An illustrated person kneels to water a plant situated behind a business building, alluding to the topic of sustainability initiatives in business.
Green

15 Sustainability initiatives for small businesses


What is sustainability in business?

Sustainability in business refers​​ to the responsible management of business resources and operations to minimize environmental impact, ensuring long-term viability and a positive impact on the planet and society.


In the face of economic and environmental challenges, small businesses have a unique opportunity to positively impact the environment. By integrating sustainable practices, you can reduce your environmental footprint, enhance your brand reputation, and attract eco-conscious consumers: 1 in 3 consumers prefer eco-friendly products, and 63% of Americans hope businesses will take the lead in driving environmental change, according to SurveyMonkey


While the term “sustainability” is quite broad, sustainability for business, or corporate sustainability, simply means connecting business activities with global sustainability goals. 


From reducing waste and conserving resources to embracing eco-friendly technologies and fostering a culture of sustainability, there are many sustainability initiatives to consider: 


  1. Conduct waste audits
  2. Encourage recycling among employees
  3. Reduce packaging 
  4. Switch to LED lighting
  5. Install programmable thermostats
  6. Use sustainably sourced recycled paper
  7. Partner with eco-friendly suppliers
  8. Implement green transportation
  9. Emphasize product lifecycle sustainability
  10. Monitor and reduce water usage
  11. Install water-efficient fixtures
  12. Invest in water-saving technologies
  13. Provide sustainability training and awareness programs
  14. Encourage employee involvement in sustainability initiatives
  15. Recognize and reward employees for sustainable practices

Below, we’ll walk through each of these sustainability initiatives and how you can adopt them in your business. We’ll also share sustainability examples from businesses that have successfully implemented them. 

Three illustrations accompany a list of sustainability initiatives related to waste reduction and zero waste.

1. Conduct waste audits

A waste audit involves taking stock of the quantity and types of waste your business generates and how it’s managed. Waste audits are a helpful way to discover what’s being recycled and what’s not, identify disposal problems and areas of inventory waste, and spot inefficiencies in your current waste management. 



Your waste audit results can help you review purchasing and management decisions when it comes to resource efficiency. Addressing these issues to reduce waste in your business can help you save money on costly disposal processes, ensure you’re meeting regulatory requirements, and create more sustainable waste management systems.

2. Encourage recycling among employees

Promoting a culture of recycling within the workplace can help reduce waste sent to landfills and conserve valuable resources. Recycling not only diverts materials from landfills but also reduces the energy and water consumption required to produce new products.



To encourage recycling, provide clearly labeled recycling bins throughout the premises, making it easy for employees to sort and dispose of recyclable materials properly. Establish company-wide communication to raise awareness about the importance of recycling and provide guidance on what items can and can’t be recycled. By fostering employee engagement and participation, you can start a collective effort to minimize waste and promote a greener workplace.

3. Reduce packaging

Product packaging is a main culprit of landfill waste. Of the 2 million tons of plastic containers and packaging waste produced in 2018, over 69% was landfilled, according to the EPA’s most recent data. 



To limit your business’s contribution to growing landfills, evaluate your current packaging systems and consider more sustainable packing options. Swap out single-use containers for more environmentally friendly materials, or consider how to implement box-free returns. Companies like Happy Returns, for example, offer box-free, label-free returns that ship inside reusable totes, reducing packaging waste significantly.


How they did it: Patagonia

94% of Patagonia’s clothing line is made using recycled materials, saving 4,300 metric tons of CO2e—enough to power over 500 homes for one year.


Three illustrations accompany a list of sustainability initiatives related to zero emissions and energy conservation.

4. Switch to LED lighting

LED lights are energy-efficient, consuming significantly less electricity than traditional incandescent or fluorescent bulbs. Making the switch to LED lights can help reduce energy consumption, lower carbon emissions, and decrease your overall environmental footprint. Plus, switching to LED lighting has an average payback period of less than 12 months, according to a QuickBooks survey



Assess your current lighting system and identify areas where you can install LED lights. Replace outdated bulbs with energy-efficient LED alternatives, which last longer and require less frequent replacement. Consider installing motion sensors or timers to optimize energy usage and further reduce electricity waste. The initial investment in LED lighting is often offset by long-term savings through reduced energy bills and maintenance costs.

5. Install programmable thermostats

Contribute to energy efficiency and reduce your business's environmental footprint by installing programmable thermostats. Programmable thermostats provide automated temperature control, so you can optimize heating and cooling based on occupancy at any given time. As a result, you can save energy, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and lower your operating costs.



To get started, assess your heating and air conditioning (HVAC) systems to determine where you can install programmable thermostats. Choose programmable models that offer customizable schedules that you can sync with your hours of operation. Adjust temperatures during unoccupied hours or periods of lower demand to ensure energy isn’t wasted when it's not needed.

6. Use sustainably sourced recycled paper

While going 100% paperless isn’t always practical for business operations, using sustainably sourced recycled paper can help reduce the environmental impact of paper consumption. Opting for paper made from post-consumer recycled content helps conserve natural resources, mitigate deforestation, reduce energy consumption, and minimize the waste sent to landfills.



Purchase paper products with recognized certifications like FSC (Forest Stewardship Council) or PCF (Processed Chlorine Free). These certifications ensure that the paper is responsibly sourced from sustainably managed forests or made from recycled materials. You can also encourage double-sided printing to maximize your use of each page and implement digital alternatives (like digital invoices and receipts) wherever possible.


