How To Run a Green Business

How To Run a Green Business

Oct 2nd 2017

Are you an eco-friendly ecommerce company with a commitment to Mother Earth, but wonder what else you can do to ensure you are running a sustainable business? Are you becoming more aware of the impact that business can have on the planet and curious if there are sustainable business practices you can put into place?

Wherever you are on the spectrum of eco conscious company, we hope you find some helpful tips in this guide on how to run a green business.

We know firsthand that running a green business can be daunting. Where do you even start? You might think things like, “Putting up solar panels is way too expensive “Is being a green business something I can afford?” and “How do you know what methods have a positive impact?”

Let’s take a deep breath. And then let’s remember these four things:

First, take it one step at a time. Identify one specific thing you can do to make forward progress within your business. Work on tackling that one thing and do it well. Research it, find a more sustainable option that will work for you and implement it. Then come back to the list to select another. If you are a large company with lots of help, you may execute this in a different way, but we’ve found that biting off only what you can chew will keep you motivated and successful in implementing green business strategies.

Second, even though it might feel resource intensive, green strategies are likely to pay off! Running an eco-friendly, purpose-oriented business boosts brand perception, sales, and growth. A whopping 80% of consumers want to buy from companies that contribute to social issues, and 76% of them believe businesses should address climate change in particular. Implementing sustainable business practices and letting the world know about your mission can lead to sales growth. Many eco-friendly practices reduce costs because of reduced consumption and waste.

Third, every little thing counts, so don’t tackle the biggest thing first. And have fun with it. For many of these ideas, exploring and implementing them will give you a chance to get to know your team, your customers, your suppliers and yourself better.

1. Make your product itself more environmentally friendly: Start with product quality. If you sell a “durable” good, or a product that’s not intended for quick consumption, (versus a non-durable good, like food or skin care), find out if it is a long lasting product for your customers. If not, see how you can improve the quality and durability, or if you can institute a program to repair items. Regardless of what type of products you make and sell (durable or nondurable) think about the materials and inputs that go into them. Assess their environmental impact and identify greener options. If you make t-shirts, what kind of fabric are you using? Are there more sustainable options that still fit the bill, such as organic cotton, hemp, recycled PET or upcycled fabrics? If you make a line of skin care, could you source responsibly grown ingredients that minimize water usage, soil damage and runoff?

2. Make green packaging a priority: Of the 4.4 lbs of waste generated by an average American every day, packaging makes up 50% by volume! Assess your current packaging strategy and determine if there are ways you can use less material (i.e. by moving to a smaller mailer or custom fit box), use packaging made with as much recycled (and post consumer content in particular) content as possible. If your packaging is print heavy, find out what kind of inks are being used and whether soy or water based inks are an option. Be sure to let your customers know how to dispose of their packaging in a responsible way so recyclable goods don’t end up in the landfill! Check out EcoEnclose’s line of sustainable shipping supplies and reach out to us so we can help you find the best solution for your business.

3. Are your supplies eco-friendly and suppliers following green business practices: Conduct an “audit” of the other suppliers you work with and supplies you purchase to run your business, beyond your product and packaging. Think about everything from your office paper to your paper towels to your break room coffee. First, see if you can reduce usage. For example, if you go through a lot of post-its, can you invest in whiteboards instead? If you go through a lot of office paper, can you stop printing so much or implement double-sided printing as a norm? Second, look into options to replace disposable goods with reusable items. For example, if you stock your breakroom with plastic cutlery, which is both single use and non-recyclable, move to standard silverware and have folks wash items after use. Look for ways to make your disposable and/or single use items more eco-friendly. Seek out brands with a demonstrated commitment to the earth. Look for recycled content in what you buy and purchase items that are easy to recycle.

4. Eco-friendly Outbound Shipping: Amazon has made two-day shipping a customer expectation. Research has shown, however, that shipping goods by air is one of the most unsustainable methods an e-commerce business can use. In fact, while e-commerce is a greener way for consumers to shop than traditional brick and mortar, the environmental advantages of e-commerce are negated  if items are shipped via air. Most businesses do not have a warehouse and distribution center in every region so two-day shipping for these companies means that items will have to travel via air to get to their recipients on time. If you are an e-commerce business and have found many customers are selecting overnight or two-day shipping, understand why. Is it because you offer two-day shipping for free or at the same cost as ground? Perhaps you sell something that people often need on a short timeline, or that is perishable? Dig in and see if there are ways to change this trend, to make ground shipping more of a standard.

