sustainable business

By Rieva Lesonsky

Whether you’re trying to save money, attract new customers and clients, or make your business a better place to work, implementing sustainable business practices can help. That’s especially true if your target customers or employees are Millennials. This age group cares more than any other about sustainable business practices, according to a new survey.

About two-thirds (62 percent) of small and midsize businesses in the second annual Cox Conserves Sustainability Survey have implemented sustainable business practices such as conserving energy and resources—a figure that’s pretty much unchanged from last year.

The top five ways that small and midsized businesses are supporting sustainability:

  1. Using supplies efficiently, such as printing on both sides of paper — 62 percent
  2. Using energy-efficient lighting and equipment — 60 percent
  3. Offering paperless billing — 56 percent
  4. Offering recycling programs — 54 percent
  5. Holding meetings virtually — 45 percent

Among the top benefits of sustainable business practices are cost savings (cited by 46 percent), demonstrating a commitment to the environment (40 percent), and enhancing the company’s public image (38 percent). So what’s holding small and midsize businesses back from becoming more environmentally friendly?

Unwillingness to pay higher upfront costs for sustainability is a key factor, as is the fact that other priorities are taking precedence. However, according to Millennials, older generations are also standing in the way.

While Millennials know more and care more about sustainability than any other age group in the survey, and are more committed to increasing sustainability, the Millennia’s surveyed say that they don’t yet have enough influence in business and management to effect change. And 53 percent say at the companies they work for, their leaders (primarily Baby Boomers) are hampering efforts toward sustainable business.

As a Boomer myself, I find it surprising that the generation that first focused on environmental sustainability is dropping the ball. Whether this is actually true or just a perception among Millennials, Cox suggests four ways that you can make your small business more sustainable.

  1. Review your baseline energy usage. Contact your utility company to get detailed records of what your energy usage is. Some utilities will also conduct an energy audit for you, assessing wasteful practices and suggesting ways to improve energy savings.
  2. Look for government programs to help. There are many tax credits, rebates and other incentives for businesses that can make becoming energy-efficient more affordable. Visit gov/savings for more information.
  3. Take advantage of nature. Use low-tech solutions to save energy. For example, if the sun blazes into your office windows at sunrise every morning, try closing the window blinds at night so the office will be cool when employees arrive. Have ample natural light? Turn off your lights during part of the day and rely on windows or skylights.
  4. Involve your employees. As the survey shows, today’s employees — especially younger ones — are passionate about sustainability. Pick their brains for ideas and suggestions about ways you can make your business more sustainable. Also encourage them to practice sustainable business with simple acts such as turning off lights when they leave the room, powering down their equipment at the end of the day, and using reusable coffee mugs.