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14 sustainable business practices to future-proof your company’s ESG efforts

Sustainability has become much more than a buzzword. As we learn more about the impact our actions have on the environment, the face of commerce continues to evolve for the better. 

Consumers are more mindful of how their choices impact the planet and are intentional about the products they buy—and the businesses that make them. As a result, small businesses are adopting more sustainable methods in every process from material sourcing through delivery. 

From small businesses to corporate enterprises, companies are implementing sustainable business practices and shifting to a more eco-friendly culture. 

Follow along to learn how to make an office environmentally friendly and plant the seeds for a sustainable future, so your business can grow and flourish along with the planet for generations to come.

What are sustainable business practices?

Sustainable business practices definition.

Sustainable business practices are a business's actions that create a positive impact on the environment, people, and economy—while still making a profit. 

These practices include both internal and external actions. Internal actions are the efforts within a business. Some examples include:

  • Introducing employee recycling programs
  • Switching to energy-efficient lighting options
  • Eliminating paper usage

External actions are practices that involve the development of products or services. Examples of external actions include: 

  • Sourcing materials from a sustainable supplier
  • Partnering with local vendors to reduce supply chain miles
  • Using recyclable, compostable, or reusable packaging materials

What is ESG? The three pillars of sustainability

Environmental, social, and governance (ESG) reporting is a set of standards that measures how a business practices sustainability. Known as the three pillars of sustainability, these standards can simply be referred to as, “people, planet, and profit.”  

Small businesses typically have less red tape to cut through to implement sustainability policies. This allows SMBs to quickly meet these standards and attract investors who prioritize sustainability, helping these businesses scale faster. 


The first pillar involves issues that affect the environment as well as the efforts and behaviors a company exhibits to create positive change. These issues include the company’s: 

  • Carbon footprint, pollution, waste, and resource consumption
  • Climate change initiatives
  • Treatment of animals and wildlife

At a minimum, the company must comply with environmental regulations.


The second pillar considers how a company contributes to society and its relationships with other businesses and internal workforce. Here are a few examples of how a company’s social standards can be measured:

  • Charity involvement (donations, volunteering, creating programs)
  • Partnerships with ethical and fair trade companies
  • A workplace environment that prioritizes employee health and safety

In addition to green business practices, it’s important for organizations to promote diversity, inclusion, and social justice while fighting against all forms of discrimination.


The third pillar is governance, which means the company is transparent about how it operates and its decision-making processes. Some examples of governance standards include a company’s:

  • Leadership diversity and accountability
  • Company culture
  • Operational integrity  

In order to meet governance standards, businesses should pick leadership impartially, maintain fair and equal pay, and avoid unethical or illegal business practices. 

14 sustainable business practices

Sustainability isn’t something you can do once and then check off the list. It’s a 

conscious decision and culture change that takes commitment from your entire organization. Be intentional about your actions and strive to make a positive impact rather than simply trying to lessen your footprint. 

What are sustainable practices and tips for going green in the workplace? Learn how you can contribute by following these 14 sustainable business practices.

1. Develop policies for workplace sustainability

  • Level of lift: Low
  • Cost to implement: $
  • Sustainability impact: Reduces waste, saves energy, and lessens carbon footprint

Jumpstart your sustainable office journey by developing a sustainable workplace policy. First, put together a committee to brainstorm and identify areas where your business can be more sustainable or reduce waste. Then, list practical steps to achieve your sustainability goals. Finally, draft your policy and share it in onboarding materials, employee handbooks, and relevant locations around the office. 

Here are some common items listed in workplace sustainability policies:

  • Recycle 
  • Minimize paper usage
  • Turn off lights and devices when not in use
  • Buy products made from recycled materials
  • Reduce traveling for meetings

2. Track and measure sustainability data

  • Level of lift: Medium
  • Cost to implement: $$
  • Sustainability impact: Reduces waste, saves energy

Small business owners can track and measure key sustainability indicators to gather information like:

  • The number of sustainable purchases
  • Energy usage and savings 
  • Pounds of waste reduced and materials recycled
  • Sustainable vendors used 
  • Number of volunteer hours
  • Amount of donations to sustainable organizations 

Tracking and measuring this data with QuickBooks Online, you can ensure you’re on track to meet your sustainability goals. 

3. Minimize packaging

  • Level of lift: Medium
  • Cost to implement: $
  • Sustainability impact: Reduces waste and carbon footprint

One of the best practices in sustainability is minimizing packaging and packaging waste. Switching to eco-friendly packaging options or shipping in bulk can help cut down on unnecessary materials. Use options like compostable packaging, 100 percent recycled or recyclable mailers, or water-soluble Green Cell Foam. 

Companies like Hero Packaging create plastic-free, compostable packaging that breaks down in 90 to 120 days (with proper composting methods). If you opt for reusable packaging, Returnly offers a system that lets customers send back empty containers to be sterilized and reused.   

4. Consider renewable energy

  • Level of lift: Medium
  • Cost to implement: $$
  • Sustainability impact: Reduces fossil fuel usage, saves energy

Renewable energy is now cheaper than fossil fuels—and prices keep falling. 

