If you’re a small business owner, sustainability can be intimidating and amorphous. And you are not alone. Most small businesses wonder what they stand to gain by adopting sustainable business practices, and believe that sustainability is something that big corporates should worry about. This would appear valid since most forward-looking corporates have embraced sustainability and have embedded the concept into their strategic plans. And the payoff has been immense.
These corporations can afford to hire sustainability teams to guide the process. The same cannot be said for SMEs, who are limited by financial constraints and may have limited knowledge on sustainability. This makes it far more difficult for them to effect change.
Despite these setbacks, it makes business sense for small businesses to embrace sustainability. Gone are the days that companies existed solely for profits. Today, sustainable enterprises put people and the planet before profits. It has been proven that focusing on people and the planet gives companies, big or small, that are eco-consciousness have a competitive advantage and can lead to more profits.
Frequent reports on extreme weather patterns such as floods, droughts, and wildfires are leading to calls for change. Issues about Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG) are becoming hot topics among the political and corporate class globally, making sustainability a hot topic.
Increased awareness of the environmental and social impact has led to a rapid change in consumer behaviour. Woke consumers now expect companies to have a positive effect on the environment and contribute to change. Today’s consumer wants to associate themselves with businesses or products that reflect their values and convictions. Gone are the days that people used to equate recognised brand names with quality. The millennial consumer is drawn to brands with a relatable story. In fact, today’s consumer is willing to pay more for products and services that are less toxic, and eco-friendly to protect their families and the planet. As such, no matter the industry, a small- or medium-sized business with a sustainable story is more likely to attract today’s consumer, making sustainability good for business.
How to get started with sustainability
Below are some critical aspects for business owners to consider as they transition their businesses to a sustainable terrain.
- Know the source of your products
As a business owner, you should know the source of your raw products. For example, suppose you are in the business of selling packed vegetables in a supermarket. In that case, you should know if the contracted farmers took into consideration ethical, social, and environmental factors when growing the vegetables. You can also give prominence to products made with recyclable, renewable, and/or biodegradable materials. To cut down on transport costs and support the local economy, source your goods and services from local suppliers.
- Adopt eco-friendly packaging
You can drastically reduce your pollution contribution by merely changing the way you package your products. Switch to material that is reusable or biodegradable. Avoid pollutive plastics that will end up in a landfill or end up choking marine life in the ocean.
- Reduce paperwork
The most eco-friendly paper you can buy is no paper at all. The amount of paper we use in our offices is mind-boggling. The more paper you use, the more trees we have cut down. We may console ourselves and plant a few trees, but the rate of planting is way below the rate at which forests are being laid bare.
Aim to be as paperless as possible. Make use of emails and online billing. This will not only cut down the use of paper, but it also leaves you will have more storage space. If you must use paper, opt for sustainably sourced recycled paper.
- Involve your employees
Employees are critical in your journey to building a sustainable business. Once your team is onboard and conscious about your sustainability journey, this creates a culture. You can start by encouraging them to carpool or, where possible, give some employees the option to work from home. These simple acts can cut your company’s overall carbon footprint. Engage your team by asking for ideas on making positive changes both in your workplace and your society.
- Make your office sustainable
A few small changes in your office space can have a significant impact on your carbon footprint.
You can start by working from an office that has natural lighting. If not possible, switch to LED lights to cut your energy costs. Again, if possible, invest in renewable sources of energy such as solar panels.
Install motion-activated light switches instead of relying on employees to switch off the lights, for example, in the washrooms or boardroom. Adopt the ‘everything-off-at-night’ rule. Ensuring that all electronics are turned off when staff leaves the office is a great way to save power and money.
Green your office
Ask employees to bring potted green plants to the office. These will improve office aesthetics and allow employees to get the benefits of nature while indoors.
Ensure that any promotional items you give your clients serve another purpose other than getting your brand name out there. Things like calendars are likely never to be used. Local artisans have an array of sustainable items to choose from.
- Support charitable activities
You can help compensate for your environmental impact by actively supporting activities aimed at conserving the environment. This can take the form of:
Starting a campaign such as tree planting, cleaning your surrounding environment;
Donating towards environmental programmes; or
Taking part in causes aimed at conserving nature.
Finally, show off your small business sustainability progress.
It would be wrong for you not to let everyone know about your achievements. Be loud and proud about your eco-friendly credentials. You can use your social marketing channels to broadcast your achievements. This will set you apart as a brand/business owner that is committed to a better world.
A few simple changes can make a massive difference in helping your small business grow towards a more sustainable future. The causal sequence will be tremendous because available statistics show that SMEs play a huge role in our economy.
A 2017 National Economic Survey report by the Central Bank of Kenya (CBK) said that SMEs constitute 98 percent of all business in Kenya, create 30 percent of the jobs annually as well as contribute 3 percent of the GDP. If half of these small and medium ventures adopted sustainable business practices, the ripple effect would be remarkable.