Why Your Small Business Should Go Green

Your small business should go green
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July 5, 2021
By Robert

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. 

Statistic: Population distribution in the United States in 2019, by generation  | Statista
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

Millennials care about green small businesses

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.

  • Stop using paper. If you are still printing and copying things you are, candidly, behind the times. These days there is no reason the vast majority of your business can’t be conducted electronically. Store documents in the Cloud platform of your choice and stop printing receipts. Financial transactions are overwhelmingly digital these days, and there is no reason at all to print a receipt. 
  • Examine your shipping and supply chain. If you make or sell physical products ask your suppliers about their own green initiatives. Create an outline of reasonable expectations and offer to help them achieve a higher level of sustainability. If your partners aren’t green you will have a hard time convincing your customers you are. Besides, this exercise alone is likely to increase the value of your relationship with vendors, and that can be advantageous to long-term mutual growth. 
  • Turn off the lights. Your workspace doesn’t have to be gloomy for your business to save energy. The chances are you flip all the lights on simply out of habit, but ask yourself and your team how much you really need. And, don’t stop there. Covid has forced us to reimagine the workplace. You may find you simply do not need as much office or shop space as you have. You might consider downsizing your physical space or, if your business owns the building, converting unnecessary space into a place to focus on the cause you committed to above.
  • Recycle. I have seen a countless number of small businesses that don’t recycle. Perhaps the owner hasn’t viewed it as a priority or is worried about added expense. But even if you don’t personally care much about recycling your business should, regardless of the products or services you provide. Consider your recycling efforts in terms of an annual challenge. Keep up with how much you recycle by weight, container sizes, number of items, or anything else that works for you. Then include it in your social conversations. You may be surprised after a year by just how much you’ve recycled, and you may be pleased at the response that gets on your social platforms.
  • Pay employees to volunteer in the community. It sounds crazy - suggesting you compensate your employees for doing work not directly related to productivity. Here are some truths: When you designate paid time for your employees to volunteer in the community they will become more loyal and productive because they will see that you care. If that’s not enough incentive, you will find that doing this creates a great avenue of word of mouth marketing for your business. People, including Millennials, will take note, and they will remember your business. This means you have just created brand recognition simply because you did something good.

Conclusions

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. 

What do you think? Let me know in the comments below.

Your comments make this blog better.

About the Author

Robert

Robert’s career started in 2001 when he founded his first company. Since then he has come to understand he’s most happy in the small business sector, particularly when he can play a small role in helping startup businesses grow and prosper. He has a wonderful family, a good dog, a Southern accent, and a BS in business marketing.

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