According to EnergySage, investing in solar panels can reduce your bill by 89 percent, not to mention tax credits and performance-based incentives (PBIs) that help reduce costs even more. 

You don’t, however, need to have solar panels on the roof of your office building to support renewable energy. Depending on the state you do business in, you may be able to switch your utility bill to renewable sources. It’s as easy as calling your utility provider to find out.

5. Invest in carbon offset programs

  • Level of lift: Low
  • Cost to implement: $
  • Sustainability impact: Reduces greenhouse gas emissions
How carbon offset programs work.

Carbon offset programs help businesses counteract their carbon emissions and save $3 to $6 per ton (on average). 

How it works: businesses can invest in programs or projects that produce clean or renewable energy to balance their carbon footprint. For example, a business could invest money in wind turbine programs to offset carbon emissions produced by their delivery vehicles. 

6. Offer remote work options for employees

  • Level of lift: Low
  • Cost to implement: $

Sustainability impact: Reduces carbon emissions and fossil fuel consumption

Work from home sustainability by the numbers.

Offering flexible, work-from-home options for employees eliminates the daily commute, slashing carbon emissions and gas consumption. It also saves on resources needed to power a brick-and-mortar office building, like lighting, heating and cooling, water, and more. 

Global Workplace Analytics reported that transitioning to a full-time remote workforce saves businesses an average of $10,000 on real estate, per employee, per year.

7. Partner with eco-friendly businesses

  • Level of lift: Medium
  • Cost to implement: $
  • Sustainability impact: Offset carbon emissions, reduce resource consumption

Creating partnerships with eco-friendly businesses can serve the environment and your company well. Sourcing from local, sustainable businesses shortens the supply chain, conserves resources, and cuts emissions and air pollution. It also increases your brand perception while boosting your local economy.

Reach out to advocacy groups who can help connect you with other sustainable businesses looking to create a partnership. You can also contact your local commerce center or small business administration branch to find companies.  

8. Reduce energy and water usage

  • Level of lift: Low
  • Cost to implement: $
  • Sustainability impact: Conserves energy and natural resources

Sustainability in the office can be as easy as being mindful of your resource usage. Wasting water and energy can be easily preventable with a few simple efforts and investments, including: 

  • Turning off lights when not in use
  • Using natural sunlight 
  • Installing water-saving devices
  • Landscaping with native greenery that requires less water
  • Powering down office equipment
  • Staggering shifts or offer work at home options to reduce 9-5 peak demand 
  • Making energy-efficient upgrades

You can take it a step further by getting an energy audit from a certified commercial energy auditor to see your current consumption and to find ways to save energy. As always, encourage employees to help out with conservation efforts.

9. Make energy-efficient upgrades

  • Level of lift: Low
  • Cost to implement: $$
  • Sustainability impact: Conserves energy

Taking the above tip one step further, investing in energy-efficient upgrades can help your business reduce its energy consumption, benefitting the environment while saving you money. 

  • Look for outdated, underperforming equipment and find an Energy Star-certified replacement. 
  • Replace lighting with energy-efficient options, like LED bulbs and natural light.
  • Upgrade to an Energy Star-certified HVAC system that also reduces mold, bacteria, and allergens to help employee health and well-being.

An Energy Star certification means the product meets strict energy efficiency criteria set by the EPA and the US Department of Energy. Though they may cost more upfront, they can save up to 50 percent depending on the product.

10. Strive for a zero-waste office

  • Level of lift: Low
  • Cost to implement: $
  • Sustainability impact: eliminates unnecessary waste and plastic
Sustainable swaps for your office.

Determine ways your office can become a zero-waste facility, internally and externally. This means making sustainable swaps within the office to send less waste to the landfill. A few examples that help achieve zero waste:

  • Stock your break room cabinets with reusable coffee mugs and utensils instead of single-use items.
  • Digitally store documents instead of wasting paper by unnecessarily printing them. 
  • Switch to compostable or sustainable packaging options instead of plastics.

Most people know the phrase, “Reduce, Reuse, Recycle.” But a couple of new Rs, Refuse and Rot, have joined the team to create The 5 Rs

Refuse means avoiding harmful items like single-use plastic straws, non-recyclable plastic coffee cup lids, or styrofoam containers when getting takeout. 

Rot means composting food and organic waste like fruits, vegetables, and coffee grounds. Contact your local compost pickup service to turn waste into nutrient-rich soil fertilizer.

11. Prioritize eco-friendly supply chains

  • Level of lift: Medium
  • Cost to implement: $$
  • Sustainability impact: Greenhouse gas reduction, less fossil fuel consumption

Freight and transportation are the biggest contributors to greenhouse gas emissions, with 27% of total emissions. so finding ways to create a more sustainable supply chain is crucial to the environment. 

Some tips to achieve a more sustainable supply chain include:

  • Partnering with local, eco-friendly businesses and sources
  • Maximizing space in containers and packaging
  • Optimize routes for lower fuel consumption

Remember, 57% of customers support companies that focus on sustainability, meaning they are willing to wait longer for delivery or adjust their buying habits to help reduce their carbon footprint.

