The environmental impact of businesses remains a hot topic when it comes to fighting climate change. We’ve all seen various grand gestures of large corporations promising to reduce their carbon footprint over the next 20 years. It’s hard not to feel discouraged as a small business owner that you can’t reach the level of promises those with hundreds of employees and resources are making. This doesn’t mean we can’t try making changes where we can.
As business owners, we have good intentions behind wanting to make an impact on the environment — but we also have to be realistic. No company is going to be perfect, but there are a few ways small businesses can do what they can and be an example for others wanting to make sustainability a part of their business practices.
Start small and make it a habit
Recycling one stack of paper may not seem like much, but over time, these small actions can add up. For some initiatives, all it takes is recognizing a simple change that can be made in your business processes, and once you’re aware of it, these changes help make sustainability a habit.
Small businesses can make the conscious decision to go paperless, keeping records and files electronically — and out of landfills. When paper is necessary, there are eco-friendly alternatives that use primarily recycled materials. Once you find alternative products that focus on sustainability, incorporate it into your normal spending routine, and the process of sustainability in business becomes second nature.
In our office, we make it easy for our employees to have an outlet for hard-to-recycle products. We’ll take collections for anything from printer cartridges to Christmas trees, give employees a timeline to bring them to the office, and have them recycled in bulk. A lot of times, recycling seems overwhelming when people don’t know where to start. So making it as easy as possible makes our team more motivated to do the right thing.
Get inspired by your partners
Need someone to hold you accountable for your sustainability goals? Look for partners who are aligned with that mission. As a boutique unified marketing agency, we look for clients who embody using business as a force for good. We’ve worked with clients such as a manufacturing recycling company and an association dedicated to protecting local waterways. We’ve also had a partnership with a local carbon neutral organization that would assess our employees’ carbon footprints and help us offset any emissions. Aligning with organizations wanting to make an impact on the environment motivates our small business to keep our own internal efforts going.
Even if you don’t partner with organizations in your everyday business, it can be helpful to learn from others and get advice for how you can be a force for environmental change. Our company is a Certified B Corp, which includes a network of businesses focused on using their business to benefit people, communities and the planet. I had always wanted to build a business with these values in mind, but this organization was able to put that vision into a plan. Once I got involved, I was able to get some inspiration from others to see how they are making a difference. Whether you find inspiration from your office neighbor or from across the world, utilizing a community of changemakers can help small businesses reach their own sustainability goals.
Embed change in your culture
The best way to make meaningful change is to make your passion for environmental impact a part of your company culture. When you align your values and policies with this goal in mind, it will set you up for success.
Prior to the pandemic, our company would encourage work-from-home Mondays, and nearly half of our staff would work from home at least once a week. One less day a week of commuting to our downtown office helped reduce our company’s carbon footprint. Then, like many other companies, we turned to remote and hybrid work models during the pandemic. Yet where other organizations saw this as an opportunity for increased productivity, I also saw the chance to build a culture that continues to focus on business for good — and what better way to do good for the environment than working from home. Now, we only come into our office once a week, which has moved to a more centralized location for a shorter commute for many of our employees.
Your employees are a big part of making environmental change in your business. If your values are rooted in sustainability and environmental impact, it’s critical that you find coworkers that share the same desire for that mission. You can hire anyone for their skills in marketing, finance, customer service or any other roles your small business needs. However, it makes a big difference if they have the same passion to further your sustainability goals. And of course, as a business owner, you need to be walking the walk in your own life. When you’re living these values at home and sharing these ideas with your team, the impact can expand outside of your normal business operations.
Be the change
Whatever initiatives you do for your small business, just know that you’re doing the best you can with what you have. Any step towards sustainability is a step in the right direction, no matter how small it may seem. You’ve heard that you should “be the change you want to see”. So instead of looking to compete with big corporations, think of your plan as a way to inspire other small businesses with how they can approach environmental sustainability. When business owners have a guide to see what’s possible, it creates an opportunity for a big impact in their community and the planet.
Vicki Bohlsen is the founder and president of Bohlsen Group, an Indianapolis-based unified marketing agency. She is a seasoned public relations consultant with 35 years’ experience who specializes in the creation and implementation of marketing and publicity applications for corporations, not-for-profit organizations, entertainers and events. In starting Bohlsen Group over 12 years ago, Vicki has reinvented the way an agency looks. Vicki’s commitment to corporate social responsibility has become a true passion, even starting a podcast on the topic titled “Taking Care in Business.”