Consumers increasingly expect companies to be environmentally conscious and business leaders are seeking eco-friendly business ideas they can apply to their companies.
Sustainable business practices were once too time- and resource-intensive. Today, eco-friendly companies are experiencing both social and financial benefits from adopting environmentally-friendly ways of doing business.
In this article, we’ll look at the benefits of becoming an eco-friendly business and share nine sustainable business ideas you can use to minimize your carbon footprint, cut costs and build a loyal customer base.
Table of contents
Use sustainable stationery, products and packaging
Offer remote work or public transport benefits
Make the switch to renewable energy
Reduce your energy usage
Purchase carbon offsets
Do business with other eco-friendly companies
Partner with environmental nonprofits
Develop eco-friendly work policies and train your employees
Use eco-friendly cleaning solutions and chemical disposal
What is an eco-friendly business and how can “going green” benefit your business?
An eco-friendly business aims to be sustainable, doing its best to be a thriving, successful organization while avoiding harming the environment or depleting natural resources.
In recent years, sustainability has become a major concern worldwide, especially as we learn more about climate change. Sustainable products were once a niche market, but now, consumers are now changing their purchasing behavior in favor of eco-friendly companies.
According to the 2021 Global Sustainability Study by Simon and Kucher, 34% of consumers are willing to pay more (up to twice as much) for eco-friendly products and services. The study also reports that 63% of consumers have made a change in spending habits toward sustainable choices – and companies are listening.
Many companies are beginning to follow the triple bottom line model, where businesses commit to their social and environmental impact as well as their financial performance. Here at Pipedrive, we’ve partnered with the Green Tiger Initiative, World Cleanup Day and One Tree Planted to make a difference.
There are several benefits to becoming an eco-friendly business, including:
Cost savings. Some business owners and stakeholders are worried that eco-friendly business practices increase operational costs. However, it’s often the opposite. By using less energy and fewer resources, optimizing operations and increasing overall efficiency, companies can effectively save money on costs, such as overheads.
Employee loyalty. Sustainable practices can lead to happier and more loyal employees. According to a post-pandemic study from IBM, more than two-thirds of employees and employment seekers prefer to work for environmentally sustainable and socially responsible companies.
Customer loyalty. In the study above, we learned that consumers are willing to spend more with companies committed to sustainability. As this trend continues, businesses that make use of sustainable practices will increase their customer lifetime value.
Waste reduction. From chemicals to food waste, all businesses can reduce their garbage output. While reducing waste can have benefits for companies, including increased efficiency and fewer bills, the biggest winner is the environment. Further, by committing to waste reduction, you set an example for your employees and customers, who may begin to follow suit.
9 eco-friendly business practices to adopt today
With a global focus on sustainability and recent technological advances, many eco-friendly solutions are now available for businesses. These solutions range from product and equipment alternatives to full-scale operational changes and will help reduce your company’s environmental impact.
Let’s look at some tried and tested eco-friendly business ideas.
1. Use sustainable stationery, products and packaging
From office supplies to equipment and materials, most companies require a stack of products to run. Due to this, the average workplace produces a considerable amount of waste every year. Each product used by employees, clients, customers, suppliers and anyone else represents an opportunity to switch to an eco-friendly alternative.
Let’s take paper as an example. Back in 2013, the Environmental Protection Agency (the EPA) commissioned a study and found that the average office worker uses 10,000 sheets of copy paper per year. Most of this inevitably ended up in a landfill.
Products can damage the environment by contributing to overall waste as well as by the harmful processes that go into producing them. Switching to electronic-based practices where possible can eliminate this negative impact.
Where you must use paper, green products like recycled paper can further reduce the environmental impact of your paper use.
Nowadays, there are sustainable materials and alternatives for almost anything you could imagine. Remember the three R’s (purposefully ordered into this hierarchy for maximum impact):
First, “Reduce”. Cut down on waste wherever possible. For example, you could put a double-sided printing policy in place and also have employees cut down on printing by favoring electronic alternatives.
Then, “Reuse”. Replace disposable products with multi-use alternatives, like ceramic mugs in place of disposable cups or upcycled furniture for the office. Companies could also purchase office supplies that are refillable rather than disposable, like a coffee machine that uses beans over one that produces instant coffee from disposable plastic pods.
If nothing else, “Recycle”. If it isn’t possible to reuse a product, opt for recyclable alternatives. Companies that produce products could use recyclable packaging and materials, or source recycled materials (such as recycled paper). You could also consider refurbishing or upcycling equipment rather than throwing it out and buying new gear.
