How Eco-Friendly can a small business be?

Ben Fielding is a writer for Dpack, where he combines his love of writing with his passion for the packaging industry and helping businesses around the world. This article has been produced exclusively for Business365.

For years, companies have been allowed to go about their work with little or no thought for their environmental footprint. Not that they would disregard what was happening in everyday life, but there was no pressure on them to ‘do the right thing’. Since the start of the Millennium, things have changed. Consumers got a conscience.

Without consumers on side, brands and businesses have very little chance of great levels of success. Whilst success can still be gained, today’s socially conscious customers aren’t just looking for products, they’re looking for promises.

With customers expecting so much from businesses across the world, there is the same expectation on every business regardless of size. And while big businesses can weather the cost of becoming more socially conscious, it is harder for smaller companies because of smaller revenue and profits.

One of the greatest challenges facing the planet is the environment, and more specifically the effect that people have on the changing climate across the world. Whilst this has been a problem that we’ve been aware of for a number of years, the penny seems to have dropped during the last decade.

Being an eco-friendly business has its difficulties. The one main problem is that the cheapest materials and most cost-effective practices have historically been the ones that are least healthy for the planet. As businesses become more green-friendly, costs have tended to rise. This goes against everything that directors and decision-makers value. So how does a business become eco-friendly in a way that doesn’t expose their future. And, more to the point, is it even possible?

Building an Eco-Friendly Business

Years ago, building an eco-friendly business was part of a specific brand. Now, however, being eco-friendly is becoming part of business – an expectation, not an aspect of the personality of the company. Yet there are still people who look at environmental issues as somewhat tiresome, instead of something to work towards enthusiastically.

One of the main barriers to becoming eco-friendly is the attitudes from inside a business. Key personnel in leadership roles are often older and have been set in their ways for generations. Convincing these people within your business that having an environmental purpose and moving towards more eco-friendly practices is a lengthy task in itself. But there are convincing arguments you can use for evolving your business strategy.

Firstly, it’s worth thinking long-term. The brand of a business is arguably one of its most valuable assets. It is hugely important to be seen as a business that takes their environmental footprint seriously. A survey conducted in the USA questioned 53,000 consumers about what environmental matters and branding meant to them. The results were stark. 58% of people consider a company’s environmental impact when choosing where to purchase goods and services. That’s nearly 1-in-6. And with eco-friendly practices only growing in popularity, that number will rise. If you build your sustainability plan into your business plan, then you stand a strong chance of building a solid and sincere reputation as a brand and business that cares.

Another good reason to shift to a more sustainable way of working is to fall in line with industry norms. It’s a clear and enlightening stat that71% of the world’s top 500 businessesare looking into their environmental practices. Whilst these businesses have the most financial clout, they also have the ability to change the way any given industry works. Even if becoming eco-friendly doesn’t appeal to colleagues in your business, the idea that procurement or customer trends could change before your very eyes without you being up to speed is a clear and very possible notion. Being reactive in the future is much more costly than being proactive now.

Eco Changes to Choose

Some of the major environmental changes you could make within your business are ones that consumers might not even notice. In a traditional sense, this might seem like a frustrating and pointless task. Especially as a small business owner where every pound spent has a clear impact on the bottom line. But these changes will improve your business and a lot of them can be done relatively easily. And here’s how:

Create the Process to Last a Lifetime

Spending a little time working eco-friendly processes into your current ways of working will offer you such strong benefits in the future. For example, creating a sustainable working space isn’t hard or costly. Making sure the carbon footprint of your business can be done easily. Changes with fleet vehicle contracts, office supplies and ordering can be made to ensure you’re working with carbon neutral partners. This, in turn, helps your own environmental goals.

Packaging and Supply Chain Changes

Some parts of your business might be tougher to change. One of the big sticking points currently is packaging and plastic use. Single-use plastics and material are becoming less normal. In 2021 European legislation will come into action that bans single-use plastics from being used within the EU and U.K. This might impact on your business.

Alternatively, you might want to try and dig deeper into your own footprint and review your supply chain. Maybe you want to but don’t know where to start. According to Supply Chain Management Review, 80% of a company’s environmental impact comes from their supply chain.

Typically, supply chain transport is one of the biggest environmental costs to a business. Getting your product or service to and from the customer is often where the greatest changes can be made. Making sure you are aware of your overall impact in this way is a good start. Even if you outsource transportation costs, you can still quiz your supplier as to how they are targeting sustainability in the short and long term.

The Cost of Eco

One of the biggest stumbling blocks to environmental change is the cost. But this element might not be as big as you think.

Making changes to your business will certainly have a time cost. Financially, however, your business is almost certainly looking at the chance of a cost saving. According to a HSBC survey, 20% of businesses stated that reviewing their supply chain and processes in line with environmental concerns allowed them to take a greater hold on their networks, allowing them to make savings and helping them marry that hand-in-hand with sustainability pledges.

Going green doesn’t have to mean taking a financial hit. Every time you change a contract, or talk to a new supplier, introduce your idea for a sustainable future. They will no doubt have thought about their environmental impact too. Choosing partners that share your vision isn’t costly. And in 2020, going green no longer means going into the red.