Climate change poses a growing risk to small- and large-scale businesses around the world, with many organizations already feeling the impact of extreme weather, supply chain issues, rising insurance costs, and labour challenges. A 2021 report released by the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change urged businesses of all sizes to introduce environmentally friendly practices now, to save the planet’s future.
What is a sustainable business?
Eco-conscious businesses implement real and meaningful operational policies that minimize their negative impact on the environment, community, and economy. There’s increasing pressure on companies to become more sustainable from global policymakers and scientific bodies, as well as mindful consumers.
From waste reduction to recycled packaging to energy-efficient building retrofits, there are a variety of business practices you can introduce as part of your day-to-day operations to make your business more sustainable and improve your bottom line.
- Go paperless
Paper products accounts for more than one third of Canada’s waste, and it’s estimated that 95 per cent of business information is still stored on paper. Your SMB can cut down on waste by making the transition from paper to electronic communication wherever possible. Digitize your filing systems and get into the habit of reviewing documents on-screen rather than printing them out. Issue reports, receipts, memos, and invoices digitally and set up automated payments for your employees rather than using cheques. If you still require paper for some business operations, purchase recycled paper.
- Implement a recycling program
If your SMB doesn’t already have a recycling program in place, it’s time to go green. Take inventory on the materials your business uses daily and consider ways to create less waste and divert garbage from landfills. Make sure you’re effectively sorting recyclable materials (plastics, paper, aluminum) and safely dispose of hazardous office materials like light bulbs, batteries, and electronics. If you have an on-site kitchen, introduce a compost bin for organic waste.
- Eliminate one-time-use materials
Plastic straws, disposable cups, and coffee pods might be more convenient for your business, but they’re also incredibly wasteful. Where possible, swap out one-time-use plastic items for glass or ceramic alternatives that can be washed and reused. Replace the office water cooler with a filtered tap and encourage employees to bring in their own reusable water bottles. If you run a restaurant or retail store, use eco-friendly cardboard or compostable boxes for take-out containers and trade plastic shopping bags for paper bags or fabric totes.
- Reduce employee travel
Daily commutes, client meetings, and international conferences all require employee travel that contributes to air pollution. Reduce your SMB’s environmental footprint with virtual meetings and work-from-home policies that allow your employees to limit travel times and lower their CO2 emissions — and reduce your company travel budget. For those employees who do need to travel for work, encourage greener forms of transportation such as walking, biking, public transit, and carpooling.
- Upgrade your space
If your business has a physical address, the utilities you use will have a big impact on your energy consumption. Reduce the amount of energy when running your business by retrofitting your space with efficient insulation, smart thermostats, automatic LED lighting, and other energy-saving retrofits. Encourage employees to turn off electronics at the end of the workday and introduce indoor plants or a living green wall into the space to brighten up your interior and improve the air quality.