Take Subaru. Despite producing nearly one million vehicles a year, Subaru has added zero waste to landfills since 2005. They recycle and reuse everything in their manufacturing plants and even ensure that 96% of the parts of a Subaru vehicle are reusable and recyclable themselves.
2. Offer remote work or public transport benefits
In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, remote work has become more common and both employers and their employees have seen the benefits. In fact, working from home is one of the best eco-friendly business ideas. Not only can it cut costs for the company, but workers save time, money and energy on the commute.
Even better, working from home has several benefits for sustainability. It helps to:
According to the EPA, the average vehicle in America uses 404 grams of CO2 per mile. You can see how quickly this adds up when much of the world is driving to work. Taking the commute out of the picture means lowering your company’s carbon footprint and saving money on heating, lighting and stocking the office with consumables.
It’s also good for air pollution. One study found that nitrogen oxides (one of the main exhaust-related pollutants that contribute to poor air quality) dropped as low as 31% and stayed around 20% lower than normal levels as large groups of people shifted to remote work.
However, these benefits are only realized in full when sustainable practices are used in the home as well. If each employee has a large home, uses air conditioning and leaves their lights on all day, they could be leaving a larger footprint than if they were all in one office. Hybrid models also present a challenge. Having employees work half at home and in the office means that equipment and supplies are duplicated for both locations.
If your company or startup can’t offer remote work, consider incentivizing public transport or carpooling. These alternatives are far more sustainable than individuals driving to the same place every day.
3. Make the switch to renewable energy
Switching to renewable energy is one of the best eco-friendly ideas for businesses to implement.
In the U.S. in 2020, the industrial, commercial and transport sectors consumed 78.5% of the country’s energy, of which only 12.7% was produced by renewable energy. This represents a massive opportunity for entrepreneurs to invest in renewable energy sources, like solar panel installation, to cut down on emissions.
Making the switch to solar energy has several benefits for both your business and the environment, including:
Helping to meet sustainability targets and reducing your carbon footprint
Creating a positive public perception of your brand
Saving on electricity costs – renewable energy is now the cheapest energy source in the world – and you can pass these savings on to customers
There are other opportunities to decrease your fossil fuel use as a company, too. A service that people often overlook is web hosting. The internet is a massive source of energy use and switching to hosts who use renewable energy to power their servers is one way to cut down on your carbon footprint. For example, Google’s cloud services now produce net-zero carbon emissions.
4. Reduce your energy usage
Regardless of whether you invest in green energy or not, reducing energy usage is good for the environment and the bottom line.
There are several small and large changes you can make to your organization to cut down on energy use, for example:
Turn off electrical devices at the end of each day or when they aren’t in use
Cut down on heating and cooling time by keeping doors closed and investing in insulation
Upgrade to energy-efficient alternatives like LED lights, smart thermostats and sensors so that lights in unused rooms automatically turn off
Make use of natural lighting as much as possible
Invest in energy-efficient appliances and equipment that consume less electricity
Take Walmart as an example. Back in 2008, an employee suggested that the chain could save money if they disconnected the light source from the vending machines in the break room. They did, and they saved $1 million in energy costs.
There are plenty of business opportunities you can make use of to reduce your energy consumption. Combined, these will make a big difference to your yearly costs and reduce the impact your business has on the environment.
5. Purchase carbon offsets
Even if it’s impossible for your company to reach net-zero emissions, it’s still possible to contribute to removing carbon from the atmosphere. Carbon offsets allow businesses to fund emissions reduction projects such as financing green energy projects or restoring forests.
In this way, it’s possible for business owners to effectively balance out their own business emissions. For example, say your company is in the manufacturing industry. The first thing to do is measure your greenhouse gas footprint (using one of the services below). Then, you could purchase an offset for a conservation project that would reduce global greenhouse gases by a similar amount.
Here are some companies that provide carbon offsets:
However, carbon offset programs aren’t made equally and many people are skeptical about their impact. Such schemes have over-promised and under-delivered in the past, so it’s vital to choose a proven and trustworthy program. If you take the time to research and purchase offsets from a reputable source, you can contribute to improving environmental conditions around the world.
6. Do business with other eco-friendly companies
Every business makes use of other services or products, from vendors to logistics to stationery. That’s why it’s important as an eco-friendly company to make sure you’re in good company.
Partnering with companies that have similar values and a like-minded approach to business will show your customers that you’re serious about the environment and that you aren’t just co-opting the movement for a bigger slice of the pie.
