How to make your small business more sustainable

The idea of ‘sustainability’ can seem scary to some small businesses. You might think that it’s only relevant to bigger companies, that it involves a legal framework that’s too daunting to be a part of or that it might negatively affect your bottom line. The truth is that none of these are true, and my own business demonstrates it.

I started my business, Kitty Holmes, because I wanted to bring some personality and colour into people’s homes, but I knew that if I was going to do it, I didn’t want the planet to be harmed or the people involved to be exploited. I design homewares and fabrics from my home in London, but I get them printed and manufactured abroad.

Although there were cheaper manufacturing options available, I chose a factory that uses non-toxic seaweed based dyes and recycles any water used in the printing process. The factory is well ventilated and the people who work there (mostly women) have the option to work from home and around their childcare commitments. Packaging is made from a cassava root-based material that’s biodegradable. These simple, sustainable factors were put into place from the outset of setting up my business and have been relatively straightforward to sustain.

Here are a few ideas to help you incorporate sustainability into your small business in an accessible way.

  1. Develop your standards

Every business, large or small, involves decision making, and you can do this with integrity. At every step of this process you have the chance to stop and ask yourself how a decision affects the planet and the people who live on it. The way my goods are produced is important to me so I’ve made that a big part of my USP, but even when it comes to implementing the unseen parts of my business, I always try to think ‘People & Planet’ and maintain that standard. For example, if I don’t have too much to carry, I walk to the post office to send parcels. if I do have to use my car I consolidate trips. It doesn’t sound like much, but ‘doing’ rather than just ‘knowing’ the sustainability standards of your business is so important.

  1. Understand what sustainability means

Not just within your business but to your customers too. Talk to them about it. Regardless of whether your business sells products or services, you have an opportunity to develop a vision of what sustainability means within your company. It can (and should) be an in-built part of your overall business model, not a separate concern. Develop a plan for how you’re going to build elements of sustainability into your business and be specific. For example: ‘From 2019 our company will reduce plastic packaging by 50%’. Now communicate this to both employees and customers. Educate them, and ask for their feedback and advice.

  1. Make your actions manageable

Small changes do have an impact, so set yourself simple standards and uphold them. Changing your lightbulbs, your energy supplier, packaging, your office cleaning products or how you recycle within your business might not make you feel like you’re helping keep your business sustainable, but actually, you are.These are not difficult tactics to implement, and they’ll save your business money and reduce the load on the planet. If you take a ‘marginal gains’ approach with a large number of 1% improvements, you’ll end up with a worthwhile cumulative effect. Big changes aren’t always necessary to make big improvements.

A sustainable way of working is entirely possible for all businesses and there is no excuse not to take a look at what you can do. Start with something small and really commit to it. You will be surprised at how easy it is and the positive impact it has on your bottom line is undeniable, knowing you are helping the planet and the people on it.  Think of sustainability as less of an obligation and more of an opportunity, and you will see it become something your customers not only appreciate but start to demand.

Photo by Douglas Sanchez, published on Unsplash

Kate Holmes