Three Ways Small & Middle Market Businesses Can Be More Environmentally Sustainable
The climate crisis is the biggest issue of our time, and it's something that every business — from large corporations to small businesses — must pay attention to.
Make no mistake about it: your customers care deeply about this issue, and you should too, if for no other reason than it makes good business sense. According to Nielsen, more than 80% of consumers across most nationalities, ages, and genders say it is “extremely” or “very” important for companies to implement programs that improve the environment.
Many SMBs don’t have the budgets that big brands do to invest in sustainability. Your company many not have the financial resources to install solar panels on your warehouse and heat-pumps in your offices. Nor can you afford to purchase carbon offsets.
But you shouldn’t let the enormity of the challenge stop you from taking your first steps. Here are three ways to put your company on the path to sustainability.
#1: Understand where you stand, and set clear goals
It’s difficult to drive sustainability in your business without understanding where you stand today, and where you have room to improve.
One of the easiest ways to promote sustainability is to offer remote work for your employees, if possible, as transportation is a big contributor to greenhouse gases. It’s likely your company has experimented with remote work during the pandemic and have figured out how to make it work. Set a goal for your company: How many commutes can you reduce in a day, week, month, year?
You can also source sustainable products and look to the secondhand market for things like office furniture and break room couches. Other changes, such as switching over to sustainable packaging or upgrading your facilities so they’re more efficient may require long-term planning and outside expertise.
Whether the changes are big or small, it’s a good idea to work with a trusted partner who can audit your sustainability efforts and identify the areas you can improve. Once you know where you can improve, lay out a clear timeline with goals for improving sustainability.
#2: Make sustainability core to your values
According to a National Retail Federation survey of 18,980 consumers in 29 countries, 57% of consumers said they’d change their purchasing behavior to “help reduce negative environmental impact.”
Consumers are voting with their wallets, opting to reward brands that have made sustainability core to their missions. This is an opportunity for small and mid-sized businesses to distinguish themselves in the eyes of the eco-conscious consumer.
It’s not just consumers who are promoting sustainability. The health of the planet is finding allies in surprising corners. For instance, in August of 2019, The Business Roundtable, a lobbying group for big business, released a statement that redefines the purpose of a corporation.
Rather than simply promoting the interests of shareholders as the Business Roundtable had been espousing since the late 1970’s, the group now says a corporation should seek to “promote an economy that serves all Americans.” To achieve this goal, the Roundtable laid out five commitments for its signers to adopt, including supporting the environment.
It’s sage advice. Embed sustainable thinking throughout your organization, from the suppliers that provide you raw material, to the distance you need to ship your products to get them into the hands of your customers. Consider onshoring or nearshoring manufacturing in order to lower the carbon footprint of your operations (this is probably a smart move anyway, given the supply chain and logistics challenges that are convulsing the economy right now!).
#3: Become Certified B Corporation
Getting B Corp certified is a great way to ensure that you embed sustainable practices throughout your business.
What does B Corp certification mean? According to the B Corp website,
“Certified B Corporations are businesses that meet the highest standards of verified social and environmental performance, public transparency, and legal accountability to balance profit and purpose. B Corps are accelerating a global culture shift to redefine success in business and build a more inclusive and sustainable economy.”
B Corp certification is an arduous process (it is the only certification that “measures a company’s entire social and environmental performance”). But companies of all sizes have achieved the certification because it’s a worthwhile endeavor both for the business and the environment. Customers will notice, too.
We don’t need another season of devastating hurricanes and wildfires to remind us that the climate crisis requires urgent addressing. We are reminded of its impacts daily. We need to imagine a future state of sustainability. Once we do that, we can develop our individual roadmaps for getting there.