycling bins

5. Encourage Part or Full-Time Remote Work

Shutdowns during the pandemic highlighted the effect commuting plays on air pollution. According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), 28% of greenhouse gas emissions stem from transportation, with light-duty vehicles making up 59% of that figure.

Furthermore, the U.S. Energy Information Administration notes that commercial buildings use 18% of our total energy consumption. 

Remote work may allow you to downsize to a smaller building and reduce carbon emissions from commuters. 

6. Assess Your Supply Chain

Diversifying your supply chain and sourcing close to home provides many benefits to your business and the environment. 

According to McKinsey & Co., “the typical consumer company’s supply chain creates far greater social and environmental costs than its own operations, accounting for more than 80% of greenhouse-gas emissions and more than 90% of the impact on air, land, water, biodiversity and geological resources.”

Consider tracing your supply chain and looking for materials or products that you could purchase locally. 

7. Normalize Alternative Transportation Options

Americans are independent and love the freedom a vehicle provides. But battery-operated bikes and the good old-fashioned kind can work for short commutes, especially if your business offers indoor bike storage and a charging rack. 

Ask your go-green team to brainstorm a bike-to-work challenge or start an office carpool. Additionally, you can let staff use pretax dollars for public transportation costs. Talk with your accountant about allowable fringe benefits.

An employee rides an ebike to work. She is wearing a bike helmet.

8. Share Your Small Business Green Initiatives

Going green isn’t only about how your office does things. Instead, it involves modeling eco-friendly behavior and encouraging others to get on board. 

Start by talking to your local chamber of commerce or business associations. There’s a good chance your local community participates in green initiatives. Could your employees volunteer to organize a park clean-up day or provide the locally sourced treats afterward? 

Perhaps, other members of your community want to participate in your bike-to-work day challenge or join your recycling drive. 

Think about your customers’ values, then develop unique ways to involve them in your going green business efforts.

9. Invest in Sustainable Capital Improvements

Take a look at your capital improvements plan (CIP). Can you achieve your objectives while helping the environment? 

Although the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) Section 179D commercial buildings energy efficiency tax deduction expired in December 2020, more green building initiatives may be on the way. 

A typical CIP extends out 3 to 5 years, so keep your eyes peeled for new changes that may help you prioritize one improvement over another. 

Consider green property management improvements, such as: 

  • Adding solar panels to your building or installing an energy-efficient reflective roof
  • Using Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED)-approved green building practices
  • Remodeling interiors using sustainable and low volatile organic compounds (VOC) products
  • Installing low-flow toilets and switching out all faucets to motion-controlled taps

Also, take a look at lesser-known federal, state and local tax incentives. DSIRE, operated by the North Carolina Clean Energy Technology Center at NC State University, offers a searchable database to help you uncover potential savings.

10. Practice the 4 Pillars of Sustainability

Sustainable actions safeguard resources. We tend to think of these in terms of cutting back on energy or water consumption or earning more money than we spend. 

However, business leaders should create goals stemming from the 4 distinct pillars of sustainability:

  1. Human: Invest in your workforce by presenting upskilling and mentorship opportunities while offering a supportive and inclusive workplace.
  2. Economic: Make short and long-term decisions that make effective use of your assets and keep your company healthy and profitable.
  3. Environmental: Assess your goals and how the outcomes affect the environment. When possible, adjust your objectives to reduce a negative impact.
  4. Social: Participate and give back to your community by acknowledging your business’s role and advocating for improvements. 

Green Office Practices: Examples to Emulate

Explore these green office environment tips from the experts who not only practice sustainability but built it into their business model:

  • Green Spaces offers a 100% solar-powered co-working space, bicycle and car-sharing hub, and gorgeous native gardens.
  • The Sustainable Restaurant Group consists of eco-friendly restaurants, such as  Bamboo Sushi, the world’s first certified sustainable sushi restaurant.
  • Reformation is a fashion brand with strict fiber standards for clothing and transparent commitments with suppliers and manufacturers.
  • Patagonia has promised “1% of sales to the preservation and restoration of the natural environment” since 1985.

Tackle Your Small Business Sustainability Goals

Businesses going green isn’t just a buzzword. Nor should your green office strategies make employees feel like they’re missing out on great coffee or nonscratchy toilet paper. 

Instead, sustainability is a way of doing business that shows you understand your impact on the world. Most importantly, going green shows people, your employees and customers that you care about our shared future.

Jessica Elliott Contributing Writer at Fast Capital 360
Jessica is a business-to-business content strategist and consultant with 24 years of experience in the restaurant and hospitality industry. She writes about technology, marketing and finance.
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