According to the U.S. Census Bureau, 99.7% of U.S. businesses have fewer than 500 employees. And firms with fewer than 20 workers make up a whopping 89.4% of businesses!
According to the SBA’s Office of Advocacy, “Small businesses continue to be incubators for innovation and employment growth during the current recovery.” So it makes sense that the innovation inspired by sustainability, wellness, and resilience would be key to small businesses that are right at home at the intersection of business, design, and environment.
While scholarly research about the impact of sustainability and green building most often focuses on large-scale enterprises, there are specific implications for small businesses that would be a shame to ignore. And just like with the big Fortune brands, small and mid-sized businesses see both market and entrepreneurial advantages to sustainability. A research article called Commitment of Sustainability in Small and Medium-Sized Enterprises: The Influence of Strategic Orientations and Management Values by Johan Jansson, Jonas Nilsson, Frida Modig, and Gabriella Hed Vall explored exactly this issue in the Netherlands, in the context of a report from the European Commission that highlights the differences between large enterprises and SMBs, noting that the motivations toward various green strategies seems to be more varied in SMBs than in the enterprise.
As a small business ourselves, we’ve got some thoughts on sustainability for small and mid-sized businesses:
There are financial advantages of a small business going green in terms of cost savings.
Every small business owner knows that financial stability is the heart of small business success. So business owners must grow the top-line dollars at the same time they are managing the bottom line costs. A business formula that is always positive results in financial endurance.
The most obvious advantages of going green are reduced waste and lowered utility bills.
The slightest persistent waste can brutalize a small business where risk tolerance is low and margins are tight. So these businesses must eliminate any waste that they can to protect the bottom line.
From the top line perspective, small businesses need every competitive advantage to create customer loyalty. – and socially responsible practices mean a lot – particularly to buyers who are already inclined to support small businesses.
Going green improves a company’s reputation with customers and staff and provides a talent-recruiting edge.
Large enterprises are pressured to go green by investors, and SMBs are pressured by customers. Companies that have a quality approach to sustainability also tend to have a quality approach to employee relations, customer service, and supply chain integrity. So in addition to the marketing and reputation benefits that come from sustainability, all business owners that focus on efficiency see a cascading effect throughout their business.
Paladino and Company is a boutique consultancy, and we compete with industry giants for customers and talent – and when people experience our LEED Gold certified office with its standing desks, organic fruit, operable windows, abundant plants, and engaged talent, it makes a difference. Sustainable business practices are the foundation of our talent recruitment program and the front-and-center demonstration of our approach to our clients’ projects.
There are more sustainable options available to small businesses than most realize.
There’s no one way to be green. The most important thing is for the business leadership to truly believe in sustainability and to commit to sustainable and resilient practices for the good of their business, community, and customers. With that belief in place, customers, employees, and advocates will understand that sustainability is non-negotiable. This commitment creates enables business owners to adopt sustainable practices and begin experiencing their benefits across the organization. Here are some ideas for brick and mortar businesses, and a few ideas for web commerce.
Customer-facing and brick-and-mortar businesses:
- Install LED lights
- Source green products from sustainable suppliers
- Use e-receipts
- Link sales to social causes
- Use low VOC paints and finishes
- Tell your sustainability story through signage and in your marketing materials
Virtual or non-customer-facing businesses
- Buy inexpensive CO2 monitors for enclosed spaces
- Create flex program for telecommuting or transit to reduce GHG from commuting
- Order community-sourced agriculture (CSA) as an employee benefit
- Bring in live plants to improve air quality and the connection to nature
- Set your printers to default to double-sided and black and white printing
- Create a sustainable culture together and raise engagement by involving your team in the greening of the business
Carbon offsets are a great way to contribute to a greener world, but the best place to start is with the things you can control, and that directly affect your business.
Small business owners can fund efforts to “greenify” their businesses in a few creative ways.
The most obvious way for SMB owners to fund sustainability efforts for their business is to eliminate waste, and then use the savings to make small investments in green strategies. Green choices can often be the same or lower costs than conventional choices – they might just require a little creativity and research.
Virtually every major city offers municipal programs for advanced recycling, where waste like food scraps and electronics are returned to the supply chain. Some landlords will share savings on the energy bill, so SMB owners should ask their landlords how to reduce the cost of energy.
Small businesses ARE the U.S. economy. Their impact on the world matters.
Small businesses have a massive impact on the communities they serve and the U.S. economy. Each business can make immediate impacts by making smarter and more efficient choices about operations and products. When you add in wellness and resilience, the impact is massive. Further, for those SMBs that are tenants, renting from a REIT, your voice and influence on operations should not be understated – the REITs and your landlords want a strong relationship with you and companies like yours. You can apply upward pressure to the landlords to improve green practices and they WILL listen.
The most important thing for small businesses to understand is that going green in business is not a strategy to tack on to their business model. Going green should be integrated into your operating philosophy. And you don’t have to believe in global warming – as an SMB owner I can assure you that it is Simply Good Business. So whether you do it for the planet, or do it for the profit, or do it for the people, sustainability programs can improve your top and bottom line with a modest budget or no added cost at all.