What does success really look like for a business owner? How fast they grow their business is increasingly important. In fact, according to a 2021 report on entrepreneurship and its driving factors, the majority of entrepreneurs give themselves five years or less to succeed. After that, they dive onto the mainstage – or get hit by curtains. However, revenue is of course, also important. According to that same study, nearly half of small business owners (48%) define success as achieving profitability and making more money than they were previously (34%).
Rightfully so, founders and CEOs will always be hyper-focused on building a successful business. But, creating a legacy for the upcoming generations has become increasingly important in their eyes. This is demonstrated by the 28% of small business owners who say it’s an important factor in how they determine success (from the previously mentioned report). With legacy planning becoming a greater priority, one thing to consider is the impact your small business has from an environmental perspective – the most important legacy of all.
While it may seem overwhelming to overhaul your business practices and operate more sustainably, it can be quite simple when broached incrementally. It’s also an imperative undertaking as it’s where customer preferences (and demands) are headed – Dynata’s 2021 “Green Economy Consumer Trends” report showed 60% of Americans agree that if they have a choice, they prefer to buy products and services from environmentally responsible companies.
All companies – large, medium, small, startup or a century-old – have the power to make a difference. Here are some tips on how that power is available, accessible and achievable:
Flexibility is key when strategizing how to have a sustainable business
Business owners must adopt a flexible mindset when creating a sustainable business plan, as the goalposts for sustainability are always advancing. There will always be new goals on standards to meet, technologies to support and areas to improve. At the end of the day, while sustainability can never really be “achieved,” the end goal should always be betterment as a whole. The fact that this is a goal you’ll never meet shouldn’t discourage you, but motivate you to keep pace – and maybe even lead the charge.
Don’t forget about your value prop and customer needs
When creating your sustainability plan, don’t disregard your value proposition or why your business was successful to begin with. For instance, retailers could consider donating a portion of a customer’s purchase to a local environmental nonprofit – this not only encourages charitable customers to buy, but also provides you with a calling card for prospects. These types of efforts, that tie back directly to marketing and sales, are usually easiest to integrate into budgets and activation planning. They can serve as win-wins time and time again.
Stay focused, but don’t try to tackle everything at once
Trying to approach sustainability holistically can be daunting and – to many – a barrier to changing at all, even in a smaller and scalable way. But fortunately, boiling the ocean isn’t necessary – particularly when first getting a business off the ground. You can choose to optimize supply chain production or fulfillment services, to reduce excess inventory or waste; you can support local nonprofits, or you can use turnkey green technology available to you. Even using cloud-based services instead of printing memos or replacing your team’s technology with energy-monitoring devices are quick-fix solutions. Every effort serves a purpose and should be valued on the same scale.
Empower employees by encouraging participation
Encourage your employees to participate by researching, budgeting and deploying their own activations that better the environment, your business and the workplace. This provides them with the independence to give back during their workday while enriching their personal lives and contributing to what should become part of the fabric of your company. As your business flourishes, so will these programs. This ensures that sustainability becomes part of the ethos of your company, spreading far beyond the walls of your office space.
Tap in tech partners
Don’t forget about your technology vendors! Not only do a majority of them enable your business to operate in a paperless capacity (approximately 1 billion trees worth of paper is thrown away every year in the U.S.), but they’re likely working on their own activations that can serve as an opportunity for you to get involved. For instance, Xero gives back by investing a portion of the funds it holds under management into Blackrock’s Liquid Environmentally Aware Fund (LEAF®). There are also plenty of public resources including tips for businesses to be more sustainable from your vendors, such as webinars, blog material and small business guides.
Every entity can do its part by ensuring the betterment of the world we live in, regardless of how small the effort may seem – with a sustainable legacy on the line, every initiative counts.
Ben Richmond is the U.S. country manager at Xero, where he is responsible for driving Xero’s growth in the region. Ben has been recognized by CPA Practice Advisor as a “20 Under 40 Influencer” and was named Accounting Today’s “Top 100 Most Influential People in Accounting.”