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Sustainable Practices for Small Businesses: Tips for Getting Started

By Leora Price

There’s no time like Earth Day to green your small business, but where do you start? Is
it time to invest in carbon offsets, or would a new HVAC system be a better way to go?

Consumers’ demand for green products and services goes beyond sentiment. A recent
joint study by the global management consulting firm McKinsey & Company and
NielsenIQ found that products marketed as eco-friendly grew 28% on average in the
past five years. Those that didn’t make such claims only grew by 20%.

As with any new venture, making your small business more environmentally conscious
can seem intimidating. With a little reading and a can-do attitude, however, it could be
your business’s time to shine.

The majority of small business owners (72%) confirmed in a QuickBooks survey that
they believe sustainability is either very or extremely important. The challenge is
deciding where and how to invest your budget—especially if your small business lacks
the funds for, say, solar panels.

But going green doesn’t require a big budget or endless resources. Small steps add up
to big change. Ready to get started? Here’s a six-step guide to help you find your
footing on the path to greener pastures.

1. Conduct an energy audit

The easiest way to start is to learn exactly where you are right now—and you probably
don’t need an expert to help you. A basic energy audit can help you determine your
business’s current energy consumption.

In the end, the goal of an energy audit is simple. You’re trying to examine all the ways
that your small business consumes energy—including from your production methods,
your storefront, live events, and more. You’ll be looking at your HVAC system, your light
bulbs, and your power sources.

Once you’ve got a solid understanding of your company’s energy consumption, it’s time
to start tracking and measuring data like energy usage, waste reduction, and how many
sustainable vendors your small business uses.

2. Green your storefront

Now that you’ve conducted your energy audit, you’ve probably got a few ideas that will
help make your small business’s storefront more eco-friendly. If not, we’d suggest
checking out your HVAC system for age and efficiency—and then, probably, cleaning
the filter. Next, it’s time to look at lighting.

LED light bulbs cost more up front, but they save that amount and then some by using
less energy over time and lasting longer than traditional incandescent bulbs. Other
green lighting solutions include digital timers that’ll switch the lights off at night,
occupancy sensors, or daylight sensors.

Next, consider natural environmental factors that could impact your storefront’s energy
usage. If the place where you do business is hot and humid, for instance, ceiling fans
can cool your storefront or office down and also give your air conditioning system a

Finally, it’s time to check your storefront for other inefficiencies. Are your doors and
windows leaking your precious, conditioned air onto the sidewalk? Seal them up! Is the
air conditioner running on full blast, even when no one’s around? Put it on a timer. Are
people leaving their computers on each evening when they leave? Consider rallying
your employees to help the cause by holding a training session.

3. Cut down on paper, packaging, and waste

You’d be amazed just how much waste one small business can generate. Luckily,
there’s no shortage of ways to take out the trash.

Start by going paperless to help save both mother nature and your bottom line—and if
you need hard copies of certain materials, make sure you’re using recycled paper. Next,
look into environmentally conscious packaging and shipping solutions. You might even
consider evaluating your small business’s supply chain to confirm that your vendors
share your values.

You can also reduce your storefront and office waste by nixing single-use items like
plastic water bottles and utensils, paper towels, and single-cup coffee makers. Try
replacing as many of these as possible with more eco-conscious solutions like refillable dishes and utensils, hand dryers, and bulk purchases for items like snacks and coffee

4. Make sure you’re on top of recycling

Are your employees tossing their empty soda cans into trash bins? It’s time to pull that
big blue bin out of that dark corner and into the limelight.

If you’re unsure where to begin, Waste Management offers a handy, six-step guide to
help small businesses form recycling teams, coordinate training, and get employees

5. Monitor Your Water Consumption

It can be all too easy to let that tap run, but the time has come for all of us to use our
water responsibly.

Water scarcity already affects a significant chunk of the global population. In 2021,
UNICEF reported that 1.42 billion people, including 450 million children, “live in areas of
high or extremely high water vulnerability.” Only 0.5% of the earth’s water is available
fresh water, and the United Nations says climate change is only making it worse. Why
not use your small business to help turn the tide?

Like other green business practices, conserving water could actually save your small
business money
. Low-flow toilets and high-efficiency appliances will likely trim your
utility bill, as will making sure that your HVAC system runs only when needed. (If you’ve
got cash to splash, swapping out an old HVAC system for a new, likely more efficient
model could also prove beneficial.)

6. Minimize and properly dispose of electronic waste

Now that you’re on top of recycling the small things, make sure you also know what’s
happening to your small business’s discarded electronics.

When destroyed improperly, electronic waste, otherwise known as “e-waste,” can leak
harmful compounds like mercury and beryllium into the soil, water, and atmosphere. It’s
important to dispose of all of your small business’s old electronics through proper

There’s no need to worry about anyone hacking into those old cell phones, either.
Waste Management offers an e-waste recycling program that both wipes all data and
also identifies parts that can be re-marketed to save business owners money.

Even if installing solar panels feels out of reach right now, it’s worth calling your local
utility company to see if it’s possible to switch your bill to renewable resources.

About the Author: Leora is an experienced and versatile writer with a passion for finance and business writing, home improvement, and all things dog-related.

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