Many multi-national corporations are known and respected for their environmental performance. But the benefits of being green aren't limited to enterprise-level organizations. In fact, small businesses are ideally suited to be sustainability leaders in their communities and reap the rewards of reducing their operation's environmental impact.
Global measurement and data analytics firm Nielsen reports that the majority of Americans say it is extremely or very important to them that companies implement programs to improve the environment. The sentiment is particularly strong among millennials ages 23 to 38, who are poised to represent 30 percent of total retail sales with an annual spending power of $1.4 trillion by 2020.
According to a Nielsen executive, "Sustainability is a way to show consumers that you listen to them [and] care for their needs. With the right messaging, sustainability can represent premium indicators such as quality, superior function, uniqueness, and are often tied to the 'go-local' movement."
Be sure to promote them to customers. For example, if you're a retailer, consider "walking your talk" by providing reusable shopping bags. They encourage customers to return and can give you free advertising. Foodservice operators can promote their use of recycled/recyclable paper and packaging products like napkins, carry-out containers and cups by printing environmental messages on them. And professional services firms can promote their green business practices in regular correspondence and bills. However, be wary of "greenwashing" your business. Two-thirds of Americans say they research a company's environmental claims to be sure they're authentic.
Three-quarters of employees say their job is more fulfilling when they are provided opportunities to make a positive impact on social and environmental issues, and 70 percent would be more loyal to a company that helps them contribute to an important issue.
Fifty-one percent of people say they won't work for a company that doesn't have a strong social and environmental commitment.
Ask them for their support and ideas. Consider establishing a "green team" to establish attainable goals and help drive changes. Communicate with them up-front about the need for action and the difference they can make. Then follow up by measuring the benefits of your green initiatives and communicating back about your successes. Remember that even small actions – like turning off lights when a room is not in use – can make a real difference for the environment and your company culture.
Small businesses spend more than $60 billion a year on energy, and the average commercial building wastes 30 percent of the energy it consumes. According to the U.S. Department of Energy, lighting, space heating and cooling are the three most energy-consuming operations in an office, giving businesses plenty of opportunities to save while helping the environment by reducing energy consumption.
While retrofitting your business operations to be more sustainable may require an up-front investment, you may be able to minimize your costs through state, local, and federal government tax credits or deductions or through incentive programs offered by environmental groups, business organizations and your local utility. The U.S. Small Business Administration provides a list of state, local and regional programs that help businesses by providing grants and loans for energy-efficient upgrades.
No matter what the shape and size of your business, there are several ways you can be more environmentally sustainable...starting today! Here are just a few ideas:
An environmentally sustainable future requires the attention of everyone, however, 63% of Americans are hopeful that businesses will take the lead. Embrace environmental sustainability this Earth Day and every day to protect the triple bottom line: people, planet and profits.
Small businesses are ideally suited to be sustainable leaders in their communities. Learn how integrating an environment focus into your operations can improve profits, enhance employee morale and engagement, and even attract and retain customers.
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