How to Make Your Business More Sustainable

See also: Running a Sustainable Business

As the climate crisis shows no signs of abating, and with the environment being top-of-mind for many eco-conscious consumers, business owners in all industries are wise to consider sustainability as part of their business plan.

Thankfully, this is easier to do now than ever before, and many business owners may find that saving the environment aligns quite well with saving money as well. Here are a few practical ways to get started.

Think outside the box when it comes to workspaces

If the Coronavirus has taught business anything, it’s just how many jobs can be done from home.

In 2014, the Carbon Trust predicted that more than 3 million tonnes of carbon could be saved per year in the UK if more people worked from home. The case for remote working is clear; by cutting commutes, greenhouse gas emissions are reduced, not to mention traffic congestion.

Overheads plummet when employees are not physically needed on the premises. Even if it’s not feasible to have people work from home permanently, it might be worth cutting days spent in the office per week, or else subsidizing a cycle-to work-scheme or public transport programme.

If your sector is one that genuinely needs people in a bricks-and-mortar environment, then your sustainable solution may not be remote working, but to reconsider the “bricks and mortar” part of the equation. Many prominent companies are now bolstering their green reputation and simultaneously saving money by using recycled or reclaimed building materials. This could involve using a cleverly repurposed used shipping container for a mobile office, storage or pop-up shop. Alternatively, you could consider sustainably manufactured kit cabins that are kind to the environment.

Cut your waste

Today, there’s very little excuse for sending waste to a landfill. With so many opportunities to reduce unnecessary consumption, upcycle older items, or recycle things like paper and glass, there’s never been a better time to reduce your waste.

Small changes can really add up; for instance, ditch anything disposable (coffee cups, cutlery) and replace with hard-wearing, reusable items. When office furniture becomes worn, think of ways to repurpose it elsewhere. So many items going into landfills still have many years of useful life left, if we only think a little creatively. Keep an eye out for the full lifetime of any item you buy and opt for biodegradable, natural materials, or those made from already recycled materials.  

Even if you can’t quite envision cutting your waste to zero just yet, a great place to start is with paper. Most offices produce enormous amounts of it. By investing in a shredder or a cardboard bailer for boxes and packaging material, you can set up a recycling habit that will not only be good for the environment, but likely save you money in the process.

Reconsider your supply chain

Depending on your industry, you may be inadvertently supporting environmentally unsound or unethical business practices in other countries. Do you really know who your suppliers are and how they do business?

Today, many customers are climate-conscious and are happy to pay a little extra for a product or service that they know is not exploitative of the environment or human labour. This means there’s no excuse for avoiding those manufacturers with better codes of practice, even if they ultimately charge a little more.

Review your supply chain and check whether your needs couldn’t be served by a more local business instead, cutting the greenhouse gases incurred in shipping. This way, you could form genuine relationships with suppliers that will not only ease your conscience but also communicate a strong message of responsibility to your customers.

Ask questions about the manufacturing process, the materials used, the wages paid and to whom, and the overall ethical vision behind the suppliers you choose to work with, and act accordingly. This could be as simple as choosing a vegan, UK-produced hand soap in the office bathrooms instead of a cheaper product bought from a faceless Chinese corporation via Amazon.

Invest in people

No matter your industry, the wellbeing of your business rests heavily on the wellbeing of the people who work for you and with you.

A passionate, engaged team is massively more effective than one that feels their voices aren’t heard. A great way to cultivate team cohesion is to encourage people to join along in your company’s overall sustainability vision.

Could you send key members to complete a sustainability course? Could you elicit staff input on their main concerns around sustainability on the day to day level? Your employees may have keen insights into how to make workflows more efficient, saving you time, money, and resources, so take advantage of this by involving everyone in the decision-making process. Consider an office pledge to a worthy cause, or simply start closer to home. Sustainability is not just about rainforests and whales – it’s also about creating a corporate culture that is based on respect and social responsibility. Where could you make improvements to your employees’ working conditions?

Do a yearly energy audit

Today, green energy is easier to access than ever before, and you might find that switching energy providers also saves you plenty of money year to year.

If you’re not in the position to make massive overhauls to business (like installing solar panels), you can still make a difference on a smaller scale. Speaking of solar - this source of renewable energy doesn't necessarily have to come at a great cost. You can choose whether you want to buy or lease solar energy, depending on your budget.

By fixing or replacing energy-hungry appliances and switching out old inefficient lightbulbs with environmentally friendly LED versions, you’re already saving energy and helping your budget. Consider powering down computers and other machinery overnight or putting generators and boilers on timers so they’re not running continuously. And yes, remembering to turn off lights doesn’t hurt either!

Further Reading from Skills You Need

The Skills You Need Guide to Leadership

The Skills You Need Guide to Leadership eBooks

Learn more about the skills you need to be an effective leader.

Our eBooks are ideal for new and experienced leaders and are full of easy-to-follow practical information to help you to develop your leadership skills.

Fortunately, more and more pioneering businesses are proving that being highly profitable and environmentally sound are not mutually exclusive. We can all strive to be better, bit by bit and day by day – businesses included. With just a few smart tweaks, you can start making a real difference.

About the Author

Imogen Clarke is a freelance writer who is passionate about the environment and specialises in topics such as eco-friendly living. She is always on the lookout for new sustainable trends and businesses that are ethically and socially responsible.

When she is not writing, she can usually be found with her head in a book or out with her dog, Charlie.