Practical Steps to Creating a Culture of Sustainability in a Small Business

Photo by Max Lakutin on Unsplash

Before you tackle the issue of sustainability in your small business, you first have to feel committed to that internal tug. When we speak of “a culture of sustainability”, what does it mean? How does that look like for a small business? What if sustainability isn’t affordable? Do the actions of a small business even create a dent in our world?

These are questions that I, a champion of small business, get bound up in. I often wonder how realistic it is for small businesses to achieve a culture of sustainability. To address these questions, I sought a sustainability expert, Alejandro Moreno, who is also the co-founder of VenturePad, a brilliant co-working space in San Rafael, California that adheres to green business practices. He describes some practical steps that even small businesses can access in order to create a culture of sustainability in their business.

People, Planet, Profits

A culture of sustainability involves the three main areas that make up the Triple Bottom Line: people, profits, and the planet. You’ll also hear interchangeable references to equity, economy and environment. Sustainability within a business follows a top-down approach, meaning you as the business owner/entrepreneur must initiate the intention and effort. In this post, we’ll focus on two of the Ps:

People

One of the more underrecognized, yet immediate ways to work towards sustainability is to focus on the people who make up your business. Think of it as an investment in human equity. Sustainability of people refers to quality of life: the happiness of individuals, a living wage, peace, equality, and fairness.

Are you treating your employees with fairness and respect? Do your employees earn a living wage? Are you mindful of what their goals are within your business or what they hope to accomplish by working with you? Do you celebrate with your team, host happy hours or other sorts of social mixers? Depending on your type of business, you can find ways to elevate the overall wellness of the people who make up your business. 

Planet

It’s hard to think that we’re actually making a difference by simply tossing our garbage into the their respective bins. As tedious as it may seem to categorize trash, saving the planet starts with changing everyday habits. When you walk into a Starbuck’s you’ll notice the blue and green bins immediately. Small businesses can learn a few things from their corporate counterparts. Caring for the planet is a collective effort that will often require the tedious effort in order to garner any momentum.

We need to accept that it all adds up–all the little things you can do to help preserve the richness of the environment. There are no surprises around it; it can be costly to implement green initiatives in your business. But you can start with these simple changes:

  1. Change your lights to LED
  2. Install timers and sensored lights in your rooms
  3. Change your faucets to low flow and your toilets to low consumption
  4. Turn off your monitors at the end of the day–yes, this makes a difference!
  5. Separate recycling from landfill waste

Once you have the basics in place, you can attack the bigger items:

  1. Take a look at your supply chain. (From where do you source your supply? Is your produce from 200 miles away or from 20 miles away?) You can improve your supply chain by eliminating what you can and “greening” those things that you can’t fully eliminate.
  2. Do you have a recycling plan in place?
  3. Have you trained your employees on this recycling plan? (Get them to be as committed as you.)
  4. Have you analyzed your waste streams? Do you know how much goes to recycling versus the landfill?
  5. Is there a green chamber of commerce in your city?
  6. Have you become a Green Certified Business in your local county?

Once you develop a commitment towards sustainability, you’ll also be more open to the creative ways that already exist, which can help you manage the project within your budget, timeline, and capacity. Most businesses are concerned with the costs associated with “greening” their business, but there are ways to make these efforts cost effective, and in partnership with your local community, city, or county.

Budding Sustainability Experts

If you’re too busy managing your business, consider hiring an intern who is also invested in sustainability. This provides students with the needed hands-on learning experience and school credit while also making an impact in the local business community. Most states will have Green Business Certification, but if you live in California, your local county will definitely have a Green Business Certification program that will guide you through the comprehensive list of “greening” actions. The ideal situation would be to hire an intern to help you execute the Green Business Certification program. Aside from the bonus of publicity and marketing, you can also save a lot of money as a result of cutting your waste and energy usage.

A Culture of Sustainability

To create a culture of sustainability, you have to have a strong enough conviction and commitment to tackle the project, much like anything else. It truly has to develop as part of your business DNA, and it’s up to you, the business leader, to motivate this shift. You create a dent in the world because you create a business culture and therefore pass this on as a business norm to the framework of society.

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