Improving Environmental Sustainability Practices as a Small Business

While operating a small business can make it easier to adopt innovative sustainability processes and adapt accordingly, small and medium-sized businesses historically lag behind in introducing comprehensive environmental programs when compared to their larger counterparts. Only 67% of small and medium enterprises engage in organizational initiatives, but a staggering 90% of multinational companies have some form of corporate social responsibility plan. It may be easier for smaller businesses to practice sustainability and lower their impact on an organizational level, but the value of having sustainability initiatives in place is tangible. This effort is shown to result in improved consumer relations, up to 13% better employee retention rates, a significant increase in sales and profit, and a 15% increase in employee productivity.

But how do you reap these benefits? Part of it is focusing on scalable commitments that make sense for where your organization is at in its sustainability journey. Larger businesses usually have a more developed understanding of their emissions and climate targets, and it’s difficult to know how to translate the same metrics to a small or medium-sized business. We all want to work towards a more carbon-neutral future, and these are some tips to keep in mind when focusing on sustainability goals.

1. Reduce energy consumption  

Regardless of the size of your business, everyone needs to keep the lights on. But focusing on energy consumption can be a great starting point for organizations looking to lessen their environmental impact. Make sure your light sources are up-to date with efficient compact fluorescent lights (CFLs) or LEDs, and consider using dimmers, motion sensors, or occupancy sensors to reduce usage. You can also use coverings to strategically blind and open windows, reducing the need for heating in the winter and cooling in the summer.  Using office hardware with standby features and making sure employees are turning off or unplugging unused electronics at the end of the workday can help, too.

2. Properly dispose of e-waste

Ensuirng proper disposal of e-waste helps to divert waste from landfills and reduces the need for raw materials to manufacture new products. If you’re in BC and parts of Canada, visit Recycle My Electronics to find a drop-off location near you to dispose of electronics such as AV equipment, computers and accessories, internet and telecom hardware, and non-cellular phones. Recycling cell phones and batteries is equally important in helping to divert waste, as well as reducing the risk of soil contamination and water pollution from heavy metals. Visit the Recycling Council of British Columbia to learn more about how and where to recycle these items in BC.

3. Encourage sustainable transportation and employee engagement

Particularly in cities with reliable transit infrastructure, encouraging sustainable transportation amongst staff members can be a great way to get every level of your business involved in sustainability goals. You may consider subsidizing employee public transit passes or bike storage if your business is located in a downtown core, or look into developing a carpool or rideshare program in less accessible areas. You can also start smaller by implementing initiatives like a bike-to-work month. Alternatively, find out what your employees’ personal sustainability goals are, and develop internal programs that align with the things that are important to them. Composting, using less plastic, upcycling, reducing meat and dairy consumption, and replanting are all initiatives that can be encouraged and incentivized through engaging approaches such as competitions, group volunteer activities, or organizational goal-tracking.

4. Consider green digital practices

With rising concern for carbon emissions from digital technologies, there’s more opportunity than ever to identify and address areas for improvement. Start by evaluating your current processes to figure out what works best for your business – and remember that carbon emissions can come from the most unlikely of places. For example, sending an email with a large attachment can have the same carbon footprint as driving a car one kilometer! Mitigate concerns like these by being mindful with your communication habits, and utilize cloud-based tools to share content, compress large emails before sending, and regularly delete old emails. Another great way to reduce digital carbon emissions is choosing a green hosting platform for company websites, and looking for green web hosting certifications like a Renewable Energy Certificate.

5. Track carbon emissions

If you’re putting effort into reducing carbon emissions on an organizational level, the only way you’ll be able to tangibly improve is through understanding your carbon footprint in the first place. To get a basic idea of your environmental impact you can use online tools as an estimate, such as SME Climate Hub’s free business emissions calculator. For organizations interested in tracking and reporting highly accurate, auditable metrics, you can look into your company’s GHG emission factors and learn how to calculate them. There are also many companies that offer carbon emission evaluation and auditing, with software to help you stay on track and set targets specific to your needs, such as ClimatePartner or Greenly.


While this isn’t a comprehensive list, committing your business to environmental sustainability can be a long journey, and starting with these tips can be a step in the right direction. Learn more about climate change in BC here, and visit BC Green Business to learn how to become a leader in corporate sustainability.

Posted by Emily Couves in Best Practices