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What is sustainability in small business?

Whether you've already established yourself or are just starting your own business, small business sustainability is a growing trend. Businesses and customers alike are more concerned than ever about the environment and climate change.

Even the UK government is urging small businesses to achieve net zero emissions. That means terms like ‘sustainable business’ are popping up more and more. So you might be wondering, what exactly is sustainability in business? 

It’s a broad term, but sustainability is about minimising the impact and long-term environmental consequences of your services and products. When it comes to sustainability in business, that means intelligent, judicious use of resources. 

Benefits of sustainable business

Improving your business sustainability has a lot of benefits. Finding a sustainable business model may deliver a big boost for your brand. Here are a few of the ways sustainability in business is a major benefit. 

Improved brand image

Becoming more sustainable is a great branding choice. Since more consumers are becoming mindful about their consumption –61% of consumers say they are either concerned or very concerned with the sustainability of their choices – they want to see businesses adopt the same ethos. 

Branding your business as a sustainable business gives you an edge over your competitors. Advertising the reduced impact of your operations, as well as any charity or climate advocacy work you do, lets you align yourself with a particular set of values. 

Reduced costs

Sustainable businesses save money. Because sustainability is all about cutting down on resource use and stretching the resources you do use, it stands to reason that getting it right saves you money. 

Eco-friendly lighting, using refurbished equipment, saving water with smart appliances, and going paperless are all things that lower your carbon footprint and your bills, and they’re just a few of the energy-saving measures businesses can adopt. 

Comply with regulations

As mentioned, the UK government is encouraging small businesses to reach zero emissions as fast as possible. By 2050, businesses are expected to reduce between 50 and 80% of their carbon emissions

Taking steps to improve your business sustainability can help you get ahead of these expectations. You may even be eligible for tax credits and relief, depending on how well you minimise your energy usage and waste production. 

Attract employees and investors

Having a reputation for being environmentally conscious and responsible may make your business seem like a more desirable place to work, especially among younger generations who are more aware of environmental impacts. 

This is true for investors and other sources of funding too. Anyone looking to support your business will want to be associated with positive change. Working to mitigate rather than contribute to environmental damage draws like-minded people to your business. 

All of these are reasons that becoming a sustainable business is a good thing, but how do you get there? 

Making your business sustainable

Becoming a sustainable business doesn’t happen overnight. It also doesn’t mean overhauling absolutely everything about your company. Improving sustainability in business can be done through smaller changes that alter the processes but not the character of your business. 

Know your carbon footprint

The first step towards sustainability in business is knowing your carbon footprint. You need to find out which areas are creating the most waste before you can decide what to change. 

There are lots of places where you can get a free carbon footprint calculation. You just need a few pieces of information, like your average fuel consumption and energy use, and they do the rest. Carbon Trust’s footprint calculator is specifically designed for small and medium-sized businesses in the UK, and follows GHG guidelines. 

Use sustainable products

If your business has a physical office, chances are you’re spending a significant amount on upkeep. For example, you may find yourself regularly replenishing cleaning supplies to keep your office looking professional. If that’s the case, you should consider minimising any negative impact you might be having on the environment. There’s a wide range of cleaning products available that don’t include toxic chemicals, using natural ingredients instead. 

Disposable items like paper and takeaway containers can also pile up in an office. Wherever possible, try to source paper made from recycled waste, to avoid adding to overall waste production. Takeaway containers are commonly made of plastic or even styrofoam, so it’s best to avoid them or find restaurants with more sustainable packaging. 

When possible, try to reuse things. Replacing disposable plates and cups with longer-lasting equivalents means you can use them again and again. When you’re printing something out, always use both sides of the paper. Reuse packaging if it’s still intact. 

Shop second-hand

Looking for a new office chair or some new shelves for your products? Before you head to IKEA, take a look at what people are selling used. 

Brand-new furniture costs a lot of energy and raw materials to make. Businesses looking to be sustainable can find their furniture in second-hand or charity shops instead, so that these older pieces aren’t thrown away. It’s also a good idea to check consumer marketplaces like eBay or Gumtree to see what people are getting rid of. 

Use less energy

Keeping the lights on, having your computer running, using air conditioning, and even how often you use your toilet all contribute to the energy you’re consuming. Most of these things are necessary to the daily operation of a business, but you can mitigate their impact. 

The key to making your energy use as efficient as possible is greener technology. If you own a shop, you need lights on to let customers know you’re open, but you can replace more wasteful bulbs with LED lights. You can install smart thermostats so you’re using the minimum amount of energy possible maintaining the temperature in your space. 

Try to only have appliances (like printers or coffee makers) running when you’re using them. Using laptops instead of desktop computers consumes less energy. Having low-flush toilets in your bathroom means you use less water. 

Offer remote work

Remote work has already become much more common as the range of jobs that are possible from home has expanded. Among the benefits people get from remote work (some say it makes them more productive, work-life balance improves), it’s also less taxing on the environment. 

Driving or commuting to and from work every day uses a lot of fuel and energy. Fossil fuels are by far the biggest driver of climate change, and anything you can do to cut down on their use is great for the environment.

Additionally, by offering remote work and having fewer people in the office, you won’t need to spend as much (money or energy wise) on lighting, heating, and stocking the workplace. 

Interact with others sustainably 

When you’re dealing with customers, there are lots of opportunities to improve your business sustainability. Need to ship someone’s order? Pay attention to the materials used in your packaging. Cardboard and recycled paper are excellent options, and some companies have even started using fully compostable packaging. Make sure your supply chain is sustainable as well – try your hardest to locally source everything you use.

Does your business have a website? The server that hosts it uses energy too. The good news for aspiring sustainable businesses is that you can choose where your data is stored. Choose a cloud computing provider that is either carbon neutral (like Google claims to be) or as close to it as possible.

SumUp Online Store is a free, intuitive way to set up a website and sell online without needing design experience. Every Online Store is hosted on AWS, which is on track to use 100% renewable energy by 2025.

Online Store makes describing your business and products easy, lets you customise all your pages, and you can even run it from your smartphone with the SumUp App.


Ecommerce is easy thanks to a smooth checkout process and wide range of delivery options.

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Make sure other businesses you work with, whether they’re catering, software, or shipping carrier companies, are sustainability-oriented as well. The businesses you support contribute to your carbon footprint, and it can also hurt your credibility to work with wasteful companies. 

Summary

Sustainability in business is a matter of finding and eliminating excess costs and resource use in every area of your business. And a sustainable business model has many benefits in addition to eco-friendliness. Customers will see that you’re paying attention and reward that. 

Becoming a sustainable business takes time and requires you to make more deliberate choices. That said, having a series of actionable steps to take towards achieving your goal makes the task much easier. 


For more advice on optimising your business, continue exploring the SumUp Business Guide. 

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Max Elias