Running a small business is challenging enough without adding one more thing to it, right? As a small business owner myself, I can attest to this!
Sustainability often brings its own set of challenges, and I hear some common ones from business professionals: not having the money to make the changes that you want, not having enough time to do it all, not having employees who are engaged with your sustainability efforts . . . the list goes on. Sound familiar?
The good news is that businesses just like yours are overcoming these challenges every day.
I’ve listed the 10 most common sustainability challenges that I’ve seen when working with businesses, along with strategies to help you surmount those obstacles. Note that these are not quick fixes—they will take work. But these solutions can help you move forward towards your sustainability goals.
Not having the money to make the changes that you want to make.
Begin with good payback projects. For example, almost all projects related to energy efficient lighting will have a good payback since it will immediately decrease your energy bill. This frees up some money and demonstrates the case for sustainability initiatives, which can help you secure additional funding for future projects. Since many organizations and utilities are available to help small businesses, also look for rebates and other financial assistance to help your sustainability projects. If you’re in the East Bay, check out the Good Local Money Guide. It connects local businesses with local sources of funding.
Not having the time to make the changes that you want to make.
There are actually three strategies that you can use here.
Employees aren’t engaged.
To have employees who are engaged, you need to give them opportunities for engagement. This might seem obvious, but you would be surprised at how many times I talk to business owners who wish for employee engagement but yet haven’t created the proper channels. In his book Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us, Dan Pink identified three elements that create true motivation in people: autonomy, mastery, and purpose.
If you want employees to be engaged, you need to allow them to have some autonomy, some say in the initiatives that your business is working on, and that must contribute to their sense of purpose. This is also in line with what the experts recommend for engaging employees in sustainability. One of the best ways to do this is to form a green team.
Not sure how to get started or identifying what sustainability initiatives make sense for your business.
Here, the strategy used by many businesses—and the one that I recommend—is to use existing frameworks such as Green Business Certification and B Corp Certification. If you’re just getting started, you can build on the proven best practices other businesses. Time and again, I hear business professionals say that they learned a lot by going through the process of certification. These two certifications will provide frameworks that you can use to ensure that you’re building a good sustainability foundation for your business. An added benefit is that you’ll also get some public recognition for your efforts.
Lack of information about specific topics, and finding it hard to keep up with trends.
This is quite understandable. You’re busy, and you don’t have enough time (see #2). And sustainability is a quickly evolving field. Unless you work in this field (and even if you do!), it can be a challenge to stay on top of all of the changes. To complicate things further, when it comes to small business sustainability, there is no one place that you can go to to get the latest information. I’m working to change this—join the Cultivating Capital newsletter to stay up-to-date with developments. (As a bonus, you’ll also get regular access to someone who can help you!)
Company culture doesn’t support sustainability.
This usually becomes evident when only a minority of individuals at a company are thinking about sustainability. Take a three-pronged approach to address this.
Lack of support and limited options from vendors.
Two options exist for working with vendors.
Lack of support from upper management.
To make the case for sustainability to upper management, you’ll need clear numbers. What will the payback be for a given project? What are the metrics that you’re tracking? If you’re not already tracking metrics, three common areas to start with are waste reduction, energy usage, and water consumption. Get a baseline of your current service levels and monthly usage, and identify projects that will help you to reduce those levels. Finally, calculate the overall savings. Once you present this information, support will likely follow.
Reporting on sustainability to employees and customers.
Sustainability reporting can range from producing a formal annual sustainability report, to using an existing framework such as GRI to simply providing regular updates through your website, social media, and email newsletters. If you’re just getting started, you’ll need to identify your focus areas and set some targets.
For example, if you would like to be more energy efficient, you might set a goal to reduce your energy usage by 10%. Once you’ve set some targets, you can share that information internally with employees (who of course should be allowed to provide input on those targets – see #3) and you can decide how much to share externally. Some businesses share their targets publicly, while others just share updates about changes they’ve been making. In either case, you’ll want to be authentic—for more on that, see #10.
Educating customers about the benefits of purchasing products/services from a sustainable business.
Marketing sustainability can be tricky and customers can be fickle. With rampant greenwashing, most consumers can also be jaded about the claimed environmental benefits. You can try two different strategies here.
Review this list and see which one of these challenges is most pressing for your business. Pick one and try the recommended strategy. To get people on board, check out Jive’s ebook on pitching an idea to your boss!
This article is by Carolina Miranda from cultivatingcapital.com.