Integrating sustainability into your small business

Earth Day is just a few days away, and that means sustainability is in the news and on the mind. Why not take advantage of this momentum and develop a sustainability policy for your business?

As businesses recognize the benefits to their bottom lines, they are stepping up as leaders in sustainability – in ways both large and small. While you might think your business is too small to make a difference, the reality is that you’re never too small to enact changes and do your part to curb climate change.

Businesses of all sizes and types can create sustainability policies that fit their operations, culture and values. Here at Lilja, our environmentally conscious staff has been making positive changes for years, and we recently took the step to formally outline our policy. In it, we define our sustainability goals and highlight certain areas of the business or office where we are making focused, intentional changes.

Big or small, marketing or manufacturing, here are some things to consider as you define your sustainability policy.

Goals

Defining your goals and principles may be the most important step toward reducing your impact on the environment. Well-written goals take your values and create a sustainability vision that can help guide every business or office move you make. These are especially helpful when you are faced with a purchase or business opportunity that is not already addressed in your action items; the goals you developed as a team can guide you in the right direction.

Action Items

Every business is different and our carbon footprints are made up of different activities, but there are many areas of day-to-day operations that every organization can review and analyze for opportunities. Within each area, you can start to identify certain actions you currently take, or plan to take, to operate more sustainably – from purchasing post-consumer recycled paper products and turning off all computers and lights at the end of the day, to educating your employees on your sustainability initiatives.

Consider outlining action items within the following segments:

Office Supplies – For many organizations, this is the largest source of environmental impact. Purchasing responsibly sourced and manufactured supplies can sometimes take more time and energy on your part, but it is well worth the extra effort.

Energy – This is one area where small actions can add up fast! Turn on lights only when and where needed, run the office dishwasher only when it’s full, put on a sweater instead of turning up the heat a few degrees, use rechargeable batteries in office electronics, etc. Don’t brush off these small steps – when performed repeatedly and consistently and adopted by a large part of your office, the impact adds up. Minimizing your energy use can decrease your footprint and your utility bills each month.

Waste & Recycling – Looking beyond recycling paper products, how can you responsibly dispose of, reuse, repurpose or recycle other materials or products in your business that reach their end of use? Whether it’s introducing composting in the kitchen or dropping off your old printer at a shop that will repair and give it a new life, there is probably a better way to “dispose of” the item than tossing it in the trash.

Travel/Transportation – This might be something you wouldn’t normally think of for your office; maybe your work doesn’t require salespeople on the road or frequent work trips out of town. But think about your employees and how they get to work – your sustainability policy can help encourage better commuting choices by staff members, or even incentivize them. Consider offering perks such as priority parking for carpools, casual dress for bike commuters or subsidized public transit passes.

Stewardship – So much of the discussion on environmental behavior surrounds things you should or shouldn’t do throughout the day, but we can also consider what we could do outside of our routine to look after what we love. If your office is near a natural area or your employees have a favorite park, consider rolling up your sleeves and taking time on the calendar to clean up the area as a team.

Community Involvement – As individuals and as businesses, there are many ways we can give back to our communities. Encouraging employees to get involved locally, partnering with nonprofits through sponsorship or programming, and donating professional services and time to a nonprofit or community group are all great ideas to incorporate into your company culture.

Well-being – Sustainability is about more than recycling and lowering your environmental impact; it’s also about what we can do to promote the health and strength of our society and its individuals. The triple bottom line of sustainability places the value equally on people, planet and profit. To build a more sustainable world, we need to focus inwardly as much as outwardly. Educating and encouraging mental, emotional and physical well-being for your employees and their families will lead to stronger and more engaged workers. Consider ways you can incorporate wellness activities and learning into your office routines and culture.

 

We specialize in sustainability communications, working with a variety of business, nonprofit, foundation and government clients. From air pollution and alternative transportation to protecting our natural resources and communicating climate change, we have the strategies and experience that you need.

Read our Sustainability Policy here and get to know Kate Lilja Lohnes and Claire Lukens, our team members who specialize in sustainability communications.