Sustainable Business Practices: What to do when starting a Small Business

It’s become pretty clear to us in recent years that not only is it more important than ever to employ sustainable business practices throughout your business, big or small… But that the large companies and suppliers who loom over us don’t really give a damn about these practices. It has become common knowledge that, in order to create a sustainable business – you have to jump a few hurdles. A large percentage of business’ would rather walk around those hurdles than run the risk of tripping, but us small business folk would rather do the hard work to yield those results. This blog isn’t just for people looking to start a business, but also for those looking to change the way they operate for the better. But before we get in to the best sustainable business practices to keep at the top of your mind when starting/running a business, I want to first address the ever growing elephant in the room…

Greenwashing.

Oh Marketing… How impactful you can be, for good or bad. Ever heard the old idiom, any publicity is good publicity? I’m sure we all have, and I’m sure most of us agree with it. I certainly used to. Although, it wasn’t until last year, throughout the peak (at least I hope) of one of the greatest modern tragedies, that it came abundantly clear that this is not the case. 

Greenwashing in essence, comes in many forms. But the easiest way to put it, is when companies attempt to piggy-back off of environmental or social issues for personal gain – even though their values contradict their actions. Creatives have a funny way of being able to put a certain swing on something, and these skills can be used for good or bad. Have a look at this cigarette ad from the 1950’s below, for example. Yes, this was real…

You’d think that companies would have learnt their lessons and wouldn’t be this brazen in the modern era. Well, you’d be wrong, and Covid really helped to shine a light on the darkest of intentions when it comes to business practices. 

We’re not talking about the, “In these unprecedented times…”, that every company spouted in 2020. No, we’re talking about oil giants being fined millions of dollars for using unethical framing to trick consumers into thinking their Diesel is environmentally friendly. We’re talking about companies who have feigned ignorance into the damage of fossil fuels due to monetary interest in the fossil fuel market, now turning around and saying they’re all green. We’re talking about household brands saying they’re making their product bottles out of plastic pulled from the ocean, then they were actually obtaining it from plastic banks. Not the worst of the examples, but you get my point. Companies have always used Greenwashing in their strategies, but the age of social media and information has allowed us to realise this, and to shun it. 

I'm sorry, what?

But how do most of these companies handle this scrutiny?

Okay, obviously this is a satirical cartoon and should be taken as such… But South Park is known for it’s social commentary on these sorts of issues, and honestly… their satirical account of it is actually better than the company’s real-world response. Seriously, if a cartoon that’s known for being savage is down-playing your response, you should know something’s up…

Long story short, don’t be like these companies. And if you’re reading this, chances are you don’t want to be (If you do, I have some words for you). There’s heaps of things you can do to make sure than when you’re opening a business, it’s as sustainable and environmentally conscious as possible. These things can be difficult to find, but are becoming more-so common practice in the modern era. Let’s have a look at some steps you can take to make sure your business is as sustainable as possible. We’re not going to talk about simply making your products and packaging sustainable (we already have a blog on this), but rather look at the steps taken to create your business (using the steps in our starting a small business blog), and give you options for sustainability. Let’s get started.

Think about Sustainable Practices when creating your Business Plan.

We’re definitely not easing you into this one… Your business plan is probably the biggest and most important part of creating your business, besides putting it in to practice of course. It’s what will get you that loan, or lose it, so you need to cross all of your T’s and dot your I’s.

In terms of sustainability, this is where you want to spend a lot of time. You need to outline everything, from your suppliers, to your expected turnover, if you’re importing or exporting, whether you have a physical location, or are fully online etc. There are absolutely options for sustainability in each and every one of these aspects. You may want to source environmentally conscious suppliers who don’t use as much plastic, or you might choose suppliers in your nation to reduce carbon emissions. You might decide that your business model could compliment a work-from-home arrangement, also reducing your business’ CO2 emissions. There’s definitely a lot to be digested here, but there’s definitely a lot you can do to aid in the reduction of your impact on the environment.

How to be Environmentally Conscious Online?

You’re probably a little bit confused by this statement. The internet is just some code that lives in our phones and computers, right? What does that have to do with sustainable business practices? Well, the internet is actually a vast array of servers all around the world connecting different devices. We’re not talking about some metaphorical server, but rather, literal warehouses filled with thousands upon thousands of physical components, costing billions of dollars. Obviously, some of these data centres can be run more sustainably than others – and luckily for us, a lot of the top server providers these days are moving towards sustainability. Google is a resounding example of this as they already boast a carbon-neutral service model, with plans to run carbon-free from 2030. 

Psst, did you know AUZi Insurance uses Google as a web host 😉

Chances are, if you’re looking to start a small business, you probably don’t know the first thing about web hosting and the inner workings of servers. I certainly don’t, which is why I needed our IT specialist, Reza, to write that paragraph for me! 

But fret not, if you’re using a web-building service, many off them are also carbon neutral. Even if they aren’t, there’s still some pretty cool things you can do. Those of you who run retail businesses that can incorporate drop shipping, this is a really good way to cut down the distribution chain and, thus, reduce your carbon emissions. You can also incorporate Carbon Offset plugins which can aid in the additional costs of being sustainable. In short – There’s still a lot you can do to reduce your carbon footprint online, and it’s becoming more and more important to realise that as the internet keeps getting further engrained into our society. 

What about Eco Friendly Marketing?

So we’ve spoken about what not to do when it comes to Marketing your eco friendly company, but what about what to do? This one is pretty simple, and we’ve been shoving so much info down your throats that we’ll keep this one nice and succinct. Just look at Patagonia, for example. They’re a company who has, since its inception, strived to provide sustainable clothing in a world ruled by fast fashion. Yes, their clothes might be a little bit more expensive, but mark my words – go speak to any of your engineer or construction management mates, they swear by their Patagonia puff jackets. They’re not one of the industry leaders for no reason.

As marketing is becoming increasingly online, traditional marketing efforts (at least in some industries) are slowly becoming obsolete. This is great for us as using digital marketing is categorically more sustainable than traditional efforts. Think sending out an email to 20,000 contacts vs sending out 20,000 paper flyers. Which one do you think is more environmentally conscious?

If you want, start thinking bigger. Have you secured any partnerships or sponsorships with other companies? Maybe you want to make sure their values are in line with yours before you become associated with them. Imagine if Patagonia decided to team up with Adani, for example… Fun fact, if you google Adani, the Stop Adani foundation ranks higher than the actual company!

Do you have a Marketing team or in-house marketer? Perhaps you can offer them a Work-from-home arrangement, reducing their carbon footprint and, thus, your company’s. We know it’s worked wonders for us 😉

What about the bigger picture?

This is simply where you get into the nitty gritty of what you’ve (hopefully) been taught growing up, or at least in recent years. The three R’s, Composting, Op-shopping etc. These don’t all have to be limited to your personal life. The smaller the business, the easier these are to manage. Set up some proper recycling around your business, get a compost bin, grab second-hand furniture from Facebook, Gumtree, or anywhere you can find them! Do your staff commute to work and you can’t offer remote options? Offer them incentives to carpool or to catch public transport, your options are essentially endless. 

With all this being said, it’s no secret that sustainable living isn’t the most price conscious. We fully understand that this type of operation may be more expensive in the short-term, but it can attribute to greater loyalty across your customers. Oh, and of course help prolong the planet’s health. But at the end of the day, we understand that some business owner’s may not be able to stretch the budget to accommodate for all of this. However, so long as you work towards sustainability, in any way possible, big or small, you’re contributing to the bigger picture. And chances are, you’re doing more than the majority.

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