How they did it: Dr. Bronner’s

Dr. Bronner’s installed solar panels in its employee parking lot to generate much of its own electricity. The company also reduced rinse water use by 85% with a system that lets liquid soap filling machine operators know when to wash out the machines.


Three illustrations accompany a list of sustainability initiatives related to lean manufacturing and sustainability in the supply chain.

7. Partner with eco-friendly suppliers

Partner with suppliers who prioritize ethical sourcing, waste reduction, energy efficiency, and eco-friendly packaging. By collaborating with suppliers who prioritize sustainability, you can contribute to a more sustainable supply chain.



Look for suppliers with eco-certifications such as the CarbonNeutral Certification, LEED Certification, Green Seal certification, or memberships in recognized sustainability programs like the Rainforest Alliance or FSC. Partnering with eco-friendly suppliers not only reduces the environmental impact of your business, but also supports the growth of sustainable practices across industries.

8. Implement green transportation

Prioritizing eco-friendly transportation options in your supply chain can contribute to cleaner air quality and reduced greenhouse gas emissions. Start by assessing your current transportation practices for receiving goods from suppliers and delivering products to customers.



Evaluate any areas where you can adopt greener alternatives. If you have a company fleet, explore transitioning to electric or hybrid vehicles. You might also consider promoting a hybrid work schedule to minimize commuting.

9. Emphasize product lifecycle sustainability

By considering the entire lifecycle of your product, you can make informed choices that minimize waste and conserve resources. 



Evaluate your product—from design and manufacturing to disposal—and identify areas for improvement. Choose materials that are renewable, recyclable, or have a lower environmental footprint. Design products for sustainability and durability to encourage a longer lifespan. Finally, look for ways to reduce waste during manufacturing, such as minimizing packaging.


How they did it: Method

Method's personal care and home cleaning products are formulated with the highest standard of biodegradable ingredients. By definition, at least 70% of carbon-containing ingredients must degrade within 28 days.


Three illustrations accompany a list of sustainability initiatives related to water conservation.

10. Monitor and reduce water usage

To be proactive about resource conservation, implement a water monitoring system to actively track water consumption and usage patterns in your business. From there, identify where water is used inefficiently or excessively, such as leaks, inefficient equipment, or wasteful practices. Fix leaks promptly and consider upgrading to water-efficient fixtures and appliances.

11. Install water-efficient fixtures

A great way to work toward conserving water is by installing water-efficient fixtures, including faucets, toilets, and irrigation systems. Replace old and inefficient fixtures with low-flow or aerated faucets that use less water, and install dual-flush or low-flow toilets to minimize water waste.



Promote water conservation within your business by educating employees about efficient water use and implementing leak detection and repair programs. This sustainability initiative not only helps preserve local water sources, but can also lead to cost savings through reduced water bills.

12. Invest in water-saving technologies

There are a number of different water-efficient technologies available for more ways to conserve water. When you need to replace a water heater or another water-producing product (like a dishwasher), consider WaterSense- and Energy Star-certified products, which are designed for improved efficiency. 



Other technologies to explore include smart irrigation systems, which adjust watering schedules based on weather conditions and plant needs, sensor-based faucets that automatically control water flow, and even water recycling systems or greywater reuse systems that repurpose water.


How they did it: Levi Strauss & Co.

To reduce water waste in its supply chain, Levi Strauss & Co developed its Water LessⓇ technique to significantly reduce water usage in the denim finishing process. By 2025, the company aims to reduce freshwater use in manufacturing by 50% in areas of high water stress and have 100% of key garment suppliers meet their Water LessⓇ targets.


Three illustrations accompany a list of sustainability initiatives related to employee engagement and education.

13. Provide sustainability training and awareness programs

To foster a culture of sustainability in the workplace, provide training and awareness programs to help educate and engage employees. This is particularly helpful for enforcing sustainability initiatives that depend on your employees. Providing relevant training can help establish your commitment to sustainability, ensure alignment on your sustainability plan, and give your employees the tools they need to participate meaningfully.



Sustainability training programs can cover key topics like energy conservation, waste reduction, and responsible consumption. You can provide resources, workshops, or seminars on your highest-priority initiatives, whether that’s a one-time workshop or a monthly lunch and learn.

14. Encourage employee involvement in sustainability initiatives

The success of any collective sustainability initiative in the workplace depends heavily on how involved your employees are. You’ll want to find ways to empower your employees to actively participate in your company’s sustainability efforts. 



You can do this by creating a sustainability committee or task force. This gives employees the opportunity to take ownership of corporate sustainability initiatives, share their thoughts and ideas, and play an active role in implementing them. You could also encourage a little healthy competition related to your sustainability initiatives, making the process fun and promoting teamwork to reach your goals. 

15. Recognize and reward employees for sustainable practices

Acknowledging your employees’ efforts to adopt sustainable practices is crucial for maintaining a greener workplace. It motivates employees to continue their positive efforts and reinforces the importance of sustainability within your organization. 



There are various ways to recognize and reward employees. You can highlight exceptional employees in company-wide meetings or internal communications, offer incentives and rewards for sustainable actions, or provide exciting opportunities for further growth and development in sustainability. 


Can going green be good for your bottom line? 

Investing in sustainability initiatives may require some time and effort upfront, but the long-term payoff is worthwhile—both for your business and the environment. Sustainability is an ongoing journey that requires commitment, creativity, and collaboration, where each small step adds up to significant progress over time. Make sure you also have the right accounting software to help you manage your expenses, track cost savings thanks to your sustainability initiatives, and calculate tax deductions.

An infographic outlines a list of 15 business sustainability initiatives for small businesses to consider.

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