As a Gen X’er raised in the South I have a hard time getting my head around why a business would put great effort into going green. I didn’t grow up in a place or time that sustainability was important. At first glance it can seem like an expense without immediate benefit, and I don’t know any small business owners who go looking for extra expenses.
The whole sustainable business movement can also feel political, regardless of your personal leanings. I suppose that has to do with phrases we grew up hearing like “tree hugger” and “environmentalist.” Many business owners, on the other hand, don’t have time for these things because they’re busy building and running their businesses.
And yet, going green is not political at all, at least where your business is concerned. In fact, going green is just good business strategy.
Don’t Make Sustainability in Your Business Political
In most cases it pays for your small business to be apolitical. When a business takes a stance - which is unfailingly the owner’s position - it risks alienating around half of its customer base. Larger companies can handle this. Think back on recent and ongoing events Like Black Lives Matter. Big brands like Amazon and Target were quick to jump into fray and voice their support. The result was, among other things, plenty of people who immediately drew a line in the sand, exclaiming no longer would they give business to these companies. Let’s examine what came next.
Very few people actually stopped shopping on Amazon. Why? Because it’s convenient as hell to get what you need in two days at a good price without leaving your home. Amazon doesn’t need you as much as you need Amazon. For a small, local business the opposite is usually true: You need your customers more than they need you.
Amazon can get political and not blink. Your shop on Main Street can get political and lose half of the shoppers in your area.
Going Green is a Smart Financial Decision
We all have our personal views on the state of society and it's easy to fall into the trap of thinking plenty of like-minded people will be thrilled to be our customers. In fact, a hard lesson to learn is how to embrace what other people think, especially when their take is different. If you’re a small business owner in your 40’s or older the odds are fair that you see going green as a waste of time and money you don’t have.
That is a mistake.
More People Than Ever Care About Sustainability in Business
At the top I mentioned being a member of Generation X. That makes me part of a minority in terms of buying power. Sometime around 2019 Millennials blew past Boomers as the most populous generation. Better still, Gen Z is right there too, and as you read this, more than half of all people in the U.S. are Millennials or younger.
Find more statistics at Statista
Millennials’ Buying Power is Significant
If you wonder what all these young people running around means in terms of spending, the answer is, “A lot.” In fact, Millennials will spend more in coming years than any other generation, with immediate projections in the neighborhood of $1.4 trillion. With a “T.” Gen Z isn’t something to dismiss either. As they begin entering the workforce, spending will shift younger still.
What this means for the future of your business should be clear. Local small businesses that want to thrive long-term must align their brands with younger generations. They are and will continue to be the ones spending money, and they will do so where priorities are aligned.
Millennials Care About Green Initiatives
While the concept of going green may feel like a hassle, an added expense, or both, in reality it can increase your bottom line. Better still, it doesn’t have to be a long drawn out process that you spend money on now hoping it will pay off in the future. Adopting sustainable practices doesn’t need to be a headache or labor-intensive. In fact, it should be the opposite.
Let’s take a look at a few of the shopping habits of this generation.
Word of Mouth Marketing Matters
Nearly all Millennials trust recommendations from people they know. This means family and friends, and here there is good news: You probably know some of them, and some may even be existing customers. There is no better marketing source for your business than your current customers. If you treat them well they will spread the word for you, and the people they talk to will listen. Word of mouth marketing is so important I’ve written an entire post on the subject here. Your takeaway in this case is simple: Go green, share the news and the benefits with your customers, and they will talk about it for you.
Reviews are critical to your success
Millennials want to do business with green companies
The largest demographic is also selective. Don’t hold that against them; Millennials have more buying options than any generation that came before them. That means your business has to distinguish itself, and a great way to do that is to adopt sustainable practices.
Worried about the cost of going green? Consider this: about 75% of Millennials will spend more for sustainable products. These consumers EMPHASIS will take the time to learn about your business practices. You can either satisfy them, leading to a loyal customer, or not. And if you need some guidance, think about a company like Patagonia, with core values to build the best product, cause no unnecessary harm, and use business to protect nature. Even if you don’t agree with Patagonia’s politics, you can acknowledge it has been highly effective in reaching Millennials with its message.
Find a Cause and Support it
There is no shortage of examples you can start with when you commit to finding a cause for your company. Think of Tom’s, a relatively new brand which built an entire business on the basis of putting shoes on people who need them. At present, a third (a third!) of Tom's profits go to promoting change and championing good at the community level. And if you worry it may not have profit to give consider: In 2019 and 2020 alone Tom’s gave away over 7 million pairs of shoes.
You don’t have to start so boldly. The point is that you start. Supporting a cause is a great conversation starter on places like social media and your audience of Millennials are interested. Depending on your business you may choose something local, national or global. Whatever cause you choose to support, care about it, commit to it, and let your actions do the talking. Your audience will listen.
How Your Small Business Can Go Green With Minimal Expense
Going green may not cost you anything at all. As we’ve discussed, the longer-term prospects of growth and new customers is almost certainly going to make sustainability profitable for your small business. Here are some things to consider as you make the transition that will help you right out of the gate.
Can your small business afford not to go green? Maybe in the short-term it can; Gen X and Boomers are still big spenders after all. But if you’re in it for the long haul you can thrive as a sustainable business that gives back to the community, or not. Consumers of today and tomorrow care about this more than you might think, and they are looking for brands that distinguish themselves. Be a trendsetter. If not, it’s likely you’ll be trying to catch up to your competition.