Seven steps to becoming a more sustainable small business

By Andrew Stevens, Head of UK Small and Medium Business, Vodafone

As a small business owner, you might not always consider your organisation’s environmental impact as a pressing priority. But customers are increasingly mindful of sustainability as a purchasing factor, and that now extends to small businesses as well as large. Research last year from Deloitte found that nearly one in three have stopped purchasing from certain brands due to sustainability or ethical concerns, while the same proportion would purchase products that are better for the environment over cheaper options, according to recent data from SurveyMonkey.

The reality is that saving the planet doesn’t have to cost you the earth. Here are seven steps to take towards becoming a more sustainable SME – because these days, no business is too small for a sustainability strategy.

1 Streamline your onsite operations – Whatever type of business you run, and wherever you run it from, the best place to start with sustainable thinking is always on your own doorstep. Paperless practices are an obvious candidate, and it goes beyond using email over snail mail – paperless billing, digital payslips and app-based expenses are all great ways to save on paper waste, and paperwork. Energy usage might be another – do you really need the lights on all day, every day inside your office or store? And check whether your local council can help with recycling or reusing any old electronic devices. Streamlining encourages you to think about what you’re doing and why you’re doing it, and you’ll soon find yourself reducing both your costs and carbon output.

2 Embrace hybrid working… – While not every business can operate remotely, those that can should certainly consider the environmental benefits of more flexible, hybrid models of working. Prioritise the time that you and your team need to be together for meetings and in-person events, and otherwise save on both the cost and carbon emissions of the daily commute. As an added bonus, it’s now even easier to get everyone connected, with packages such as Vodafone’s Complete Connectivity solution offering reliable and secure broadband connectivity across sites, wherever the team are working.

3 …or switch to a greener commute – From butchers to bakers to builders and beyond, many of Britain’s small businesses need to be ‘on the ground’ to do the job. And while you can’t avoid the commute entirely, you can make it cleaner and greener – walking or cycling just one day a week cuts the average commuter’s carbon footprint by a fifth. Need a van to transport your tools to and from the job? Consider switching to a hybrid or even fully electric fleet and get the added benefit of saving pounds at the petrol pump.

4 Eco-friendly packaging and shipping – Every business uses packaging of some sort. Even if packing and shipping products isn’t the primary operation of the business, it’s still important to get smarter about the whole process. Cut out the plastic – especially those bubble-wrap lined envelopes, which are a nightmare to recycle – and replace with recycled or biodegradable cardboard. Or, better still, something sturdy enough to reuse – you could even introduce an incentive, such as money off future orders or a social media competition for the best customer photo of repurposed packaging in action.

5 Invest in sustainable suppliers – Sustainability is about more than getting your own house in order. For example, Vodafone recently introduced a new 20% weighting into the supplier bid process, designed to incentivise suppliers to reduce carbon emissions, switch to renewables and promote a circular economy. Small businesses can also have a big impact on the environment by choosing to do business with green businesses. Review the vendors you use – everything from raw materials for products, to office stationery and catering suppliers – and make a conscious effort to put the money your business spends into the pocket of those who share the same sustainable values.

6 Make use of new technology – The Vodafone Connecting for Net Zero report outlines an ambitious target to enable customers to save 350 million tonnes of CO2e globally by 2030. This is driven by the transformative impact that technologies such as 5G, IoT and cloud can have on carbon emissions – as much as 4% of annual UK carbon emissions could be reduced just by adopting these technologies across sectors such as agriculture, manufacturing and transport. Small businesses can also reap the sustainable benefits from these new technologies, with 5G networks more efficient than previous generations of wireless technology, and cloud-based applications and data storage making business process less resource intensive.

7 Get B Corp certified – If you’re really committed to leveraging your small business as a force for good in the world, you might consider applying for B Corp certification. The B Corp movement sprung up in 2006, and since then has been on a mission to create a global community of start-ups and small businesses pioneering a more sustainable and equitable approach to doing business. It’s not easy – data from B Lab shows that of the 150,000 businesses who have signed up for the B Corp Impact Assessment less than 5,000 have been certified – but it stands out as one of the best ways to demonstrate your sustainable pedigree as a small business.

If you’re looking for additional tips on how to build your SME sustainability strategy, or support on how to become a cleaner, greener small business, head over to V-Hub by Vodafone and check out the resources, best practice guidance and free one-to-one support available from a dedicated team of expert advisers.

Andrew Stevens is Head of UK Small & Medium Business at Vodafone, and leads a team providing insight, expertise, and SME-focused tech solutions for the UK’s SME community.