Sustainability experts and consultants are urging business owners to start making changes to combat climate change, saying it makes “pure economic” sense.
However, while that can sound daunting for many SME owners, the changes don’t have to involve broad, sweeping reform. It could be as simple as turning off your lights.
Reducing things such as your business’ carbon footprint or energy bill often sounds more complex than it is, and Hayley Morris, director of business sustainability consultancy Impact Sustainability, says businesses often don’t know where to start.
“I think there’s a general awareness of the need for sustainability — that it’s something to strive for and that implementing sustainability practices can save small businesses money, but many businesses don’t have the capacity to take it on or don’t know where to start,” Morris tells SmartCompany.
“If businesses don’t have someone who wants to champion sustainability and lead the process, it can seem like an overwhelming task with an unclear destination.”
But getting on the sustainability train is more than something that’s just ‘nice to have’, says Morris, as the benefits for businesses who take action are clear cut.
Firstly, sticking with unsustainable practices such as inefficient energy providers or waste-management systems will cost businesses through higher bills and processing costs, and increased regulatory action relating to carbon prices could see government-imposed fees come into play too.
Director of environmental consultancy Blue Environment Bill Grant tells SmartCompany businesses could also find themselves missing out on lucrative government tenders and contracts if their sustainability practices aren’t up to snuff.
“Almost all state and federal tenders nowadays have something around sustainability involved, so if your business can demonstrate it’s taking action on climate change that can really help,” he says.
“That’s just for tenders, but it also comes into play for supply chains, with larger businesses now putting a lot of effort into making sure their suppliers and supply chains are environmentally friendly.”
Grant has seen clients win contracts and partnerships over other businesses simply due to a track record with sustainability and climate-change action.
“From a purely economic point of view, businesses should get interested in this,” he says.
Morris says the advantages for SMEs goes beyond simply saving money or landing contracts, noting that younger members of the workforce are particularly discerning when it comes to picking workplaces with strong sustainability track records.
This also applies to customers, says Morris, with research showing younger consumers are at least 70% more likely to purchase from businesses with proactive climate-change policies.
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“In a competitive marketplace, having a sustainably produced offering can be the deciding factor for discerning customers,” she says.
“Research has shown that millennials — which is one of the largest consumer groups now — increasingly want to know where and how products are sourced. So in that market, it makes business sense to ensure your company is as sustainable as possible.”
So for businesses wanting to get started with sustainability initiatives, where do you begin? For both Morris and Grant, the best place to start is with the simple stuff.
1. Ditch the fridge
Almost every workplace in the country has a fridge, and Grant says they’re likely to be one of the biggest power guzzlers in the whole office.
He advises businesses to either re-evaluate their fridge needs, or reduce the amount they use them by cutting down to just one fridge per office, and maybe even experimenting with turning it off over the weekend.
“If you ask people what they think their biggest source of emissions is they’ll probably say their car, where in reality, it’s probably their fridge,” he says.
Additionally, if you’re disposing of a dead fridge, make sure you get it properly de-gassed warns Grant, as refrigerants can be “1000 times more potent” than CO2.
2. Turn down the heat
Let’s face it: the office probably doesn’t need to be 25°C in winter and 17°C in summer. Workers will often dress for the weather outside, not inside, so take advantage of that.
“If you have heating and cooling, get agreed-on summer and winter temperatures,” Grant says.
In reality, “18°C in winter is probably warm enough, and 22°C is probably cool enough in summer. Sadly, people tend to usually go the other way,” he adds.
3. Change the lights (or turn them off)
Another simple one which is regularly overlooked by business owners is lighting. Grant says the majority of lights purchased these days are energy efficient, but says some older businesses or offices might still be using older, power-guzzling lights.
Turning those lights off at the end of each day or whenever they’re not being used can also help.
4. Cut down on travel
If you’re a business who sends workers travelling interstate or overseas a lot, try to reduce the number of air miles your employees rack up, as flight is the most inefficient and polluting form of transport.
“Look into the teleconferencing side of things, as you’ll not only save on flight costs but also save on time for your employees,” he says.
5. Create a strategy
Finally, Morris says businesses should collate all the changes they plan to make into a comprehensive sustainability strategy. However, she warns businesses away from being sustainable for sustainability’s sake, saying it can come across as “tokenistic or greenwashing”.
“Your strategy needs to encompass all the areas where you have an impact on the environment and people, and not ignore the glaringly obvious impacts, even if they are central to your business operations,” she says.
“For example, if you manufacture clothing, you cannot ignore that there is a huge waste issue associated with fast fashion, so you might look at ways to increase the quality of your clothing so it has a longer life or promote ways for people to responsibly recycle their clothing.”
Once you’ve determined your strategy, Morris suggests business owners divide it into smaller changes (“quick wins”) and long-term changes, making sure it seems manageable so it doesn’t become too daunting.
Finally, she reinforces the importance of measuring and drafting KPIs to hit your goals.
“We all understand the importance of measuring financial performance, this is the same for our sustainability agenda unless we measure we cannot effectively manage,” Morris says.
For Grant, the economic benefits of going green are as clear as crystal, and he urges businesses to make as many small changes as possible.
“Lots of businesses who have never looked at this stuff before usually see about 10-30% savings in their energy and landfill costs,” he says.
This article is part of our spotlight on climate change. You can view the full series here.