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Going green can feel daunting but it can make a major impact on your business — and the planet. In addition to reducing waste and your business’ contributions to harmful pollution, green initiatives can also save your business a lot of money. Plus, there is a growing movement among consumers to spend their money at companies who invest in sustainable practices.

If you want to incorporate sustainability into how you run your business, the first step is to create a sustainability plan to guide your efforts. Inform your plan by researching sustainability initiatives that could make sense for your business and prioritizing them based on what feels achievable considering the resources you have available. Then, hold yourself accountable by creating a roll-out schedule to make sustainability a reality.

Here are a few ideas you can incorporate into your sustainability plan:

Go paperless

Going paperless might mean you have to invest in additional technology, but it will likely be cheaper than paper products in the long run. According to Forbes, U.S. businesses waste $8 billion on paper each year. Relying heavily on paper means more storage space, expensive ink and headaches for your employees as they search for printed documents. Going digital and using a content management system will reduce time spent looking for documents and will bring you up to speed in today’s digital world. And it’s great for the Earth, too. The paper industry is a significant contributor to global deforestation, and paper waste makes up 26% of the total waste in landfills today, emitting harmful greenhouse gases.

Use sustainable products

With sustainability on the rise everywhere, businesses are popping up all the time with more sustainable alternatives to daily products and services. For example, instead of buying plastic pens, consider pens with a bamboo barrel. Bamboo is fast-growing and far more sustainable than even normal wood, and it doesn’t have the negative environmental impact of plastic. Additionally, buying supplies locally when possible is a great way to reduce the greenhouse emissions that come with shipping.

Allow employees to work from home

Working from home is more achievable now than ever, as many people are now accustomed to it as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. In fact, some companies chose to remain fully remote even when re-opening in person was possible. Global outdoors brand REI cited financial savings and reduced carbon footprint as reasons why their employees would be fully remote in the future. Even allowing employees to work from home a couple days a week reduces your business’ energy usage (and bill). Plus, your employees will enjoy the lack of commute time, the money they save on fuel, and their personal reduced carbon footprints.

Compost

For businesses that have a cafeteria or that are in the restaurant industry, composting is a cheap and highly effective way to reduce your carbon footprint. Even smaller businesses can compost using a small compost bucket instead of a full compost bin. Many cities have composting programs or partner with organizations who help facilitate compost pick-up. Do some quick research to see what is available in your area. Once implemented, be sure to educate your employees on what can and can’t be composted.

Make energy efficient upgrades

Making energy efficient upgrades to your physical space can save your business money on energy bills and reduce your carbon footprint. Some investments could be major changes, such as installing solar panels or better insulation. Others could be as simple as swapping your older lightbulbs for energy efficient LEDs. One hardware store in New Bedford, MA, found that upgrading their lighting system would save them over $6,000 per year.

Buy green-certified office products

When you purchase office supplies, take a little extra time to do some research into where your products come from. Most products that are built with sustainable practices will display that prominently on their website. Many industries have specific green certifications that will help you denote who you can trust, but you can also look for widely-recognized certifications from organizations like B Corp, ENERGY STAR, Rainforest Alliance and Green Seal. Certifications from those organizations on products is a good sign that the item you’re buying was produced sustainably, cleanly and ethically.

Buy green energy

Businesses and individuals have more options than they think for the energy they receive. Many utilities have programs that allow you to sign up to pay for green energy. If they don’t, going through a clean energy broker is another option. Check your state’s energy services website, as some states provide tools that allow you to compare energy costs and utility choices to find the best solution for you.

Use sustainable packaging

Skip the Styrofoam and plastic, and consider switching to paper boxes, PCR (post-consumer recycled) resin containers or bioplastics. Challenge yourself to move your business to the point of using no single-use plastic in your packaging. If possible, consider selling reusable containers or bags that your frequent customers can bring back each time they come. Consider leveraging your green packaging in your advertising, as it could attract a new sector of customers interested in doing business with greener companies.

Buy used or refurbished items

People throw out or donate many things that can become treasures for others. When furnishing your office, consider perusing your local (or online) furniture refurbishment stores for the items you need, including coffee tables, conference tables, chairs and décor. As a bonus, you can likely find these items for far cheaper when lightly used. Giving furniture new life ensures it doesn’t end up in a landfill.

Develop your small business sustainability plan

There are so many ways to make your business more sustainable, and we’ve only scraped the surface. Although it seems overwhelming, creating a sustainability plan can help keep your efforts on track and help you achieve your sustainability goals. Start your plan with just a couple of more easily achievable changes that you can build from in the future. Making your sustainability plan a staple section of your annual business plan is a good way to ensure that your sustainability goals are reviewed and updated at regular intervals.

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