The Big Idea - Can small businesses be green businesses?

Peninsula Team

July 02 2010

All too often, being eco-friendly can seem to be the domain of major corporations rather than SMEs – and when it goes wrong, as in the case of BP, the damage to both the environment and businesses credibility is enormous.

With detailed environmental statements in Annual Reports and all-singing, all-dancing Corporate and Social Responsibility policies, it can feel as though an eco-friendly approach is just for the big boys. However there are many reasons why considering making your business more eco-friendly can be beneficial for small businesses as well.

For a start, increasingly, both customers and employees are beginning to ask businesses what their policies are on the environment. It’s very frustrating for staff and clients alike, who may recycle diligently at home only to see reams of paper being thrown away in the office or aluminium cans stacking up in the rubbish bins. Having a sensible, sustainable environmental policy can be used as a USP against your competition, marking you out as a forward-thinking business.

From a commercial point of view, adopting environmentally friendly policies can also help produce considerable cost-savings – which can only be a good thing when the economic backdrop is so tough.

One of the most useful ways to behave in an environmentally friendly way is to resell or recycle used or obsolete computers and electronic devices. Specialist companies will at least remove or sometimes even buy them from you to recondition or use the parts, even if they no longer function properly. Everything from mobile phones, printer cartridges, keyboards, computer hard drives and batteries can be disposed of in a more environmentally friendly way and even bring in a small amount of income in the process. Obviously, be sure that any data is wiped from all electronic equipment before disposing of it in this way.

Secondly, check out the small things around the office that can save you a fortune and help the environment. Don’t send employee memos or newsletters around in hard copy. If you’re printing drafts or internal documents, use both sides of the page. Always print in draft mode and in black and white unless it’s a client-ready document. Recycle your toners and cartridges and buy reconditioned ones rather than new (this is cheaper, too). Remove your company from as many junk mailings as possible. Use energy-saving light bulbs which have a far greater lifespan than conventional ones. Make it an office policy to turn off all equipment, in particular computers, at night – you can reduce energy bills by 25%. Recycle all the kitchen waste as you would at home and encourage employees to do the same.

Why not ask your employees for their views? As we discussed in our recent article on the Japanese management approach of Kaizen, they may have some small, incremental recommendations which can really help the business. One small enterprise I know of asked their staff for their views. The employees decided between them that they needed no more than one ream of paper per person per year for their individual printing needs. If they needed any more than that one ream, they had to go back to the rest of the staff and justify it. It focused everyone’s minds on what they printed day-to-day and what they simply read on the screen and then saved online, and saved the company a packet!

And finally, as well as the practical benefits of reducing these costs, remember this can also be a strong marketing and recruitment message. Codify it, put it on your website, tweet about it and tell your clients and potential employees about it. Anything that marks your business out in a positive way should be shouted from the rooftops - and adopting an eco-friendly approach is certainly, in general, perceived as a positive.

Deborah Done, the author of our Big Ideas, is founder and director of Nab Communications, a freelance public relations agency which provides sensible and value for money PR advice to regional and national businesses.

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