A Guide for Growing Sustainable Small Businesses

Many large corporations and supply chains have adopted more robust sustainability measures to lower their carbon emissions and prevent further environmental damage.

While small businesses should essentially have an easier time doing the same, one survey of 194 companies found that only 60% had a sustainability plan drawn up, indicating that a lack of education, funding, and time create barriers to implementation.

Consumer demand for eco-friendly products is higher than ever, with 85% of people modifying purchasing habits to be more sustainable in the last five years. For this reason, small businesses must not fall behind the trend.

Small businesses differ in originality and niche offerings, making sustainability efforts distinctive to each company. However, the following five ideas may help your small business reduce its environmental impact and thrive.

1.   Offer Flexible Work

The COVID-19 pandemic forced companies to adapt to remote work to keep employees safe and businesses afloat. The transition was deemed a great success for some industries, with 77% of remote employees reporting enhanced productivity.

Recently, a desire to bring people back to the office has been met with a wave of resignations, as employees are unwilling to give up a better work-life balance or spend more time and money on long commutes.

However, if your small business allows it, offering remote or hybrid workdays can have a positive environmental impact. Few cars and less traffic equate to lower emissions – and considering the transportation sector accounts for 27% of U.S. greenhouse gases, remote work can improve air quality.

Additionally, an office with fewer people roaming around means companies can save more money on utilities and energy.

2.   Use Sustainable Products

Building a greener workplace means doing business with other green companies.

Take inventory of the products your company uses and make plans to purchase from green vendors, whether it’s printer paper, cleaning products, toilet paper, or food containers.

Are you looking to upgrade outdated technology? Electronic waste generation reached a record 53.6 million metric tons in 2019, increasing 21% in five years. When purchasing new laptops, monitors and printers, buy from IT businesses that implement responsible technology recycling.

Technology companies with life-cycle recycling programs will collect your old equipment, refurbish the materials, and create new products for sale, demonstrating optimal electronic stewardship. It’s also an admirable reflection of your small business’s sustainability efforts.

3.   Upgrade for Energy-Efficiency

Nowadays, energy efficiency is the norm in new construction. If you operate your small business in an older building, more energy-efficient lighting, smart thermostats, laptops, and appliances can help shrink your carbon footprint.

Light-emitting diode (LED) lightbulbs are an investment but are 90% more efficient than incandescent ones. They also have a much longer life span.

Let’s say you’re looking to develop a sustainability plan for your small business or improve the one you have. Swapping out lightbulbs for greater energy efficiency is very feasible.

You’ll also align yourself with more prominent corporations with large-scale sustainability initiatives. Take JP Morgan, for example, which plans to invest in energy-efficient lighting to reach its goal of 100% renewable energy.

4.   Apply for Green Grants

A recent study uncovered barriers to small business sustainability, highlighting that financial and economic problems are the primary impediment to green innovation in the workplace.

Although companies may receive some incentives, such as tax breaks, to help lower costs, investing in green practices and energy efficiency is an expensive endeavor that prevents many small businesses from making the shift.

If your company is looking to offset the cost of adopting sustainable practices, you may want to apply for grants. A wide assortment of grants is available online for small businesses to fund expansions and operations.

Securing funding for greener business practices is essential, and many grants offer monetary rewards to small businesses looking to improve sustainability.

5.   Reduce, Reuse, Recycle

A 2017 survey by National Environmental Education Foundation (NEEF) found that 90% of employees engaged in corporate sustainability have higher job satisfaction and a favorable opinion of their company.

Small businesses should consider developing initiatives that encourage employees to reuse items, reduce waste, and recycle whenever possible. Some ideas may include the following:

  • Bring reusable glassware, plates, and utensils from home to eliminate disposables.
  • Eliminate K-cups by providing a reusable coffee pod for your company’s Keurig machine.
  • Reuse shipping boxes from the warehouse rather than toss them out.
  • Use both sides of printer paper.
  • Provide both trash and recycling bins for easy accessibility.
  • Hang posters that depict recyclable items.


Workplace recycling programs are cost-effective and less complicated than other sustainability practices and upgrades. Employees will also appreciate the opportunity to get involved in your company’s initiatives firsthand.

Sustainability Builds Better Small Businesses

Depending on their size, small businesses will have varying sustainability impacts. However, every effort to reduce emissions and lessen their carbon footprint can help slow and reverse global warming.

Author Bio: Jane works as the founder and editor-in-chief of Environment.co where she covers environmental news and sustainable living tips.

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