Over the last decade or so, we have seen increasing concern for our collective environmental impact as a society, and pressure for us to make real strides towards creating a greener, more environmentally just world. This is not an issue of any single nation, generation or demographic, but a concern shared worldwide. An online survey conducted by Nielsen in 2017 found that 81 percent of respondents across all generations, genders, and backgrounds felt strongly that companies should be helping to improve the environment.
Their voices are being heard, and industry leaders are taking action. Many of America’s largest corporations have announced their goals to become carbon-neutral in the coming years, and we expect more to join in the near future.
According to a study conducted by the U.S. Small Business Administration, in 2021 there were 32.5 million small businesses in the United States that made up 46.8 percent of the private workforce. Can improving environmental and social responsibility benefit them as well?
There are still many choices that a small business, even those with limited resources, can make on the path to becoming more environmentally friendly. These include:
Evaluating vendors or business partners and selecting those with like-minded beliefs. Supplying employees with reusable mugs and water bottles to reduce single use product consumption. Printing less and using PDFs or other digital documents whenever possible. Encouraging employees to recycle at home and in the workplace, and educating them on the best way to recycle or dispose of commonly used materials. Working with local communities to educate about the benefits of greener practices; and organizing events to clean up public spaces or plant trees.
It is important to note that improving environmental responsibility is not an overnight process. It is a continued effort, of which business owners will always need to be mindful. However, with that effort comes reward. By improving sustainability practices and marketing those improvements properly, business owners can expect to see increases in their brand loyalty, the caliber of attracted talent, and their overall bottom line over time.
Important to consumers
According to a 2019 Accenture survey of 6,000 people across the world, 83 percent of consumers believe it is important for companies to design products that can be reused or recycled.
About 72 percent of respondents were buying more environmentally friendly products than they were five years prior, and 81 percent expected to buy more in the next five years. Companies that market their sustainability efforts properly can expect to edge out those that do not, especially with on-the-fence consumers.
Important to employees
Many jobseekers express a preference to work for a company with sustainable practices. Employees want to feel pride in the company for which they work, and they will be much more productive when working for a company they can respect and admire.
A 2016 study by Cone Communications found that 88 percent of employees find their job more fulfilling when they know they are making a positive environmental and social impact. Eighty-three percent stated that they would be more loyal to an environmentally responsible company, and nearly two-thirds would not even consider employment with a company that does not have strong social responsibility values. Furthermore, in 2019 the New York Post detailed a poll that shows that 52 percent of workers would take a pay cut to work for a more environmentally friendly company.
A 2019 study from McKinsey outlined five ways that improving environmental and sustainability practices dramatically increased the value of many large companies. And these practices can just as easily be applied to small businesses as well. As I noted before, there is a substantial uplift in employee morale and the caliber of talent a company attracts when they have greater environmental credibility. Furthermore, companies saw an increase in revenue by making themselves more attractive to customers in both B2B and B2C markets. They also saw a decrease in operational costs through lowering energy consumption, water usage, and switching to more reusable materials.
Undeniably, there is large upside potential to making your business sustainable.
Considering the numerous cost-effective ways this can be done, it is no longer a question of whether all businesses should be doing this, but rather a question of how, when and to what extent. No matter how small, making a change in the interest of improving our environment is still a change and, more importantly, a great step in the right direction.