How to run an environmentally friendly small business

This summer has brought the harsh realities of climate change to light like never before. Wildfires across Greece and Turkey, flooding in Germany, Belgium and the Netherlands, and unprecedented temperatures across the globe. It’s easy for ‘eco-anxiety’ to take over, rendering us hopeless and fearful for the future. But while the majority of the responsibility – and potential for positive changes – lies with large corporates, there’s still a number of steps we can take as individuals to play our part. If you run or work for a small business, here are some measures to consider.

Reduce trips through virtual meetings
The pandemic has shown us that pretty much all meetings can be conducted virtually if necessary. It’s not as ‘gezellig’ as face-to-face, but it’s a simple way to reduce the need to travel to meetings. If you feel like you’re losing out on the personal touch, consider sending clients or colleagues a gift to their house or office, to enjoy during your virtual meeting. Chocolates and tea work well – and it’s a more sustainable way to show you mean business than travelling across Europe for an hour’s meeting. Virtual meetings are also said to be more productive than their IRL counterparts, mainly because there’s less need for small talk at the beginning and end of the meeting. This way, you can fit more meetings into less time, helping with your work-life balance as well as taking the more sustainable route.

Opt for lower carbon travel options
When meeting face-to-face is a necessity, there are still a number of steps you can take to ensure your journey is as environmentally friendly as possible. First of all, ensure you’ve got a clearly defined framework for working out if a face-to-face meeting is really needed. Measure based on possible revenue from this client, or how many days the project will last. The journey time is also a factor: if the client is a short drive away, it’s easier to justify than a 2 hour plane. Where possible, opt for trains over planes. Once again, the benefits aren’t just environmental: you can work thanks to free WiFi, and you can also make the most out of the time you would have spent boarding and queuing at airports. If flying is a must due to your destination, fly direct where possible, and make use of airlines’ carbon offsetting schemes. When at your destination, use public transport instead of taxis, and look for certified green accommodation.

Work with sustainable clients
If your business involves choosing your own clients, consider creating a pledge stating you’ll only work with sustainable clients. This obviously isn’t applicable to all businesses, but for the ones who do have the ability to choose, this simple step can make a big difference. A number of creative agencies in Amsterdam, for example, focus on sustainable clients as their unique selling point – proof that taking a stand in business doesn’t have to mean sacrificing your revenue. You might even find that this helps you land additional clients who are particularly aligned with your values.

Operate a sustainable office
Whether you work from home, from a co-working space, or have your own office, there are endless small steps that add up to a big impact. Where possible, buy products that are made of recycled or sustainable materials, or that can be recycled. If you’re furnishing your office space, consider finding a thrifted or second-hand desk and chair to reduce environmental impact. Avoid printing where you can, and instead opt for digital contracts. It’s much easier for both you and your clients, and you’ll never have to worry about losing your records, because they’re safely stored across your devices. If you’re a product-based business, consider sustainable options when it comes to packaging and delivery – most customers won’t mind if you don’t offer next-day shipping!

Continue to educate yourself
As the world changes, so does advice around sustainability and running an environmentally friendly office. Stay plugged into the news, and consider ways in which you can help or contribute during natural disasters. Engage with thought leaders on this topic, and stay open to new perspectives and advice, even if you might initially consider it too complicated. On social media, follow accounts like Impact, The Zero Waste Guide, Tolmeia Gregory, and Chicks for Climate (aimed at women specifically). Don’t beat yourself up for slipping up, either – becoming a sustainable business takes time and effort, and won’t happen overnight. The most thing is to do your best to make a contribution to the cause, and inspire others around you to do the same. After all, it all adds up.

Written by Phoebe Dodds