No matter what business you’re in, people and planet are going to have to matter more to you than profit if you want to stay in business in our changing times. When it comes to profitability, sustainability is not beside the point; it is the bedrock of sound business sense.
With the Queensland Premier’s Sustainability Awards coming up, it makes sense to focus on the question of sustainability in small business. For some small businesses, such as Catalyst for Transition, sustainability is a way of life, and is an important part of the bottom line. For others, the increasing pressure to incorporate sustainability policies into operations and planning may appear a daunting task. But it really isn’t that hard. Small businesses are the economic cornerstone of their community, and, as such, play a vital role in economic sustainability. Ecological sustainability is so closely intertwined with economic sustainability that you may not even realise all the good things you are already doing that could be scaled up!
Aside from switching to a renewable energy source for your business operations, there are many more areas you could focus in on that you may not have even thought of. Sustainability may start at green energy for most, but is certainly doesn’t end there. Commitment to always pursuing the most sustainable options available takes time and research. If you break the task down into chunks it becomes that bit easier. However, get prepared to become mildly obsessive about sustainability once you realise how much room for improvement there is!
Sustainability practices can be categorised in whatever way suits your business needs. Catalyst for Transition’s sustainability policy breaks down our sustainability goals into four key areas:
- Equipment & supplies
- Waste management
- Business-related travel
1. Equipment & supplies
Not all equipment and supplies are likely to be sustainable, and this may pose questions for your business as to whether or not they should be used at all. However, there is an increasing range of suppliers who offer increasingly sustainable options for equipment and supplies, and many of them may be more local than you think, reducing the net carbon footprint of your business while supporting your local economy. Many small, locally owned suppliers maintain commitment to sustainability as part of their company’s ethos, and are able to deliver on their promise with locally-sourced materials that travel small distances.
Most businesses chew through a fair amount of paper for administrative purposes. This is not always necessary, as point 2, below, will explain. However, in cases where it is, there is little excuse not to seek out recycled, acid-free, Australian Forestry Certified options from small family-owned businesses such as K.W. Doggett. It is also worth thinking about the kind of ink used for printing, as most print toners are highly toxic for the environment. In cases where you have the option, water-based biodegradable inks used in inkjet printers are the environmentally-friendly choice, and are surprisingly cheap when ordered through small online companies such as Rihac. Currently such options do not exist for laser printers.
In-office printing is surprisingly unsustainable if you’re using the wrong equipment. Upgrading your print equipment to more sustainable alternatives will generally save your business money while reducing your net carbon footprint, and your toxic waste (and perhaps you never realised just how toxic print waste could be!). Companies such as Xerox now deal in printers that are are modular and recyclable, with the bioplastics used for their parts derived from corn starch, as opposed to petrochemicals. On top of this, their equipment also has in-built energy-saving mechanisms to ensure your carbon footprint is as low as possible.
If your business has a website, – and, let’s be frank, you really should: if you’re not online, you don’t exist these days – you might be surprised to learn that the company that hosts your website may have an unenviably large carbon footprint. There is an increasing number of hosting companies, however, whose operations are offset with renewable energy, such as JustHost green server options.
2. Waste management
Sustainable waste management practices are an ethical imperative, and lead to decreased pollution from environmental toxins. In addition, increased rates of recycling, refilling, and reusing add to the pool of sustainable jobs in your region while reducing waste and pollution.
How good are you at keeping your business waste to an absolute minimum? If you’re among the average, you’re not as good at it as you think you should be. But that can change, with ease. Writing a waste-management policy into your business operations, planning and decision-making policy really helps your business commit to the flow-chart of waste management. Simply put, you need to reuse whatever can be reused, refill whatever can be refilled, and recycle whatever can be recycled. If an item cannot be reused, refilled or recycled, perhaps it is best not to use it at all unless it is absolutely necessary to completing your work. Planning decisions need to be waste-conscious.
When it comes to office-based waste, refillable toner cartridges for printer ink, and modular printing equipment that can be recycled are great industry advances that support our sustainability goals. And there’s really no excuse for not recycling (preferably after reusing!) all waste paper. Catalyst for Transition go another step further and compost all of our waste paper for use in our local community garden. Well, being the hippies that we are at heart, we even compost our coffee grounds and teabags. Perhaps there is a community garden near you that could use your waste?
A paper-free office environment is a viable reality for many businesses these days, with email and online document storage now ubiquitous. Consider whether clients really need printed quotes, invoices and receipts, or whether these could, instead, be emailed. Clunky filing cabinets are also becoming a thing of the past, with online storage mechanisms such as Dropbox providing not only a paper-free storage option, but also greater security (you can be sure your Dropbox won’t be stolen or burned down!) and accessibility (you don’t even have to be in the office to access your filing cabinet these days!). Even project management can now be fully tracked using free online services, such as the open-source platform Trello, that enable you to reduce waste, and ensure all of your staff are on the same page at any given moment – and from any location. It’s a real win-win strategy.
3. Business-related travel
Business-related travel eats into your time, bank account, and carbon footprint. Where possible, it is best to keep it to an absolute minimum. There is nothing at all unusual these days about meeting clients via online teleconferencing as opposed to in their offices, and this opens up a whole new world of previously inaccessible clients.
Many small businesses such as Catalyst for Transition operate from a home office, as there is no real need for renting premises or commuting unless you need a shop front. If you can possibly avoid having a shop front to your business, then you are able to cut your overheads massively while reducing your carbon footprint by orders of magnitude.
Whether you rent your business premises or work from home, teleconferencing software such as Skype or Teamspeak (suitable for larger numbers of participants), liberates you from commuter time and associated carbon footprint, while positioning you with your office at your fingertips for anything you may need. Most client consultations can be carried out via teleconferencing, with some phone and email backup, and very little need for in-person meetings that require travel. Webinars also provide an excellent alternative when it comes to training options, and cut both your emissions-related ecological footprint, and that of your clients, as well as making training accessible from any location in Australia, at an affordable cost for participants.
Thinking laterally, strategic partnerships with sustainability-oriented non-profit organizations can boost both your sustainability profile, and your profile as a benevolent local business. Providing your services to such organizations at a reduced rate specifically for non-profits, or even providing pro-bono services to one lucky beneficiary chosen at the start of each year means that the benefits of your sustainability ethos are passed on to an organization whose work is furthering the cause of sustainability. Providing your services free of charge, at cost, or at a discounted rate, to your chosen organizations enables you to give them the boost they need to serve the needs of the broader community, while assuring you that much-needed sustainability work is being enhanced with your support.
Pathway to sustainability
Any organization can take steps to enhance the sustainability of their operations, planning and decision-making. It’s just a matter of setting aside some time to plan your pathway to sustainability and start chipping away at the changes you need to make. Set specific goals with fixed timelines, and commit.
There is great benefit to the Australian community from adopting the kind of sustainability policies and procedures that form part of Catalyst for Transition‘s triple bottom-line. It is also of immense benefit for businesses to understand that operating sustainably is not as difficult as you may think, and that it need not incur extra costs, as any cost increases from some sustainability practices can be offset by savings from other sustainability practices.
If you are keen to learn more about Catalyst for Transition’s sustainability policy and how you can enhance the sustainability of your organization, please consult our blueprint for sustainable practice, or feel free to contact us.
Catalyst for Transition are available for consultation 9am – 6pm Monday – Saturday, so please get in touch if you’d like to discuss how we can help you make your business more sustainable.