5. Manage Returns: Returns are not just costly and operationally challenging for companies to manage, they can also be a burden to the environment. Customers will look for packaging to ship their items back. Sometimes returns items are unusable, so the entire product and all of the resources that went into it go to waste. And, there is the energy and emissions of shipping items back. What do we mean by managing returns? First, minimize them by setting the right expectations with customers (on things like color, size and fit, etc), and packing items in such a way that makes damages in transit unlikely. Second, make it efficient for customers to return packages if they need to. Create a system in which they can reuse original packaging and get a return shipping label (for ground versus one or two-day air shipping).

6. Find Ways to Improve Your Facility: Whether you work in an office, a production facility or warehouse, or in your home, there are several ways green businesses can improve their site. First, look at your energy usage, and in particular your use of A/C and heating. Are there ways you can reduce both, perhaps with use of windows, shades and airflow? Sometimes caulking windows and doors can go a long way in improving temperature control. Next, consider infrastructure investments. In many regions, solar panels can be financed and have a very reasonable payback period, so are both great for the environment and for your business long term. Adding windows, skylights and other fixtures might be workable, and could pay off through lower utility bills long-term and improved employee satisfaction.

7. Waste Management Service and Practices: Most businesses generate significant waste. We generate waste in everything from product production to day to day business operations, to our daily coffee breaks. First, look for the optimal waste management company in your area to work with, and seek one with as broad of a recycling service as possible. Find one that also picks up compost items if you have this service in your area. If not, look to set up a personal compost bin in your house or office. Then, make it a cultural norm in your business to get as close to “zero waste” as possible. Zero waste refers to the concept of minimizing landfill bound waste, and instead, (after you’ve made efforts to reduce your usage of materials) recycling or composting as much as possible. Set up clear waste management bins and train your team on what items can and should go into each. Most businesses also have “difficult to recycle” or hazardous items such as batteries, electronics, plastic film, etc. Establish protocols for where and how to recycle or dispose of these goods, and make it easy for the team to execute these protocols. For example, set up a bin where staff can deposit dead batteries. Once a quarter, a team member can deliver this bin of old batteries to a designated call2recycle facility.

8. Help Your Team Go Green: Inspire your team to green their lives alongside your business. By having them be an integral part of this process of making your business more sustainable, you may find they’ll naturally make day-to-day changes themselves, like seeking more recycled content in everything they purchase, seeking reusable over disposable or single-use items wherever possible, and making more conscious efforts to recycle and compost goods. Consider incentivizing these types of changes by rewarding eco-conscious behavior like biking to work or taking reusable lunch bags. Make it a game! If your team takes on a certain number of green challenges at home, they get a reward - like taking a few hours off to go on a hike together.

9. Give Back: Get involved in local conservation and clean up efforts. Organizations like The Nature Conservancy have several volunteer and clean up opportunities nationwide that corporate teams can be part of, especially during April and on Earth Day in particular (April 22nd). Donate supplies, time or money to efforts. If it makes sense for your business, consider getting more involved politically by advocating for policies and candidates whose energy and climate change agendas you believe in. You may also consider investing in carbon offsets. By investing in offsets, you are first asked to calculate your business’s greenhouse gas emissions, and then donate money to actions that will sequester that same amount of emissions (through actions such as improving soil or planting trees). High quality offsets are not at all a “license to pollute” but can be a productive way to acknowledge and account for the emissions generating actions your business cannot eliminate.

10. Look For New Ways to Innovate: Research, science and technology related to sustainability is always evolving. Try to stay on top of eco advancements in your industry. You can do this by following some of the “leading” players and learning what kind of strategies they are pursuing. For example, if you run an apparel company, stay up to date on Fjall Raven and Patagonia. If you run a food company, stay up to date with Whole Foods and Clif Bar. These large eco companies are not the only ones who will break a major innovation but it can be a good starting point. Subscribe to publications such as Conscious Company Magazine, Grist, GOOD Business, B Corporation Blog, and the American Sustainable Business Council blog. Take time once a quarter to reflect upon your business practices. Based on all you are reading and seeing, are there any crazy, unlikely but exciting things you might do? You may not pursue all of these, but this thought exercise will keep you on the cutting edge.

Finally, don’t forget to spread the word! Let your customers know the actions you are taking to bring sustainable practices to your business model. Share your ‘why’ with them and what kind of impact you hope to have by running a green business. This will not only help your business reap the sales potential that comes when a company makes authentic, deep efforts at implementing green business practices (because modern customers see right through green washing), it will also give you motivation and encouragement to keep things moving in your sustainability efforts!