12. Train and reward employees

  • Level of lift: Medium
  • Cost to implement: $$
  • Sustainability impact: Reducing greenhouse gasses, lessening waste

Many employees are eager to do their part to support sustainability in the workplace, while some may need some extra encouragement. Host learning and training sessions to better inform and involve your employees on how you can achieve sustainability goals together. 

Providing incentives and giving rewards is a great way to boost participation. Some ideas include incentives for:

  • Carpooling or biking to work
  • Volunteering or donating to sustainable causes
  • Implementing The 4 Rs

13. Support green nonprofits and volunteer

  • Level of lift: Low
  • Cost to implement: $
  • Sustainability impact: Varies, grassroots support

Supporting eco-friendly nonprofit organizations with charitable donations and volunteering not only fosters positivity for the planet but also offers benefits for your business. Some benefits include:

  • Tax breaks for charitable donations
  • Increased team bonding through volunteering
  • Positive brand perception

Some businesses further encourage employees by offering to match donations to the employee’s charity of choice or offering paid time off to volunteer. Find a wealth of eco-friendly nonprofits here.

14. Push for systemic change

  • Level of lift: High
  • Cost to implement: $
  • Sustainability impact: Varies, grassroots support

Sustainability for business starts with doing your part, but it doesn’t stop there. Continue spreading the word, partnering with other sustainable businesses, and working with your local government to create systemic changes. 

Get each level of your company to buy in and make it a part of your culture. Continually share updates and cause that ben benefit the environment. Get involved with local organizations and business leagues to find out what you can do. 

With one unified goal, you can help implement sustainable changes to better the planet for future generations.

5 benefits of a sustainable workplace

Committing to a sustainable workplace offers a wealth of benefits. We’ve picked out five benefits you can enjoy from adopting sustainable practices in business. 

  • 1. Lessens environmental impact: Doing your part to reduce your company’s environmental impact not only offers immediate benefits but benefits for future generations.  
  • 2. Reduces business costs: Investing in energy-efficient resources keeps operational costs down, while a shipping and supply chain strategy can cut waste and add savings.      
  • 3. Improves brand perception and reputation: When you make an effort to “do good” it creates a positive perception of your brand, which can result in customer loyalty.
  • 4. Boosts employee morale: Creating a culture that champions employee health and well-being increases morale. Prioritizing sustainability resonates with employees, adding purpose to their role and making them feel valued.
  • 5. Increases bottom line: Each factor above can contribute to increased revenue for your business. 

3 examples of sustainable business practices: How SMBs have made an impact 

Need to see sustainable business practices in action with real small businesses? Here are three examples of companies that practice sustainability in their day-to-day operations. 

Virtue Vegan Salon

Virtue Vegan Salon in Columbus, Ohio, is as eco-conscious as it gets. With a goal to become a zero-waste salon, the Virtue team makes every decision with sustainability in mind.  

The salon uses 100 percent vegan products in eco-friendly packaging and also offers a refill program for customers to reuse shampoo and conditioner bottles. They keep their energy-efficient, LED lights turned off as much as possible to conserve energy, and use plant-based, eco-friendly detergents that won’t harm the water supply. 

Virtue recycles or donates caps, lids, and containers to local art programs to be repurposed and hair clippings to Matter of Trust, a nonprofit that re-purposes hair as a cleaning agent against oil spills.

Oh, and their building is surrounded by an urban green space called The Virtue Jungle, featuring raised beds for growing flowers, produce, and herbs.


Aeroflexx is on a mission to revolutionize the packaging industry with sustainability as a cornerstone of their business. Their recyclable liquid packaging technology uses 50 percent less plastic than traditional bottles and has a resealable tear-away top that eliminates the need for non-recyclable plastic caps. It’s lightweight, costs less to ship, and requires no wasteful packing materials. 

Aeroflexx predicts that its sustainable product will positively impact the environment over the next five years by reducing almost two million pounds of landfill waste and saving almost 120 million kilowatts of energy.

 "We have an unwavering obligation to society and future generations to do our part without compromise," said Andrew Meyer, Aeroflexx CEO.

Hive Sustainable Grocery Store

Hive Brands is a sustainable grocery store striving to make sustainable shopping mainstream. Hive stocks its virtual shelves with over 1900 verified for sustainable agriculture and fair or direct trade practices. One hundred percent of their shipments are carbon neutral. Paired with their operations, they have offset over 363,000 pounds of carbon.

Hive makes a conscious effort to partner with brands that give back and support causes for education, community and economic development, human and animal rights, health, poverty and hunger, and, of course, the environment.

Kick off your commitment to sustainability

You don’t have to be an expert in sustainability to start making a difference. But now that you have a better understanding of sustainable business practices and how to have a sustainable business strategy, you can take your first step toward a sustainable future. 

For more sustainable ideas for the future and to learn how to take actionable steps toward reducing the environmental impact of your small business, check out the QuickBooks Green Hub.

Sources: EPA | | Energy Information Administration (EIA

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