These days we are all much more aware of the environment and our own individual impact on it. With campaigns to get rid of plastic straws and many coffee chains offering discount to those who bring a reusable cup, times are definitely changing. I saw a sign in the Deli in Jinga, Uganda this month suggesting bring a reusable…how small is the world? It was good to see a while back that Starbucks have now gone a step further and will actually charge those customers who use a takeaway cup. When will McDonalds drop plastic straws, will it take the public to drop McDonalds? 

The internet and social media are filled with tips and ideas for reusing and recycling things, but how can we apply this to our businesses, how do we embed the ethos and the care to every project, every purchase, every process to think also of the impacts the decisions make. It starts with leadership and the demonstration of care, the inclusion of environment on the agenda and the value of investing time and effort into all facets of what we do. In small companies we too can play our part. Over the weekend I drove to the tip with a car full of packaging waste, ready for recycling. Actually though, as I was getting organised I noted more and more conscious choice of utilising already recycled and this is surely a formula for a better future. I saw in the news recently that scientists really do believe we need not make any new plastics, just use the systems and processes that allow us to re-use that which we have.

The saying goes that “there’s no planet B” and we all need to do our part to reduce the amount of waste we create. As businesses we play an important role because we can influence both customers and employees with our actions. As well as this, customers will be more aware than ever of our actions, and many will judge us by how eco friendly we are, and may well, I hope, vote with their feet if they feel we are not doing enough.

There are numerous examples of companies doing things badly. Amazon is notorious for its ridiculous packaging, sending one small item in a large box packed out with paper and so on. Not a joking matter to receive not only massive packaging but how many people also connect the massive fresh air wasted in freight and delivery to the costs on the environment? Too often there is a misunderstanding about the whole impact of freight, logistics, the costs of shipping fresh air, wasted space and thereby wasted fuel. We smaller companies do not have the market clout of a brand like Amazon – we need to make sure our customers see that we are at least trying to improve and be more environmentally friendly. A report last year showed that a third of consumers prefer sustainable brands and this percentage is likely to rise as time goes on so it is worth beginning to make changes now. Why do we think big companies are buying smaller companies –  to learn and adopt their innovations.

Here are some ideas to get you started:

  • Look at all areas of your packaging. From the way your product is packaged on the shelf to how you transport it to retailers or post out to clients. Can you make changes here to make your entire operation more environmentally friendly? Some options here may end up costing you more money, but others may become a cost saving exercise. For example, could you reuse boxes from internal deliveries to ship out customer orders? Scentered candles have a pattern printed on the glass to make the leftover object more re-usable and attractive. Weprint ideas on every pack for how many other ways the containers can be re-used. Our balms were originally presented in a small tin but we switched to a card sleeve. The initial cost of switching packaging was not insignificant, but now we are saving money by using card, and using less packaging, less air. We have changed the shape of gift sets to beless round more rectangular, meaning less waste. We spend a lot of time educating on the importance of shapes we choose, and the way we freight goods to maximise space and reduce waste. Automated spread sheets that help ensure full loads, selling in full pallets, ensuring your price lists maximises the delivery investment.
  • Reconsider your office supplies. Can you use recycled paper for printing internal documents? Recycling or refilling printer ink cartridges is also something we should all be doing. If you provide pens for your staff, could you switch to pens with refillable ink, rather than using disposable ball pens all the time? Do you need to print at all? Just stop ordering those yellow sticky pads. People will use them if they are there, but there are precious few situations where they are actually essential at all. Try a clip and scrap paper, I won a contract years ago with a ferry company because I listed all the areas where our small company cared about freight.
  • Challenge your team. You will no doubt be amazed by the ideas your team can come up with regarding making your company more environmentally friendly. Challenge everyone to come up with one idea and see where it takes you. You could also ask your customers for their input; most will respond well to being asked for their opinion on such matters and it shows you are at least trying. Bulk buying with big refill pumps is the way forward, dispensers for hotels, and indeed consumers buying more robust, better made longer lasting kit that ensures less requirement for replacement like the KitBrix bag system which will last forever.
  • Provide branded reusable cups and bottles to your team. Like many things, this has an initial outlay which may put people off – but can provide great free advertising in the local area which may work well depending on your line of business. If you don’t want to have branded items, you could just purchase unbranded bottles and cups to be used in place of disposable coffee cups or water bottles.
  • Review your suppliers. Take a look at all of the companies you buy from; what is their environmental track record like? Could you switch to more environmentally friendly suppliers, or at least challenge your existing suppliers to change their ways? Request less packaging, online billing and anything else you can think of to save unnecessary consumption.
  • Buy second hand furniture and equipment where you can. The amount of office furniture that ends up in landfill is frankly horrifying. When you think about the number of different materials used in your average office chair, or desk (which is very rarely just wood and nails these days), it’s worrying to think about how long these things will take to decompose. Can you repurpose old equipment or buy second hand? I saved a fortune this way in the early days and love the café culture today of utilising the old chairs and tables.
  • Look at ways to save energy. This one will be good for your bank balance too! Switching off lights when meeting rooms are not in use can have a massive impact on one’s annual electricity bill and there are plenty of other things you can do here. It’s also worth looking at changing your energy supplier for a company that uses renewable energy.
  • Lead by example. I feel like I include this tip in every list I produce but it does bear repeating. If you’re telling your team to be more eco friendly while you’re busy drinking from disposable cups and wasting electricity, you will find it hard to get people on board. If they see you practising what you preach, they will join in.
  • Print on both sides of paper. This is so simple but legitimately could halve the amount of paper you use in your business. You can set this sort of thing as a default either on your printer or your computer and it is well worth doing.
  • Encourage working from home/remote working. You can help the environment by not requiring people to commute to the office every day if they really do not need to be there in person. You can also look at ways to encourage carpooling within your team. This is great if you have a slightly larger company where people may not be aware that someone in a different department actually follows the same route to work in the mornings.
  • Look at chemical usage. These days there are green alternatives to most cleaning products which are well worth the switch.

The possibility for companies also to educate through making wiser choices is massive. Events players and outdoor active companies perhaps not using race entry bags with the wrong kind of plastic, (something we have been encouraging), having time to invest in the right messaging on these new types of fabrics that decompose better and faster or perhaps had a previous life as a plastic bottle, we need to show the public what is possible by being overt with the awareness of ECO choices. Who does not have a reusable folding shopping bag? Why don’t running events companies invest in these?

Put the ECO consideration at the top of your company meeting agendas as a reminder; put it on the actions outcomes template you should utilise at all meetings, (you can find them on my website) and put Eco in the heart of your product development so that you can be proud of time and intelligence in invested.

Written by Vicky Charles

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