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Running a business

Reducing your carbon footprint: Lessons from eco-friendly companies

You’ve heard the buzz about sustainability, but it hasn’t been something you’ve focused on yet.

You aren’t alone. 

Many business owners still have the perception that reducing their carbon footprint is a zero-sum game. Benefiting the environment means harming your business.

“Recently, however, new common wisdom has emerged that promises the ultimate reconciliation of environmental and economic concerns,” explains an article for Harvard Business Review. “In this new world, both business and the environment can win.”

There’s no denying that environmental impact is now top of mind for consumers—which means it needs to be a priority for businesses as well. 

But if you’re still feeling resistant to these changing tides, we’re here to help guide you. Over the past month, we’ve covered a number of environmentally-friendly companies and pulled together these four lessons from their stories that you can put to use in your own small business. 

Your customers love to buy from environmentally friendly companies

Customers have a lot on their mind when making a purchase decision—they’re weighing things like cost, convenience, and social proof. 

It’s tempting to think that your environmental practices aren’t even on their radar. But, believe it or not, they really are. In fact, over 90% of Australian consumers are concerned about environmental sustainability.

This emphasis on sustainability will only continue to grow as the younger generations increase their buying power (millennials are a particularly eco-conscious generation of shoppers). 

This increasing focus is even giving rise to a whole new category of businesses—where sustainability isn’t just “good” business, but it is the business. It’s at the core of the product itself, rather than a tweak to an existing process or a clever marketing ploy. 

This trend won’t move backward. Environmental impact is something that current and future consumers care about. More and more they’ll seek out businesses who align with these values. 

Green is affordable, big and small businesses prove it

There’s no sugarcoating it: If you’re truly focused on sustainability, there will be an upfront investment to choosing environmentally-friendly supplies and vendors.

However, there are plenty of sustainability practices that will cost you next to nothing. Try instituting a recycling program for your used products and packaging or encouraging employees to bike to work.

Even better, there’s actually a financial upside to reducing your impact. There are often tax breaks for becoming more energy efficient and, obviously, focusing on conserving energy and power also reduces your monthly bills. 

As a large-scale example, General Mills refitted an old plant to focus on energy efficiency and saved $4 million annually from that single location as a result. But you don’t need to be a giant corporation to experience major savings. 

For example, I spoke with a grocery store owner who installed solar panels on the roof of his store. Why? Because food service buildings have been reported to have the highest energy consumption among commercial buildings. He’s witnessed up to a 15% savings on his monthly energy bill and mentioned there were also many days when the panels were producing more energy than he was using. 

Savings on your monthly expenses aside, a focus on sustainability can also help you make more sales, charge higher prices, and recoup your initial investment. Research by Hewlett Packard shows that 71% of Australians are willing to pay more for environmentally friendly products.

Reducing your carbon footprint can save you money

Yes, there are some environmentally-conscious changes—like altering your product packaging or installing solar panels—that will require an investment in time and money. 

But not all sustainability practices are large or complex undertakings. There are plenty of smaller changes you can make to go green. Simple tips add up to big results:

  • Ditching the styrofoam coffee cups in your break room
  • Powering down your equipment every night to save energy
  • Moving toward online subscriptions and a more paperless office
  • Eating locally, subsidising public transportation, and buying safe cleaning products

Little adjustments can reduce your impact and prove your commitment to sustainability—without being completely daunting and time-intensive. 

Small business practices can and do impact the environment

You’re only one business—how much impact can you really have on the environment? It’s not like your company alone will make or break an environmental crisis, right? 

That tendency to minimise your own contribution is understandable, but it’s also misguided. Consider this: Australians produced 64 million tonnes, or 2.7 tonnes per person of waste in 2014-15 alone. 

That fact alone is one of the many reasons why businesses large and small have shifted to sustainable design—in their marketing materials, their packaging, and even in their products themselves.

No, your changes won’t be on the same scale as a large corporation like Apple revamping its iPhone packaging  to use 84% less plastic. But, that doesn’t mean small tweaks to be more environmentally-conscious aren’t equally worthwhile or positive. 

Remember, big changes are just a series of small improvements that add up.

As a business owner, it’s natural to bristle at the idea of making changes—particularly those that don’t seem time-pressing or offer an immediate, tangible payoff. 

But as these lessons prove, many of the reasons you’ve likely cited for not incorporating sustainability into your small business are based more in fear and skepticism than in fact. 

True sustainability will require a commitment, but it’s well worth it for the benefits that you, your consumers, and our environment will reap.

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