While corporate sustainability initiatives make headlines, small businesses have been slower to go green. Studies show that nearly half of all small businesses haven’t implemented any sustainability practices at all.
That’s a shame, because it’s easier for small businesses to shift toward sustainability than it is for their larger counterparts. Though their IT departments tend not to have the financial resources of enterprise businesses, their size gives them the agility to change directions quickly — a critical trait when initiating green practices. They’re also in more direct contact with their employees, customers, and suppliers, making it easier to facilitate the partnerships that sustainability efforts require.
If that’s not convincing, you should know going green isn’t just good for the environment, it’s good for your business. Here are six reasons why yours should embrace sustainability.
It attracts talent
Big businesses can lure the best and brightest with big salaries, a raft of benefits and perks, the buzz of a brand name. How is a small business supposed to compete?
With more people caring about their environmental footprint, greening your business can be a key strategy for acquiring and retaining talent. In one study of employees from around the world, more than two-thirds of respondents said sustainable business is extremely important to them. Sustainability concerns are especially strong among millennials, who prize companies with strong ethics and a commitment to sustainability.
Putting purpose on par with profit helps keep employees engaged. Though they expect employers to take the lead on sustainability, most employees want to play role in the conversation. By involving employees in your company’s sustainability initiatives, you can boost morale and foster a passion that transforms them into advocates for your business.
It's a market differentiator
Many big companies have successfully capitalized on shifting consumer preferences to differentiate their products in a crowded category. For example, Unilever’s “Sustainable Living Plan” brands—which include Dove and Ben and Jerry’s—accounted for more than half of the company’s growth in 2014.
Small businesses that incorporate sustainable practices into their products and services can reap similar rewards. According to The Big Green Opportunity report, a national survey of more than 1,300 business owners conducted in 2013, green small businesses capture significant market share. Seventy-nine percent of respondents agreed that green offerings gave them a competitive advantage, and almost one-third said their green products and services are more profitable than their conventional ones. Even more impressive, three-quarters increased sales of green products and services during the 2008-2011 economic downturn.
Customers are often willing to spend a little more for green products and services as well. Those same businesses reported that when a “high trust relationship” develops between a consumer and an authentically green business, the consumer will readily pay a premium price.
It's more efficient
Small businesses spend $60 billion a year on energy according to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Reducing energy usage is one of the quickest ways to green your operations, and it doesn’t require a herculean effort. Simple changes like turning off lights, computers, and office equipment when not in use; using solar screens and fans to manage temperature; recycling printer cartridges and other waste; and buying Energy Star qualified lamps and office appliances can net significant savings. The EPA says businesses that invest strategically can cut utility costs by 10 to 30 percent. Measures like these are a great way for IT to make the most of its limited budget while also contributing to the company’s overall sustainability goals.
But it’s not just energy efficiency you stand to gain. One study found that employees at eco-friendly companies were 16 percent more productive thanks to a greater appreciation for their workplace.
It reduces risk
Risks are inherent in any size business, and most account for them in their business strategies. But small businesses often overlook environmental risks and their consequences. While not on the scale of large corporations, small businesses still face management issues of waste, raw materials, and water and air emissions. Those that include sustainability in their business decisions are better positioned to avoid environmental incidents and the financial costs and reputation damage that result.
Customers demand it
All-natural cleaning products. Organic pet food. Biodegradable diapers. Just a short stroll through the grocery store shows that consumers are concerned about their impact on the environment. And studies have shown as many as 9 in 10 expect businesses to operate responsibly and address environmental issues.
Nearly as many say they seek out responsible products as much as possible, and would boycott a business if they learned of irresponsible or deceptive business practices. It’s not a question of if you can afford to go green, but if you can afford not to.
It generates goodwill
Reputation is one of the most valuable assets for any business. Small businesses, in particular, live and die by word-of-mouth, and today it travels at the speed of the Internet. People freely share their consumer experiences on social media and review sites.
Engaging in sustainability practices builds community connection and goodwill through a shared concern for our natural environment; studies have shown that businesses that address environmental issues will be overwhelmingly rewarded with trust, loyalty, and a positive image. That’s a sure-fire way to drive 5-star chatter around your company.
Sometimes the goals of going green are based on bottom-line business concerns. Other times, there’s a more emotional motivation. Whatever the catalyst, sustainable business practices have huge impacts on the company, its customers, and the world around them.
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