Sustainability for Small Business: Why It Matters and How to Get Started

Collectively, humanity uses 70% more resources than the Earth can naturally renew each year. Living beyond our means, what we do, is inherently unsustainable: pollution, natural disasters and generally reduced quality of life for all, today and increasingly in the future, are just a few examples fallout.

Small businesses are in the driver’s seat

SMEs have a disproportionate impact on the ecosystem, due to their number, size and scope of operations. They contribute 60-70% of total industrial pollution, for example. As such, they will play a primary role in shaping the future of humanity, unknowingly or not – the choice being to continue as they are, possibly leading humanity to eventual disaster, or helping to correct the imbalance. through sustainability.

Durability is paramount

As it stands, sustainability has become one of the biggest drivers for small businesses around the world in recent years – market conditions and indeed the ecosystem itself are making it so. According to Harvard Business School, you can define sustainability in a business context as operating without negative impact on the environment, community, or society as a whole. It is to be profitable without being exploitative.

If you’re about to start a small business, it’s imperative to factor sustainability into your equations. This will not only affect your bottom line, but will determine your very survival. Here’s why you should sit up and take notice if you aren’t already:

1. Your survival depends on it

At this point, sustainability is not optional and is a “survival imperative,” according to the UN. Climate change is expected to cause massive “pandemic”-sized disruptions every decade – such as the recent Covid-19 crisis. Micro and small businesses have struggled to weather the impact of recent economic and social turmoil, being 2.5 times more likely to fail than large businesses (due to their unsustainable operation). Going green is essential if you want to make your business resilient.

2. Your stakeholders expect it

Increasingly, your reputation will be influenced by the sustainability of your business practices. Stakeholders – employees, investors, suppliers and customers – are more environmentally conscious than ever. Many are actively jumping on the sustainability bandwagon, refusing to support and associate themselves with brands perceived as “unsustainable”. Becoming durable can help you score points with them.

3. Compliance may soon be mandatory

The government is stepping up and introducing sustainability regulations to mitigate the impact of climate change. These regulations range from competition law and carbon emissions to waste management and energy taxation. By intentionally becoming more sustainable now, you can avoid compliance issues in the future.

4. It can benefit your bottom line

Last but not least, sustainability can make you more profitable, not less. Sendle, a popular messaging company, recently published an interesting survey: 56% of its users had somewhat or entirely reassessed their shopping habits due to climate change, and 70% were actively planning to buy more sustainable products ( or supporting sustainable businesses, in other cases). words). With the way the wind blows, sustainability could be very lucrative.

How to get started with sustainability

Sustainability isn’t rocket science, but it can be a little overwhelming when you’re a new business owner. You can and ideally should start by creating a “sustainability plan”. This will allow you to take stock of your existing business processes (a sustainability audit) and replace them with more sustainable alternatives. Here is an overview of the process:

1. Learn and research: To make your business sustainable, start by understanding how and why your existing processes may be unsustainable. Next, be clear about what sustainability is in a business context. In a nutshell, it is to be neutral or positive socially, ecologically and economically.

2. Identify unsustainable business processes: then audit your business processes. Some red flags are high carbon emissions, unethical sourcing and irresponsible resource management. These processes must be transformed. You can consult experts or other business owners to make it easier.

3. Locate sustainable alternatives or “sustainable opportunities”: check market trends, research sustainability rules and regulations, and take a look at what competitors are doing to see where you might be falling short and how you can improve. Some high-potential solutions worth investigating are digitalization (Industry 4.0), renewable energy and ESG.

4. Develop a plan: You need to outline the details of the changes you are going to make, such as a timeline, your budget and resources used, and your vision. It should be a collective effort, which means you may need to get buy-in from stakeholders.

5. Make the changes and measure the results: Implement your plan. Drastic changes will take time and are unlikely to be without a hitch. Don’t be afraid to experiment. Durability is a never-ending process, which means you may need to refine and rearrange as you go. Measure key sustainability metrics such as emissions, water use, and waste generation for an indicator of your performance.

Obstacles in your path to sustainability

Sustainability is an investment and, like any investment, there are associated costs and risks. You will devote significant resources to this initiative in the form of time, money and work, on various activities:

● Research, learning and development

● Recycling and rebuilding process

● Alternative “green” products and services

● Infrastructure (such as computers, applications and transport)

● Marketing and sales

Along with the effort will come significant challenges (those challenges being the reason many companies fail to make that leap). We list the most common below:

● Too many and confusing sustainability indicators

● Government policies are not enough incentives

● Consumers will not always consider (or pay for) sustainability

● Organizations fail to communicate their sustainability goals

● Companies fail to motivate stakeholders

● Durability exposes them to criticism and overshadowing by competitors

These challenges are by no means insurmountable. A common theme is the lack of clarity around sustainability, which can be rectified through research, experimentation and experience. Additionally, while sustainability will involve some sacrifice upfront, it is, by its very nature, maintainable. Your investment will pay for itself, given time (assuming proper execution).

Make your business sustainable from the start

If you haven’t started yet or have only recently started, you have the opportunity to build your business sustainably from the ground up. Instead of following outdated business practices, just take the plunge and be sustainable from the start. A good way to start is to register as an LLC. It makes your business more resilient by providing benefits such as tax benefits, flexibility, and less paperwork. It also separates your personal assets from your business assets.

You can file the documents yourself or use a training service to save money (by not hiring an expensive lawyer). States have their own rules and regulations regarding LLCs. Check local California regulations before moving.

Toot your own sustainability horn

Being sustainable won’t automatically make you money, or attract customers or customers (or investors for that matter). You will first need to publicize and communicate your green initiatives to all your stakeholders, both internal and external. Some ways to do this are to get certified, be authentic and transparent, partner with sustainable brands, get a green visual identity and generate interest with advertisements and marketing campaigns. .


Sustainability makes solid business sense. Not only is it good for the environment, but it also makes your business more competitive, innovative and profitable. Although it may be difficult to implement, it is worth the effort and should probably be high on your priority list.

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