Building a Sustainable Future for Small Businesses

How do small businesses build a sustainable future? From reducing waste to creating sustainably sourced products, there are a huge number of options for businesses looking to reduce their impact on the planet. It’s something that consumers are increasingly passionate about too, with a recent survey suggesting that 57%1  of us are making significant changes to our shopping habits in an effort to lessen our environmental footprint.

Balancing sustainability goals with all the other elements of a small business can be a real challenge, but it’s important to recognise that creating a secure, sustainable future won’t simply happen overnight. From implementing new recycling initiatives and reducing plastic packaging, right up to investing in energy saving technology, even the smallest changes can have a bigger cumulative impact than you might expect!

Reduce everyday paper usage

Reducing the amount of paper your business uses is far from a new idea, but it’s still one of the best ways to improve overall sustainability in a small business.

From contactless card readers to online apps like Quickbooks and Sage for invoices and accounts, small businesses are already far less reliant on paper than they ever have been before. These technologies have not only made transactions, accounting and invoicing faster and easier for small businesses, it’s removed the necessity to print endless amounts of paper to give to customers or send to an accountant. In the sam way, cloud storage and collaboration has streamlined the sharing of ideas amongst teams, putting an end to meetings dominated by binders full of project notes. The growing adoption of digital technology amongst small businesses has undoubtedly helped drive more sustainable business practices, simply by dramatically cutting down on the paper they use each day.

Make online shopping sustainable

Thanks to the Covid-19 pandemic, retail habits have changed dramatically in 2020. As high street retailers in the UK temporarily closed their doors during nationwide lockdowns, online shopping exploded in popularity, with 74%2  of Britons now saying they will continue to shop online more frequently. Whilst this is good news for small businesses who rely on ecommerce, it’s important to assess how the packaging and delivery of items ordered online can be managed sustainably.

Investing in recyclable packaging for online orders is a great way to cut down on plastic waste, prioritising paper or recycled plastic as materials of choice. For fragile items, rather than using bubble wrap or polystyrene, there are eco friendly alternatives like potato starch packing peanuts, which simply dissolve in cold water after use. On top of this, it’s also worth considering the carbon cost of delivering items. Many larger delivery companies now offer carbon neutral services, and there
are a number of smaller, more localised delivery services who specialise in green logistics. If lots of your customers are local, it might even be worth considering delivering online orders directly, cutting down on overheads and giving you the chance to manage the whole process more sustainably.

Incentivise green behaviour

Sustainable business practices are far more likely to succeed when you’ve got the backing of your employees and customers. Incentivizing the kind of green behaviour you want to see grow in the business is a surefire way to increase engagement and in the longer term, raise broader awareness of environmental issues.

Whether you’re offering money off their morning coffee when customers bring in a reusable cup, or contributing towards bicycles for employees who are looking to cycle to work, there are a huge number of ways small businesses can incentivize sustainability. Digital technology can also come into play here, from investing in technology that allows more employees to work from home, to offering online appointments and meetings to clients who might have otherwise had to travel.

Target the low hanging carbon

One of the best ways to work out where to begin with building a more sustainable
small business is to first identify the areas where you’re less green than you could be. There are a huge number of carbon footprint calculators online that are a fantastic place to start, and simply require you to enter some basic information about your business’ energy and fuel consumption. This one from the Carbon Trust is free, but you can also get more complex assessments for a small yearly fee, if you want more data to work with.

In fact, it might well be that you don’t even need a calculator to begin the process of ‘greening’ up your business. If you rely on overseas suppliers for products you could source locally, why not consider switching? Are you using energy efficient bulbs and turning off all your devices when you leave the office each evening? Are you and your team travelling to lots of meetings when you could be using cloud based communication like Skype or Zoom to conduct the less important ones? All of these changes might seem quite small, but they quickly build up to a big reduction in the amount of energy your business uses in an entire year. Best of all, if you do invest in a carbon footprint tracker, you can get the satisfaction of measuring precisely how much more sustainable your business is becoming.

A sustainable future is a collective effort

As much as small businesses do to become more sustainable in their practices, a huge amount more rests on the actions of larger corporations and government bodies. However, it’s also becoming increasingly clear there is a growing public desire for businesses of all shapes and sizes to embrace sustainability and actively work towards  building a greener, more environmentally friendly future. Whether you’re just starting out on your sustainability journey, or are already working towards a complete carbon neutral strategy, each change a small business makes has the potential to make a positive difference to the future of the planet.


[1] ‘Survey: Consumer sentiment on sustainability in fashion’, McKinsey, 17.07.2020.

[2] ‘New lockdown habits here to stay as ‘most plan to keep spending more frequently online’ says Visa.’ Internet Retailing, 03.06.2020.


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