This means you have to rethink your supply chain, source responsible materials and reduce your overall consumption as a business.
Take Unilever’s Sustainable Living Plan as an example. In 2010, Unilever implemented the plan to double its business while halving its environmental impact. This plan aimed to:
Halve the waste from products and manufacturing
Source all agricultural products sustainably
Halve the water use associated with manufacturing and customer use
Reduce emissions from manufacturing
Help a billion people improve their health and hygiene
From 2010 to 2020, Unilever managed to make huge impacts across all of these categories and in 2015, it was awarded the Champion of the Earth Award for its efforts. By 2020, Unilever had cut its greenhouse gas impact by 75% despite producing significantly more products. The company also cut its total waste per tonne of production by 96% and increased its sustainable suppliers to 67%.
A major part of Unilever’s success came from who it decided to do business with, and the example illustrates that everyone from small businesses to massive corporations can reduce their impact by changing or updating their partnerships and processes.
7. Partner with environmental nonprofits
Many not-for-profit organizations focus on sustainability and they can be a great resource to tap into.
Some of these will help you create a plan to implement policies and sustainable business practices and have the experience required to get your sustainable development goals off the ground. Others are always looking for support, whether it’s through monetary or in-kind donations, logistical help or promotional support.
If your business is already working in the sustainability sector, you can use a CRM for nonprofit organizations to help you implement sustainable business practices.
Here at Pipedrive, we’ve recognized the need for sustainable business practices and have partnered with multiple groups to realize these goals.
As mentioned above, in 2021 we partnered with the Green Tiger Initiative, an Estonian collaboration platform that aims to drive policy and organizational changes toward green development. We also contributed to the World Cleanup Day of 2021, assisting in project management to make the movement possible (the World Cleanup Day organizers are also using Pipedrive).
By partnering with environmental organizations that advocate, educate and take action toward a sustainable future, you make a positive environmental impact. Even if you can’t reduce your carbon footprint, supporting key partners is a great way to mitigate your impact.
8. Develop eco-friendly work policies and train your employees
A sustainability-focused company needs to be intentional about sustainability. This means partnering with employees, educating and training them, then putting sustainable practices into the organizational framework of your business.
One way to do this is by developing policies and procedures focused on sustainability. This might include:
Energy management. This includes procedures that cut down on energy consumption, such as powering down equipment before an employee leaves their post.
Water efficiency. Companies can invest in water-efficient fixtures and recycling measures and have policies in place when it comes to water usage.
Waste reduction. Reducing the amount of waste your business produces is one of the easiest ways to reduce your environmental footprint. Have clear and safe waste disposal policies that cover each category of waste, for instance, food waste, chemicals and recyclables.
To be effective, you need to raise employee awareness and get them engaged in sustainably maintaining the workplace. This means providing eco-friendly consumables and training to ensure sustainability measures are implemented.
An effective way to get employees engaged is to incentivize eco-friendly behaviors. You could hold home composting competitions and give out prizes based on employee efforts, or even host team-building activities like a half-day planting trees for a local nonprofit.
The knock-on effect of this is that the practices will likely carry over into your employees’ home lives. Not only will they feel like they’re making a difference at work, but they’ll likely make similar changes privately, resulting in an even greater reduction in impact.
9. Use eco-friendly cleaning solutions and chemical disposal
Chemical pollution, from plastics to pesticides, is one of the major threats to ecological stability today. As with other forms of waste, almost every company can make changes to reduce their impact in this area.
The movement to phase out chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) is a great example of a concerted effort to protect the planet from damaging chemical usage. Once it was realized that CFCs were depleting the ozone layer, the Montreal Protocol was put into place to phase out these chemicals on a global scale.
On a smaller scale, it’s still possible to make a difference. For example, if you produce chemical waste in manufacturing, ensure that there is sufficient training on their proper use and disposal. Or, if your company outsources to a professional cleaning business, insist that they make use of green cleaning products.
Likewise, agricultural companies could consider switching to organic food or other organic products in place of environmentally-damaging pesticides or fertilizers.
Whether you’re a business leader in a worldwide conglomerate or you’re looking for eco-friendly small business ideas, there are plenty of opportunities to include sustainable practices in your business plan.
It may be challenging at first, especially if your first foray into introducing eco-friendly practices, but the benefits of these green business ideas outweigh the obstacles. By rethinking your supply chain, organizational structure and policies and procedures, you can do your part toward a sustainable future.