Increasingly, consumers are taking notice of business’s effects on the environment, and showing preference for businesses that are environmentally conscious. Whether you’re trying to appeal to consumers or taking an ethical stance, here are 5 big ways for businesses to be more eco-friendly.
5 Big Ways for Businesses to Be More Eco-Friendly
1. Start Wherever You Can
All businesses are different and eco-friendly interventions will look different for each one. The size and scope of your business, your industry, the goods or services you produce, and much more will impact the best ways that you can help the planet. We’ve listed a few ways for businesses to be more eco-friendly in this blog post, but the best approach will be unique to you. Look for points of waste and inefficiency, and consider how you can solve these problems.
It’s not sensible to lay environmental responsibility equally on small and large companies—especially when just 20 fossil fuel corporations are responsible for a third of all carbon emissions. At the same time, everyone’s participation matters. There are multiple benefits to assessing and improving one’s own environmental impact, whether these impacts are big or small.
- Personal ethics: Most of us choose not to litter because it’s the right thing to do, not because our choice will end all littering. Environmental responsibility is a similar ethical choice that reflects on individuals as well as businesses.
- Setting an example: Standing up against larger systems contributing to environmental destruction is hard, and sometimes takes courage. Even small changes can set an example for others in your community or industry.
- Supporting innovation: For decades, waste and pollution have been a business norm. Innovators are creating sustainable packaging, novel recycling methods, sustainable products, and much more. But these innovations require support from fellow innovators that understand their value.
- Gaining support: More and more consumers are recognizing the importance of environmental responsibility. If you are trying to do your part, don’t be afraid to show it, and connect with these eco-conscious consumers.
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2. Reduce Single-Use Plastics
There’s no way around it—plastics are a problem. While there are certainly some needs that plastics can fill, plastic is currently being used in ways that do more harm than good. Plastics are made from nonrenewable fossil fuels, they fill up landfills, they’re not generally recyclable, they kill wildlife, and create potentially toxic microplastics. With all of these problems, reducing single-use plastic is at the top of the list of ways for businesses to be more eco-friendly.
Consider the following:
- Using refillable containers: Can customers bring in their own containers instead of using disposable plastic containers? This approach makes sense for many different staples, like water and coffee, as well as some food items. Zero-waste stores are leading the charge in reducing single-use plastics, but a positive step does not have to be quite so drastic.
- Rethinking packaging: Packaging is a huge source of disposable plastic. Whether you are shipping B2B or B2C, replacing plastic packaging with eco-friendly alternatives can help you reduce your carbon footprint and support innovators who are rethinking plastic.
- Reconsidering materials: Consider the role that plastics have in your business, from the products you sell to the services you offer. Does this role really require a material that can last up to 500 years? Is there a better material out there?
3. Reduce or Off-Set Transportation Costs
Your products have to get to your customers somehow. And the materials you need to run your business have to get to you. But, are these things getting to their destinations efficiently?
Transportation and shipping produce huge amounts of carbon emissions and other pollutants. Maritime shipping alone accounts for roughly 4% of carbon emissions. This doesn’t account for air transit or the vast network of shipping trucks all over the world. There are a few ways to reduce the environmental costs (and, in many cases, the financial costs) of transportation.
- Working locally: Are your raw materials crossing hundreds of miles when there are local suppliers available? Are your products moving across countries or even continents between development stages? Take a look at the movements behind your business, and see where there are opportunities to improve.
- Reducing air travel: Air travel accounts for about 2.5% of global CO2 emissions, however the majority of this can be traced back to a small percentage of very frequent fliers. If your business is frequently sending staff around the globe, consider if all of these trips are necessary. Can a face-to-face meeting be accomplished with a video call instead?
- Streamlining logistics: Logistics experts have heavy financial interests in ensuring that shipping operations run efficiently, but not all are investing in environmental responsibility. Working with logistics companies who are committed to sustainable activities can help to reduce the environmental impacts of shipping.
- Carbon off-sets: Being able to send your products anywhere is an amazing thing. And it doesn’t have to be environmentally damaging. Companies like Etsy, that rely heavily on B2C shipping, use carbon offsets to minimize the impact of transit.
4. Assess Your Process and Partners
Whether you’re involved in manufacturing, retailing, shipping, another process or multiple processes, assessing your process and your partners can show the best opportunities for improvement. Working with business partners who prioritize sustainability in the same way you do will strengthen your eco-friendly position. Conversely, working with partners without environmental ethics will make it much harder.
First, take a look at your supply chain and ask the following questions:
- Where are my raw materials coming from? Are these harvested in a sustainable way? Do my suppliers care about sustainability in the same way I do? If not, are there other suppliers that do?
- What are the consequences of production? Is pollution being managed safely, or is it leaking into the community? Are extra metals, plastic, fabric, or other raw materials being discarded when it could be recycled?
- Is my supply chain creating opportunities, or exploitation? Global business allows everyone in the supply chain to participate in commerce, but some businesses create opportunities while others depend on exploitation. Is your business having positive effects on your own and other communities?
5. Assess Energy Use
From offices to retail stores to manufacturing plants and everything in between, every business needs energy to run. Once again, is that energy being used efficiently?
There are many ways to improve your energy use, and this can have enormous benefits over time. As more and more countries and communities prioritize energy efficiency, making these improvements now can save you from costly legislation later on.
Consider the following, and how you might make improvements to your energy use:
- Upgrading lighting: LED lighting uses about 85% less energy than incandescent lighting. This is a fast and simple way to cut your energy use significantly.
- Investing in solar: Many areas offer rebates and tax incentives for businesses that invest in solar energy. You can slash your energy costs and invest in an innovative, long-term solution.
- Optimizing water use: Global freshwater consumption has quadrupled in the last 50 years. A large part of this is agricultural and industrial water use. Innovators across every industry are finding ways to safely reclaim, reuse and reduce water. Take a look at solutions in your industry.
From consumers to scientists, business leaders to workers, many different people share environmental concerns. There are many ways for business to be more eco-friendly, and you can start by solving the problems that you see every day. That might mean reducing discarded plastic bottles or coffee cups, working with an eco-friendly supplier, investing in innovative materials, or simply researching solutions. There’s no right or wrong place to get started.