Even a cursory glance at the business news suggests that companies across the U.S. (and around the world) are embracing and embedding sustainability on an unprecedented level.
Why? Because it’s good for business and the times demand it.
Energy and resource costs are rising. Technology is changing at light-speed. Forward-thinking businesses realize that being sustainably conscientious draws customers, investors, and employees for whom environmental concerns are important.
Still, myths about small business and sustainability persist. Here are five of the most common ones.
#1: Sustainability is a long-term investment that’s not feasible for a small business.
When it comes to reducing waste and finding new opportunities to increase value, the size of a business isn’t important. For example, no long-term investment is needed for a small business to identify and remedy energy-sapping practices (such as leaving unused devices plugged in or lights on in vacant rooms). Going paperless with technology is another viable option for any type of business. There are unlimited opportunities to reduce waste and costs primarily through behavior changes alone, before even investing in new technologies and devices.
#2: Small businesses lack the resources to dedicate to sustainability.
By their very nature, small companies must be adroit in their use of resources and nimble and flexible in the marketplace. Focusing on sustainability requires more of a shift in thinking, strategy, and behavior, and not creating a separate business function that siphons off those valuable resources. Boutique hotels, for example, follow the practice of large hotel chains in asking guests to choose less frequent changing of towels and sheets.
#3: Small businesses are too small to make an environmental impact.
According to the SBA, there are approximately 23 million small businesses in the U.S., accounting for more than half of all U.S. sales and providing at least 55% of all jobs and nearly 75% of all new jobs. With this type of clout, improvements made by small businesses in areas like recycling, the use of renewable energy, and improvements in packaging and manufacturing have a huge impact on the environment. Also, many small companies act as suppliers to larger firms, which already have or are about to implement supply chain scorecards and imperatives with an emphasis on environmental concerns.
#4: There’s no outside pressure forcing small businesses to take action.
These days, virtually all types of stakeholders important to a small business owner (customers, employees, investors, suppliers) are clamoring for more green processes and improved environmental practices. New generations of job candidates overwhelmingly prefer working for eco-friendly businesses, regardless of their size. Recent studies show that companies with “engaged employees” (including those for whom caring for the environment is a motivating factor) grow profits three times faster than their competitors and 75% of employees would recommend their company if they feel it is environmentally responsible, vs. less than 50% if it is not. (Thanks to Bob Willard for these statistics.)
#5: Sustainability comes at too high a cost for small businesses.
Regardless of size, every business must focus on improving the value of their products or services and reducing waste and operating costs. Emphasizing sustainability as part of its business model helps every company meet these goals. And the benefits in customer loyalty, enhanced brand awareness, and fully engaged employees more than make up for any additional expense.
Many in business today were raised in the era of perceived unlimited resources at low cost. It’s now clear that that era has come to an end and we must do our part to conserve. The myth that sustainability is costly and goes against good business practice is just that — a myth. There are abundant opportunities for small business to improve their bottom line and long-term value while improving the environment and ensuring prosperity for generations to come.