7 Eco-friendly Practices That Small Businesses Can Implement

Eco-Friendly is more than a buzzword these days.  Companies are being praised for doing more with less, and saving money in the process.  As I mentioned in a previous article, even Wall Street is taking a sharp pivot towards companies with sustainable manufacturing and Tesla is fast becoming the most popular brand in the world.

Walmart has made a commitment to lower packaging year after year (https://corporate.walmart.com/2016grr/enhancing-sustainability/moving-toward-a-zero-waste-future), somewhat by force through their buying power and the threat of no re-order.  Eco-friendly materials are expensive, smaller and more efficient packaging options are laborious to engineer, and not everyone can implement them into their products, especially products with a lower profit margin.  Add in compostable packaging and you’ve got a value proposition that requires a lot of capital. Apple Air Pods, with their $150 price tag, can justify sustainable packaging (https://www.theguardian.com/sustainable-business/2016/oct/26/plastics-food-packaging-microplastics-waste-ocean-pollution-compost-snact-tipa-nestle-usda) but a $10 package of hair ties, for example, cannot.

How can small businesses be eco-friendly?  In an optimal world, factories would be made of yurts, power comes from geothermal and solar, and the harshest cleaners would be soap and water using horse hair brushes and water collected from rain jugs.  In reality, we’re in grimy basements and crowded coworking spaces with buzzing fluorescent lamps powered by coal using clorox wipes to buff out coffee stains. Life doesn’t have to be black and white, neither does business, so of course there’s a middle ground with being eco friendly and shoestring budget.

Put your Printer on a Diet
The nicest way I can describe ink and paper is that they are two leeches sucking money out of your wallet while simultaneously clogging up any free space you may have.  I would imagine that most business owners feel the same way, unless they sell HP or Weyerheyser products. It’s fair to say that at Pretty Knotty LLC, we use hardly any paper and very little ink.  Why would we? Our receipts are emailed, our stationary comes pre-made and our packaging is mainly bubble mailers. It’s easy to reduce the waste from ink and paper.

Defenestrate old lights
Something to do in your office as well as your home is to get LED lights and toss your Incandescent lights.  Where you toss them is your business. Yes, they’re more expensive up front, but you replace them after hundreds of thousands of hours and they use a tiny amount of power to do it.  It’s been almost 150 years since Thomas Edison invented the lightbulb, is an incandescent light bulb still the best option for electric light? Cars have advanced a lot in 125 years, computers have improved since the Turing machine and TVs are no longer a cabinet with a notecard-sized fuzzy black and white screen.  If you still insist on an Edison bulb, a 3-wheeled car that you start with a crank, a computer the size of a living room that would lose to an iphone in a calculating contest, and blurry 2 channels on tv, perhaps this article isn’t for you.

Become Fridge-Buddies
Along with LED lights, how else can you reduce your carbon footprint without breaking the bank?  As I remember Dick the Butcher saying in Shakespeare’s Henry VI, “First thing we do is kill all of the refrigerators.”  The very purpose of a fridge is to create a box of cold air in a hot environment by blasting a lot of electricity through freon gas.  While it’s neat to have a mini fridge for everyone, they’re a waste, literally. Get a big fridge in the break room and a water cooler.  It’s also a great excuse to get up and stretch.

Speaking of cold air, why are you leaking cold air in the summer, and warm air in the winter?  Have a survey done of your office with an infrared camera. If you’ve got any leaks, fix them! Yes, it’s not free to plug a leak in the wall, however the money you have/will waste over the years is much more.  Depending on if you’re a character from The Christmas Carol, temperature regulation in the office is a touchy subject. I tend to run hot, my wife tends to run cold and everyone else is somewhere in-between.

Sweater Weather
If you must reduce your climate control during the year, turn down the heat in the winter.  You can always put on more clothes. I don’t mean to turn the dial down until there’s an icicle forming on your nose, just find a temperature where you can work comfortably in a sweater, wool socks and a cup or 10, of coffee.  If you have a cat, or a cat-sized dog like I have, they can also assist in being a small furnace on your lap.

Say Hello to my Little Package
Let’s go for a different angle of eco-friendly, your product itself.  Unless you’re shipping glass vases, it’s reasonable to assume you are using more packaging than you need.  Half the deliveries that arrive at my house are a Matryoshka doll of packing materials with the actual item a small percentage of the package.  Let’s start out simple, a package should ideally have 3 parts, a recycled padded mailer, a mailing label and a product. Your shipping label goes through email and any promotional materials in the bag don’t need additional padding.  There are some industries, such as beauty, and some cultures, such as Japan, where packaging is a presentation, but for the rest of us, your customer just wants the package not to break and is mainly concerned with what is inside of it.

Delivering More with Less
The trucks bringing your product to consumers, and the infrastructures behind them are another great way to go green.  In terms of efficiency, the best and least expensive way for a product to arrive is a full truck load (FTL) in a tractor trailer.  Not that UPS and Fedex are inefficient, they’re just a lot of little loads as compared to one big one. If you don’t have a FTL load, you can still take advantage through a trucking company that does a less-than full load (LTL) and bunches several smaller shipments into one truck.  

Skip your Last Mile
Last mile delivery, which is from the distribution center to your home, is expensive, rushed, unreliable and inefficient.  If your can avoid it, do it. Offer discounts to customers who are willing to pick up from a distribution center or team up with a local business to arrange for pickups.  Kohls is a place you can pick up and return your Amazon packages, I’m sure other companies would be happy to do it too.

What have you done to be more eco-friendly on a budget?  Does your company operate in a yurt powered by geothermal and solar power? Do you pollute so badly that you have indoor smog?  Share your thoughts below in the comments!

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-Jacob Eberhart