Over the course of the decade, sustainability has become a crucial aspect of the industry. Businesses of all shapes and sizes are constantly assessing the ways in which their trading activity impacts the world around them, and are altering their practices accordingly in order to be more environmentally-friendly.
But when you’re first starting out with a new business, trying to create your products or develop your business processes in the most eco-friendly way possible might be the last thing on your mind. That being said, creating a sustainable and green business should actually be one of your company’s top priorities – and fortunately, environmentally-friendly processes are actually simple and affordable to implement.
That’s why we’ve developed this all-encompassing guide to explain why you should strive to build a sustainable brand and ways in which you can reduce your company’s carbon footprint.
Why should your business be sustainable?
Before delving into the ways in which you can reduce your company’s carbon footprint, it’s worth walking through why it’s in your best interest to do so.
Depending on what type of business you’re running, overheads can place a huge dent in your bottom line. According to an independent study commission by Utilita, 80% of small businesses in the UK are overpaying for their energy – but only 41% of business owners conduct an annual review of their energy consumption.
If you could bring down the cost of your energy spend by implementing a series of eco-friendly and energy-saving policies, why wouldn’t you?
More important still, openly introducing energy-saving policies or the sourcing of sustainable materials can have a huge impact on your sales. According to researchers at Nielsen, there’s been a huge rise in the number of individuals willing to pay more for products and services that come from companies committed to positive social and environmental impact.
Across Generation Z, three out of four shoppers say they would prefer to pay more at an eco-friendly business than pay less for cheaper, less sustainable products. But it’s not just young people who are interested in shopping with sustainable companies. Over half of Baby Boomers feel the same way – and a recent survey conducted by AYTM found that 71% of millennials are more likely to support an environmentally-friendly business.
Likewise, 86% of customers say they prefer to shop at businesses that recycle, 74% prefer companies that limit the use of pollutants and unnecessary chemicals and 67% of shoppers prefer companies that support renewable energy.
Bearing that in mind, trying to make your business practices more environmentally-friendly won’t just save you money – it will also provide you with a stronger selling proposition when pitching your goods and services to your target audience.
Finally, it’s worth pointing out your business may need to comply with several legal obligations in terms of energy efficiency.
If you own a company premises, you will need to display an Energy Performance Certificate (EPC) on-site that clearly shows and rates how energy efficient your building is. This requirement normally falls on the owner of a building – which means that if you are renting commercial space, the property owner should have already acquired and displayed its EPC.
If you’re the one who’s responsible for an EPC, it’s crucial that you display that certificate and show it to prospective buyers or tenants. If you fail to do so, the government can fine you up to £5,000.
Beyond displaying the energy efficiency of your premises, the UK Government also oversees a range of environmental regulations designed to mitigate the impact of UK business on the environment. Many of these measures apply to large corporations only – but even as a small business, you will be expected to adhere to strict rules on common processes like waste disposal.
If you’d like to see a full list of regulations, you can access them on the UK Government website.
How can I upgrade my company premises to make it energy efficient?
Creating a green, eco-friendly business from the ground up might sound a little bit intimidating at first. But the truth is, a lot of small measures you can take in order to reduce your company’s carbon footprint are actually simple and affordable.
One of the first places you could start reducing your carbon footprint is by making your company premises more energy efficient.
Investing in insulation for your building is one of the most effective ways to slash your company’s energy consumption. A huge proportion of the heating in your premises slips out through the loft and walls. By installing wall insulation, figures from the Energy Saving Trust indicate you could save an average of £425 per year on your bills if your premises is a detached property. Laying down insulation in your loft could save you a further £225 per year.
Another easy way to reduce your company’s energy consumption is by swapping out your Compact Fluorescent Lamp (CFL) lightbulbs with Light Emitting Diodes (LEDs). Replacing a traditional CFL bulb with an LED bulb of the same brightness will ordinarily save you up to £6 per year.
At first glance, that’s not a whole lot of money. But if you have 25 lightbulbs on-site, that turns into an annual savings of £150 per year – which is nothing to scoff at when you’re a small business pinching pennies.
Smart meters are another fantastic way to cut down on your company’s energy consumption and the amount you’re spending each year. Most energy suppliers are now legally obligated to offer you a smart meter free of charge as part of your energy tariff. These meters have the ability to tell you how much you’re spending per day, which devices are using the most energy and remote access to turn your heating down or off.
