Where to start with this Sustainability lark?
Talk about a word that can split opinions. If anything, has created a very murky business environment of 'green washing' and poor/manipulated data. How are you supposed to know what the right thing to do is?
I'm not going to bore you with definitions as I want to focus on the practical things you can start to do today. However, I will say, sustainability is about maintenance. Making sure you balance the eco-system you are in.
It is about prolonging the use of things and making sure that your business is still going strong in 50 years+ (no matter who owns it). That anyone working with your business has a reliable relationship. I.E., suppliers getting paid on time, staff having job security, customers get a product that won't break within 2 days etc.
What you can do?
1. Stop racing to being big quickly. Pace your business. It is tempting to rush a product to market or produce to much. But that can result in poor customer service, exhausted staff (who will leave), product quality issues and even burning yourself out.
Take your time to research your market. if it means spending a few pounds more on inputs, that can be an investment well made. Really understand your customer. This can save you a small fortune in the long run. Plus reduce the risk of sitting on stock that will end up in landfill.
2. Stop trying to be cheap. If you were to put a Ferrari in front of a customer and ask them, would they pay 10k or 100k. Of course, they would say 10k. Yet plenty of people will spend 100k, due to the perceived value and quality. Plus, the social kudos of owning a super car.
Customers by their nature, love a bargain. It increases serotonin levels. So stop, and really think about making sure you cover your gross margins, have a healthy profit to sustain your business and have a reserve of working capital for rainy days. Don't exploit the customer, but value your company’s efforts.
3. Can you turn scraps into products? Think about what you can do with by-products from your business. What can you do to avoid waste? Considering invest some time to improve your carbon footprint - in a sensible way.
Does investing in a 3-D printer make sense? Can you use scraps materials to make scarf's, PPE etc? Is there another business that will happily buy your by-products, or it might be more cost effective to donate to an organisation then to pay the council to take away. Brewery's work in partnership with bakeries. So what industry could you work with?
4. Turn off the lights. This may seem very obvious, but look at ways to avoid unnecessary energy usage. This can include renting out equipment when not in use. Some equipment can become obsolete/damaged when not in use. But why are you paying to run an engine that is not producing anything?
5. Share your sweets. Stop buying equipment you rarely use. Considering borrowing, leasing and renting equipment. Can you work with fellow SME's collaboratively to save some money?
6. Promote a culture of innovation. It doesn’t matter how small the idea or tiny the change. If members of your team or even a customer makes a suggestion, don't be dismissive. Encourage people to look at more efficient ways of doing things. All those small steps add up.
Avoiding the green washing trap
Let's not be naive. Business is about trade-offs. When it comes to facing the noise of green solutions, think critically. What is the agenda of those shouting so loudly? What are their real qualifications to make their claims? Are they cherry picking data to manipulate the story?
Tesla is a great example of a company that has started to lose it's green sheen. Sustainable investment funds have started to drop them as an ethical company from their pool of invested stock.
So, looping back to point 1 above. Take your time and do your due diligence. While plenty of packaging is recyclable. It doesn't mean your local council or authority can actually recycle it. So, it might be a more practical solution if you want to be greener, to use compostable packing. Or offer a way for customers to come to you for refills.
Remind yourself, you can't be perfect, so what little steps can you start to make?