Climate change and other impacts of environmental degradation are no longer abstract concepts. We are now living in a world where we can feel the consequences of our past unsustainable policies and practices. It is, therefore, important for individuals to make eco-friendly choices in their private and professional lives.
Sustainable SME Tips
Here are ten tips that SME owners can use to make their businesses more environmentally friendly.
Put in place a sustainability implementation taskforce
Being eco-friendly is all about making changes to adopt sustainable practices in all departments. A business must make sustainability one of its core guiding principles. This is where the sustainability implementation task force comes in.
This task force consists of individuals who will help push through the sustainability initiatives internally. They will engage with employees and other stakeholders involved in policy formulation and implementation. The task force will not only report on adoption but also advise on other areas to be improved.
To be effective, the task force needs to be empowered with an adequate budget and access to the managers and other policymakers.
Lease or hire equipment
Electronic office equipment is a necessity for almost all SMEs. This is especially true in the current information age where almost all communication and administrative functions require computers.
However, most of this equipment is not being used regularly. Businesses can significantly reduce their carbon footprint by hiring/leasing this equipment when it is needed, rather than buying their own. This hire and return system enable multiple businesses to share the same equipment, thus reducing the overall energy consumption.
It is also cheaper to hire equipment when it is needed rather than buying something that will be underutilized. Having fewer electronic devices also cuts down on e-waste.
Recycling is one of the most recognizable sustainable practices, and for good reason. Sustainability is all about reducing the negative environmental impacts of human activities. Recycling reduces the reliance on natural resources as raw materials. Opting instead to reuse the products we already have.
SMEs should look to recycle their waste or reuse it. This is not only an eco-friendly choice, it also cuts down on their waste disposal budget.
A business’s decision to be eco-friendly should be represented in its procurement policy. An eco-friendly business needs to purchase products that have a minimal negative environmental impact.
- Products made with recycled materials
- Products that can be easily recycled
- Products without toxic chemicals
- Second-hand products
- Products from other eco-friendly brands
This supports the eco-friendly efforts of other businesses and incentivizes more businesses to be eco-friendly.
Support green initiatives in the community
A responsible business needs to have a positive impact on the community it operates in. For eco-friendly SMEs, this means supporting green initiatives within their communities. This could be through donations, volunteering, and offering support and expertise.
Apart from engaging with ongoing projects, a business can take leadership and spearhead the creation of environment-positive community initiatives. These could be:
- The beautification of green spaces
- Eco-awareness education programs for the youth
- Tree planting initiatives
- Funding recycling plants
Supporting these initiatives makes sense from a business perspective as well. Most SMEs source most of their employees and customers from their immediate communities. Having a positive impact in these communities boosts their local brand perception as a responsible business. This provides an important competitive advantage in the local and adjacent markets.
Have a written sustainability policy
In many businesses, a policy is operational when it has been put in writing. Therefore, an eco-friendly SME needs to include its commitment to sustainability in its mission and vision statements. If not, it should have a standalone commitment to sustainability right next to its mission and vision statements.
This is a signal to employees, business partners, and other stakeholders that being eco-friendly is of the utmost importance to the business. It is best if this commitment can be distilled into three or four concise sentences.
Have eco-friendly supply and distribution networks
The transportation industry is one of the single biggest contributors to greenhouse gas emissions. This is because it relies on fossil fuels. An eco-friendly SME must be aware of the environmental impact of its distribution and supply networks.
The business needs to go for electric or hybrid engine vehicles when expanding its fleet. If this is not possible, then it should choose conventional vehicles with fuel-efficient and low-emission engines.
Even better, the company can choose to use commercial courier and transit services rather than operate its independent fleet of vehicles. These commercial services that the company uses in its supply and distribution networks need to share its commitment to sustainability by operating eco-friendly vehicles.
Smart energy management
Reducing energy consumption is an important element in any SME sustainability strategy. Most of the energy consumption in an office comes from lighting, electronics, and heating/cooling.
Choosing energy-saving bulbs, such as LED lights, reduces lighting energy needs. SMEs should take advantage of modern office equipment that comes with power-saving features. Light fixtures and electronics that are not in use should be turned off or set on standby mode.
Properly insulating the workplace cuts down on the heating/cooling energy bills. As with lighting and electronics, rooms that are not being used should have their climate control systems shut off. Switching to alternative renewable energy sources, like solar power, reduces dependence on energy from ‘dirty’ sources like coal plants.
Eco-friendly businesses need to be forward-thinking. If an employee’s position does not require them to be on-site most of the time, then telecommuting should be encouraged. More people working from home reduces the overall daily commute emissions.
Research has also shown that employees who telecommute have a healthier work-life balance. A happy employee is a motivated employee; a motivated employee is a productive employee.
Ideally, an eco-friendly SME should be working towards operating in a paperless environment. But the reality is, almost every office space will require printing from time to time. To be more sustainable, an office needs to be proactive in minimizing its printing needs. Only print when necessary.
Similarly, the office should always purchase recycled paper that has a lower environmental impact than regular ‘virgin’ paper. Double-sided printing should be standard practice to reduce paper usage.
Plant-based inks should be used as they don’t contain toxic chemicals that contaminate the environment after disposal. Recyclable toner cartridges should also be preferred over single-use disposable alternatives.
The final word
A business can work towards sustainability while meeting its overall strategic goals. In fact, as this article has shown, eco-friendly decisions often come with other business advantages. Leasing rather than buying reduces the capital expenditure of equipment. Smart energy management reduces your energy bills. Supporting green community initiatives boosts your brand perception in the markets the business serves. There is no reason why responsible SMEs should not work towards being eco-friendlier.