Not only do those capabilities enable you to reduce your company’s carbon dioxide emissions by up to 350kg per year, but you should also be able to save an estimated £80 per year on your energy spend.
If you’d like to find out more about how you can improve the energy efficiency of your company premises, the Energy Saving Trust offers a wide range of guides and services designed to help you make the most of your property.
If you’re renting out a commercial space, it’s worth pointing out you can still make improvements to your property. You’d need permission from the landlord in order to make big changes like installing insulation – but you can still implement tiny changes like switching to LED bulbs.
How do I write environmentally friendly employee policies?
If you employ workers, it can be difficult getting everyone to buy into your company’s eco-friendly stance. Sometimes, uneducated workers are even a hindrance. After all, you can save plenty of money and reduce your carbon footprint by upgrading your premises, but all of that hard work could then be negated by careless staff members.
So, what company policies could you introduce to ensure your team members are doing their best to keep their workplace sustainable?
A lot of little measures your workers should be taking are just common sense. For example, work practices into your company handbook requiring employees to turn off their computers and chargers when they’re leaving work for the day. Require your team to print on both sides of paper – and avoid printing altogether when possible.
At the end of the day, these little acts have the ability to make a huge impact on your overheads, as well as a big impact on your company’s carbon emissions. Requiring your employees to take these simple steps doesn’t need to be a condescending conversation, either. You’ve simply got to explain to your workers what your company is all about, and how they can help to maintain that position.
If you need help figuring out what you’d like to say to your employees in order to teach them more about environmentally friendly practices, the Carbon Trust has a wide range of resources to help employers develop internal awareness campaigns.
How can I source sustainable materials?
As previously mentioned, developing environmentally friendly business practices goes well beyond the never-ending quest to cut your company’s overheads. Consumers want to purchase green products that are sustainably and ethically sourced. What’s more, the vast majority of shoppers are willing to pay more for those goods.
With that in mind, there’s no reason you shouldn’t be trying to make your products and services more environmentally friendly – and green procurement is actually a lot easier than is sounds.
If you’d like to introduce sustainable materials into your product mix, you should start by reviewing current procurement policies and specifications on the products you’re using already. Start by learning more about where your suppliers are getting the components for the goods they’re delivering to you, and then have a think about what it is you’re buying from them in the first place.
For example, a café owner might want to learn more about the types of plastic coatings are being used on the takeaway cups they are planning to use. A lot of these coatings generally mean those cups cannot be recycled – increasing waste and negatively impacting on the environment.
You should feel free to quiz your suppliers on their practices and what they use in the components they’re selling to you. But when shopping around for new suppliers, there are quite a few different selling points you should consider.
You’ll generally want to select a supplier or product that does not require excessive packaging, and you should avoid components that contain substances that are toxic or cannot be recycled.
If you’d like information on how your business can bolster its recycling efforts and acquire previously recycled materials like common plastics, the British Plastics Foundation has created a detailed help guide on its website.
That being said, sustainable sourcing isn’t all about trying to find suppliers that are happy to sell you recycled plastics. You can also drastically reduce your carbon footprint and improve brand loyalty amongst your customers by trying to source local ingredients and components.
For example, according to YouGov, four out of five UK shoppers think it’s important to purchase local produce – and so if you run a business that sells products or serves food, you’ll be able to please shoppers while simultaneously slashing the amount of time and fuel it will take for those products to reach you.
No matter what it is you’re trying to source locally, there’s almost always a nearby option. If you’re on the hunt for produce, meat or other food ingredients, you can start by consulting a directory of co-operatives to learn more about local growers in your area. You can also find directories of local charities and suppliers of product components like wood, track down your nearest quarry for building materials or even look through local charity shops and try to upcycle materials instead of buying new ones.
Sustainable sourcing might take a bit of research, and it might be a bit more time consuming – but the truth is, there’s almost always a closer or more environmentally friendly option. You’ve simply got to ask questions and do your homework.
The bottom line
At the end of the day, there’s nobody forcing your business to implement sweeping changes. Although you’re legally obliged to follow the odd regulation depending on the size of your company and what it is you’re doing, the vast majority of these ideas are voluntary. Yet bearing in mind the wide range of crucial benefits, it’s almost silly not to strive for a more sustainable business.
By investing in energy-saving measures and educating your employees, you can slash your electricity and heating overheads. You can win over new, socially-inspired consumers by demonstrating your commitment to sustainability, and you can simultaneously feel good in knowing your company is playing a role in safeguarding our environment for future generations.