How do you decide which business to buy from? If you’re anything like the majority of today’s consumers, a brand’s mission and values play a big role in your decision. We’ve got more choice than ever before, whether we’re buying shampoo, shoes, or a new jumper. With endless options at our fingertips (quite literally!) thanks to the boom in e-commerce, brands need to work harder and harder to differentiate themselves. One way to stand out and attract aligned customers is through a clearly defined set of values. These can be more general — supporting equality, sustainability and transparency, for example, or more specific — like donating a certain percentage of profits to charity. In 2021, for many consumers, certain values are becoming (quite rightly) non-negotiable. Sustainability is one such value, and the importance we place on it is increasing. According to recent research by Forbes, over half of millennials and Gen Z (54%) are willing to pay 10% more for sustainable products (compared to 34% of Gen X and 23% of Baby Boomers). 

At the same time, it can be tricky for small business owners to operate sustainably, due to time, logistics, or financial constraints. With that in mind, we’ve gathered some tips from our community on how to run your small business sustainably. 

Don’t try to do everything at once

You can’t do everything. As a small business owner, you’ve likely got your hands full managing customer service, PR and marketing, social media, interns, finance… Your time is limited, and so is your energy. To have the most impact, pick a few areas to focus on. “To avoid the overwhelm, choose a couple of the UN Sustainable Development Goals that resonate with you, and use them to frame your focus,” says Eliza Flanagan, founder of KANKAN. “You can always add to them once you’ve grasped the first few.” The good news is that a little really does go a long way. “Making even small changes in your business can have a big impact,” says Ruby Rose, founder of Racoon Tail. “Try and work with other sustainable businesses, and switch to reusables in your office.” Make a list of all the ways you could make your business more sustainable – from keeping meetings virtual or local to reduce emissions, to upping your recycling efforts. Work through the list bit by bit – and use the momentum to spur you on.

Reduce waste

One easy but impactful way of being more sustainable when running a small business is by reducing waste wherever possible. Gone are the days where our offices are full of stacks of paper – keep all contracts, documents and meeting notes virtual. Our favourite software for online contracts include Hello Sign, DocuSign and Juro. If you run a product-based business, ensure your packaging is as sustainable as possible. Do you really need 3 layers of paper and plastic? Probably not. It doesn’t have to be a choice between great branding and sustainable packing, either – consider recycled cardboard boxes decorated with branded stickers. 

Reconsider your supply chain

Once you’ve got the smaller things sorted, it’s time to look at the big picture. “Previous to starting SoCo, I used to work in Corporate Social Responsibility for big multinationals, and one thing that I always noticed was the lack of awareness about supply chains,” says Tamryn Stowell, founder of SoCo. “If you want to be truly sustainable you need to look at who you are buying from, and who is, in turn, supplying them. Only that way can you really understand the source of your products and services, and their social and environmental impact.” Do your research before signing on with a new supplier. You can usually find extensive information on potential suppliers’ websites, going into detail about their values and the steps they’re taking towards sustainability. And as always, if you’re in doubt, just ask! 

Be transparent with customers

The rise in consumer interest in sustainability has also led to a rise in greenwashing. This refers to “the process of conveying a false impression or providing misleading information about how a company’s products are environmentally friendly,” deceiving customers. Avoid falling into this trap by being fully transparent with customers – about both the good and the bad. “With so much greenwashing out there, it’s important to communicate the wins you have, and the struggles or things in progress you have, too. Avoid the generic, non-specific comms,” advises Flanagan. There’s no point in pretending you’re something you’re not – it’s illegal, and will lose you customers. Instead, acknowledge that you’re in the process of becoming as sustainable as possible, and that you’re not quite there yet. Be open to comments and suggestions from customers, and keep trying to improve when it comes to being environmentally friendly. The majority of your customers will appreciate your efforts – and as Ruby Rose Sews reminds us, “Always be transparent with your clients so they can see your progress. Honesty goes a long way!”

Phoebe Dodds

Phoebe Dodds

About your author

Phoebe is Found & Flourish’s resident Business blogger, she is London-born and Frankfurt-, Paris- and Amsterdam-raised. Combining her Master’s degree in Entrepreneurship with 10 years writing for international publications, she’s the founder of BURO155 and Wellby, helping female entrepreneurs achieve their business goals through strategic online content. Phoebe is also a writer, and has written for outlets including the Huffington Post, the Guardian, the Next Web, For Working Ladies and Restless Magazine.


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