How to Build an Environmentally Friendly Business: 4 Practical Steps for Small Business Owners

Let’s start the summer off on the right foot and start thinking about — or reconsidering —  environmentally friendly business practices. Good habits can easily slip during a seasonal rush, so hopefully this post will help you and your team reset those good green intentions in 2023. 


Photo credit: Daniel Öberg on Unsplash.Photo credit: Daniel Öberg on Unsplash.



1. Save Energy 💡


There are many steps — big and small — you can take to save energy at a business: 


✔️ It seems counterintuitive, but paper towels can have more of an impact on the environment than hand dryers, given that paper has to be manufactured (recycled or made from trees), processed, and transported and it could end up as trash. Moreover, restocking paper towels and disposing of them are recurring costs to your business.


✔️ Turn off the lights when you leave a room and put up signs to remind your team, or install motion-sensor lights in bathrooms and rooms not frequently used. 


✔️ Try a fan instead of switching on the air conditioner. While not appropriate in all climates, a fan might help you save energy in the spring or late summer instead of turning on the energy-guzzling air conditioner. 


"Our coffee machine has scheduled startup and standby times so we're not running it 24/7." @QuokkaCoffee, Quokka Coffee, Perth, Australia 

2. Avoid Food Waste 🍎


Here are a few ways to reduce or avoid food waste:


✔️ Use reports to plan ahead. If you know sales are typically low at a specific time of year, you may be able to reduce the amount of fresh food you order over that period or plan a smaller menu for a week or two so you can order fewer items.


✔️ Partner with an organization that will collect and distribute food items that weren’t sold. 


✔️ Team up with a local farm or garden center that can compost fruit and vegetable peels or fresh food leftovers.


"As a bakery, one thing we do try to avoid is food waste — both from the business perspective but then also for the environmental perspective. We sell our day-old product in "mystery boxes." Our customers like the great deal and we like that we don't have to throw away product." @sugarlab, Sugar Lab Bake Shop, Ventura Harbor Village, California.

3. Reuse and Recycle ♻️


Got a lot of cardboard? Read on:


✔️ Look for ways to recycle packaging where possible. Reuse the cardboard boxes you receive inventory in to ship items to customers or shred cardboard and paper to use as stuffing in packages. 


✔️ Cardboard should be dry before it’s sent to a recycling facility. If you have some damp cardboard, you can compost it.


✔️ Share (or sell) cardboard to local contractors who often need cardboard to protect surfaces for remodels.


✔️ Grocers can offer customers the option to pack their goods in a box instead of a bag.


"We have really upped our game with shipping, so we recycle Amazon boxes, the stuffing/filler in boxes, the bubble wrap, etc., and use that to ship our inventory. It keeps costs down for us while protecting the packages and giving this "trash" a second life." @Bronze_Palms, Bronze Palms Spray Tans & Teeth. Whitening, California


4. Avoid Single-use Items 🌿


✔️ Avoid using single-use disposable cloths (which often aren’t biodegradable) to wipe counters and invest in a “real” mop for floors. Cut up and reuse old towels/dishcloths as cloths to clean surfaces and windows.


✔️ Offer a discount to customers who bring reusable cups. Some coffee shops will clean and store unique coffee cups for their regulars.


✔️ Read up on eco-friendly and sustainable packaging ideas.


✔️ Save paper and offer customers digital receipts sent by email or text message.


"We encourage customers to bring their own cups, which they get a discount for bringing. This is actually extremely common in our shop, which we find amazing. We have some new reusable cups coming into the shop this month for people to buy and we are really excited about it." @Lovewell, Lovewell Tea & Coffee, Ventura, California




Thank you to all our featured sellers! This post was inspired by the great responses we had to the question: How are you making your business more sustainable and/or environmentally friendly? Check it out for additional tips! Or learn even more sustainable business practices* in the Town Square Blog. 


Helen is a Seller Community Manager at Square and is the editor of the Seller Community Blog. She writes about small business, and the owners & entrepreneurs that are a part of the Seller Community.


*Note: Published in the UK Town Square Blog in January 2023.

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