Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur taxpayers own.
Businesses of all kinds are making sustainability a priority. In today’s world, a sustainable business model is practically a necessity. Whether you have a brick-and-mortar store, a tech startup, or even a law firm, now is the time to embrace a sustainable business model.
While adopting sustainable practices may seem expensive or out of reach, there are many easy and cost-effective ways to embed corporate sustainability into the fabric of your business.
Related: The 4 Principles of Sustainability Innovation for Modern Brands
Ashlee Piper, sustainability expert and author of Give a shit: Do good. Live better. Save the planet. says that corporate sustainability can come in many forms.
“There really isn’t a single rubric for sustainability… It’s really a self-developed, pick-your-own-game adventure game,” says Piper.
Although small business owners with smaller profit margins may be intimidated by the idea of committing to a sustainable business model, Piper says that small businesses are actually better positioned to adopt effective corporate sustainability practices because they tend to be more agile. and adaptable than large companies.
What is corporate sustainability about?
Corporate sustainability refers to long-term, transparent strategies that prioritize the environmental, social, and ethical realities of your business. It is a broad term and can be implemented in many different ways.
Related: How to prepare your remote team for the future
Some companies may prioritize sourcing locally or reducing carbon emissions, while others may emphasize giving back a portion of their profits to NGOs or social programs. Certain employees may be interested in cruelty-free and vegan food options, while others care more about closed-loop manufacturing. It’s up to you to decide exactly which sustainable path to take and how to achieve those goals.
Piper suggests starting small and building momentum until you’re ready to implement a stronger corporate sustainability model in your company. Ultimately, you’ll want to have sustainability at the core of your business. In the long term, you should plan to hire consultants dedicated to your sustainability goals and even include sustainability efforts in your tax reports. You don’t have to start here (and you shouldn’t), but keep in mind that the bigger corporate sustainability actions you take, the more financial and ecological benefits you’ll reap in the long run.
Here are some tips to help you build momentum for corporate sustainability action in your small business and ultimately help you run a more sustainable business. First, there are some fruits close at hand, and then tips for building larger projects that will help your business save money and become essentially sustainable.
1. Turn it off
A super easy way to save costs and make your business more environmentally friendly is to adopt an “off” policy in your office. This means that all lights and devices are turned off at the end of the day.
Installing motion sensors for your lights or using energy efficient lighting such as LEDs will reduce energy use. Finally, making the most of natural light is an effective way to save on energy costs and help your employees feel their best in the office.
Related: 4 tips to take the sustainability of your startup to the next level
2. Remote control first
One of the best ways to reduce your company’s carbon footprint is to make your business remote (or as remote as possible). Encourage your team members to work from home unless there is an explicit reason for them to come to the office.
According to a study by Global Workplace Analytics, encouraging your employees to work remotely at least 50% of the time can save your business around $11,000 per employee per year.
These significant financial savings are also tied to greatly reduced costs and energy consumption. By allowing your employees to work from home, you’ll reduce commuting energy costs, power an office, and maintain basic infrastructure.
A remote first model will also help you save in unexpected ways. Piper says that remote workers are actually healthier, significantly reducing the burden of health insurance costs and life insurance costs.
Related: Are fully remote businesses the future?
If remote work isn’t an option at your business, composting is a relatively easy way to reduce office waste and save money.
Lunchtime is the most wasteful time of the American day, says Piper. “We produce almost 10 pounds of garbage per person during lunch, because we go out, we buy lunch and all that jazz.”
Encouraging composting in your business is obviously a greener option, but it will also save you money. Piper estimates that you could cut your garbage bills by 40 to 50 percent by composting at the office.
4. Examine your company loot
Many companies love to give their employees all kinds of trinkets, such as t-shirts and pens, to increase brand awareness and encourage staff to represent the company. Although well-intentioned, many of these gifts end up going to waste. Ask your employees what they really need and keep that in mind before you buy name-brand baseball caps wholesale.
Related: 15 startups that contribute to sustainability
5. Reduce travel
Traveling for work is expensive and carbon intensive. With virtual meeting platforms like Zoom the new norm, reconsider whether or not an in-person visit is really necessary.
If it’s essential for you or your employees to travel for work, consider some of the ways you can reduce your carbon footprint. Piper says forward-thinking companies like WeWork are taking drastic steps to reduce their travel footprint.
“They only book hotels with LEED certification. They are only booking non-stop flights. They are not in first class or business class, because those seats take up a lot more space. They don’t allow people to check bags unless absolutely necessary.”
While this could be a more extensive and intimidating project to incorporate, take a hard line when it comes to travel. It will mitigate many of the environmental and financial costs of business travel.
6. Encourage employee engagement
When you’re ready to take sustainability even more seriously, Piper says getting your employees involved is one of the best places to start.
“Instead of the trust-building team-building activities that many of us have had to suffer through, there are a whole host of environmentally impactful team-building activities that people can do that really make a difference.”
It is up to each individual company to decide what their priorities are. Perhaps your employees can pick up trash in a neighborhood or raise funds for a local issue. The possibilities are virtually endless, so get together with your team members to discuss how they’re most interested in getting involved in your company’s sustainability goals.
Related: How to turn sustainability into a brand and business strength
7. Hire a sustainability consultant and do an audit
One of the biggest steps your company can take toward a serious commitment to corporate sustainability in your culture is to hire an internal sustainability manager. Obviously, a salaried employee is an added expense, but according to corporate sustainability principles, it’s an investment that can ensure your business survives and thrives well into the future.
Having sustainability as part of the actual strategic plan of your business is another good long-term goal. That includes conducting a sustainability audit or even including these practices in your annual report.
Piper says that an audit is very valuable because it shows how your company can improve its sustainability efforts. “Because you really don’t know unless you figure out where you are right now… It’s no longer just a niche that Patagonia would have. It’s something that’s now woven into the fabric of all kinds of companies, no matter the size.”
the heart of the business
Today, many clients demand that companies take corporate sustainability seriously, and your team can do that in many ways. Start somewhere, even if you just offer refurbished laptops or furniture to workers instead of new, or turn off the lights in the office at the end of the day. Before you know it, sustainable practices in your company will be at the heart of your growing business.
Related: Sustainability in business: why change is needed now