Boosting small business sustainability

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November 21, 2023 - In today’s business landscape, organizations that prioritize sustainability not only see environmental benefits, but enjoy a positive impact on brand reputation and the health of operations too.

Fifty percent of consumers rank sustainability as a top five value driver, while 32 percent of Gen Z and 31 percent of Millennials are willing to pay a premium for sustainable products or services. This demonstrates the increasing importance of sustainability during the buying process, and the key role it plays in boosting overall brand proposition.

Small businesses are not immune to these benefits, and although investing in sustainability may seem daunting, there are simple steps these organizations can take to become more sustainable:

  1. Take stock of your energy inventory: This doesn’t need to be overly complex. Write down your top five energy consuming processes or equipment. Then look for opportunities to use them more efficiently, or even more importantly, identify opportunities to transition fossil fuel-powered to electric-powered equipment or vehicles. In addition, seek out grants and government subsidies to help foot the bill.
  2. Learn about the impact of your products: This will represent opportunities. Ask your customers about their buying preferences and business objectives (for B2B). Even better, think about new prospective clients who are seeking out sustainable alternatives and match your services and products to those.
  3. Evaluate the various life cycle stages of your products: What materials are they constructed of, and what are the impacts of raw material extraction and production? How is the product powered or used? How is it discarded and what are the impacts? Thinking about downstream impacts creates a ripple effect upstream in your own design process; creating opportunities to evaluate the design and materials of your products.
  4. Think local: Transporting goods from suppliers to customers can significantly increase your organization’s carbon footprint. Seek opportunities to reduce this by collaborating with local suppliers. This not only supports your local community but also leads to benefits like a stronger tax base that funds the essential infrastructure and services you depend on.
  5. Open your thinking to turning your business model inside-out: Are there opportunities to reframe your products as services? For example, if single-use packaging is one of your more significant negative impacts, can you pivot to reusable packaging and take-back programs? This of course creates other challenges, but it can be the source of differentiation and enable you to increase revenue away from lower-margin products toward higher-margin services.

As consumers and stakeholders are increasingly conscious of their environmental footprint, focusing on sustainable practices can give small businesses a strategic advantage. Small businesses that take these steps are not only contributing to a greener future but are also positioning themselves for long-term success, which adds value to their local community.

Read more from Ryan in ESG compliance: Navigating sustainability-related regulations and Future of work: The role of ESG regulations. Follow along with more sustainability-focused content and other topics that should be at the top of your list at BSI’s Experts Corner.