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6 affordable tactics for a more sustainable small business

A small business owner packaging shipments using recyclable materials.

Climate change is a growing concern for consumers and businesses everywhere. 78% of U.S. consumers say a sustainable lifestyle is important to them and they’re willing to put their money where their heart is. This means that companies that make an effort to reduce their carbon footprint are getting noticed and rewarded. 

Now, we know what you’re thinking. As a small or medium-sized business (SMB) you just don’t have the resources to invest in massive changes like installing solar panels or switching to electric cars. That being said, there are still effective ways for you to help the environment and minimize your footprint without breaking the bank. 

Here are six things to add to the coming year’s business plan to ensure your SMB is doing its part for the planet.

Source locally and sustainably

Whenever possible, prefer to procure as many of your products, raw materials, and equipment as possible from local vendors and suppliers. This is good for both the community around you and the Earth. 

The community benefits from strengthening ties and supporting the businesses operating within it. Minimizing the distance your purchases need to travel means less emissions and gas burnt to transport them, so the planet wins too.

If you can’t find a vendor offering what you need locally, prefer merchants who prioritize sustainable and ethical practices themselves. Don’t be shy to ask vendors about their efforts to maintain the environment before choosing who you work with. Depending on your industry, there are also various certifications you can look for such as Fair Trade or The Rainforest Alliance, to make sure your vendors adhere to acceptable standards.

Digitize payments (and anything else you can)

Managing both accounts receivableAccounts receivable (AR)Accounts receivable is an accounting term that refers to all the money customers owe your business for products or services rendered and invoiced, but not yet paid for. and accounts payableAccounts payable (AP)Accounts payable is an accounting term that refers to the outstanding bills or invoices for goods and services already provided to your business but that you haven’t yet paid for. (AP and AR) online is not just more convenient, it’s also green. Invoices, receipts, envelopes, and checks are just a few paper products you can eliminate almost completely by shifting your business to a digital payment platform. Going digital will likely mean using fewer paper checks, so on top of the paper you save, less gas is burnt on transporting physical envelopes. 

While you’re at it, consider whether there are additional processes in your company that can be made digitally instead of using paper and physical objects. For example, sending an email newsletter instead of handing out a printed brochure or keeping inventory records in a digital spreadsheet instead of a physical clipboard.

Invest in reusable packaging and shopping bags

You probably have at least one beautiful cookie tin at home, still used to keep notes, trinkets, or loose change, long after the treats it originally contained were consumed. Their beauty, elegance, and durability make people savor these boxes and reuse them again and again, sometimes for years or decades. This reduces waste and saves them money on buying dedicated containers (which, you guessed it, create even more waste). 

Cookies don’t have to be the only things that come in beautiful packaging. If you’re a manufacturer, investing in packages that are both visually appealing and durable will help your products stand out while also increasing the chances consumers will want to reuse the box instead of discarding it immediately. 

A reused package isn’t just good for the environment. It also means a competitive advantage when people are gift shopping and free advertising for your company or products.  

Even if you’re selling products made by other companies, you can still make sure the boxes you ship them in or the bags you hand out at your store are something consumers can use again. For example, instead of simple thin nylon bags, opt for reusable and beautifully designed tote or paper bags. If you sell pet products, you can design your cardboard shipping boxes with cut-out instructions to be repurposed as cat caves.

Ideally, your packaging should also be recyclable so that when it eventually wears out its usefulness, it still doesn’t end up in a landfill.

Choose energy efficient equipment

Whether it’s an office fridge, a coffee machine, or a computer monitor, when buying appliances for your company, opt for products with the best energy rating you can find and afford. 

For electronic appliances sold in the U.S., look for the blue Energy Star label or check the manufacturer’s website. 

Even your lighting choices can make a big difference. If you have large windows, keep them clear and let natural light in, which is also healthier for you and your team. You’ll still need artificial light sources but this can dramatically reduce their intensity or the amount of time they need to be on. 

When installing artificial lights, opt for LED lighting. This can mean up to 90% less electricity used compared to traditional incandescent bulbs or even fluorescents. 

While helping the environment should be a main priority, we’re sure it won’t hurt to mention that reducing your electricity consumption will also save you a lot of money on your energy bills.

Encourage green transportation

The way your employees get to work also affects your business’s carbon footprint. If you have extra space, you can encourage some of your employees to leave their cars at home by setting up a bike room or bicycle parking. 

This will make local employees more comfortable cycling to work, which can also save them time in traffic and count as exercise. Make sure you have available sockets for those who use electric two-wheeled vehicles. 

If you offer local deliveries of small items, consider using a bike for those as well instead of a motorized vehicle.

Grow some plants

If your business has a backyard, a porch, or even a window sill, consider growing some plants. Even just a few plants can make your facilities more pleasant and help the environment along the way.  

Whether they can be in the ground or in pots, plants will instantly transform your space making it more appealing to customers and employees alike. 

Many offices and small businesses choose to grow herbs. These plants are relatively cheap and easy to care for and employees can use them in tea and other beverages or even salads. This really helps reduce waste as they only cut a few leaves or stems at a time, according to their needs.

On top of that, plants are also crucial for the environment. They improve the quality of the air we breathe and encourage biodiversity by providing food and habitats for bees, butterflies, and other pollinators.

Do the green thing

Environmentally friendly business practices don’t have to come with a huge financial investment. Following the strategies outlined above won’t cost your small business much (and some of them will even save you money in the long run) and can still have a positive impact on the planet. 

Showing you really care about the environment can also motivate Earth-conscious potential customers and partners to choose you over the competition. In other words, being green is also good business. 

Looking for a way to start today? Sign up for Melio, a free business-to-business (B2B) payments platform. With Melio you can manage AP and AR online without harming any trees in the process.

*This blog post is intended for informational purposes only and is not intended as financial advice.
**Melio does not provide legal, tax or accounting advice, and you should consult with a professional advisor before making any financial decisions.