Environmentally Sustainable Practice Tips for SMEs

published on 10 December 2023

Most SMEs would agree that adopting environmentally sustainable practices is important, but can be challenging to implement.

The good news is that there are many simple, cost-effective steps SMEs can take to reduce their environmental impact and enhance sustainability without sacrificing efficiency or profitability.

In this post, we'll explore practical strategies across key areas like energy efficiency, water conservation, waste management, sourcing, offsets, and reporting to help SMEs on their sustainability journey.

Introduction to Sustainable Practices in SMEs

Implementing sustainable practices can seem daunting for small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), but it doesn't have to be. With some careful planning and a few key changes, your business can reduce its environmental impact environmentally sustainable practice without hurting efficiency or profits.

Here are three areas to focus on first:

Reduce Waste

  • Set up recycling bins and composting if possible
  • Eliminate single-use plastics like bottles, utensils
  • Print less paper and use both sides when possible
  • Repurpose used materials before throwing out

Improve Energy Efficiency

  • Switch to LED light bulbs
  • Adjust thermostats a few degrees to use less heating/cooling
  • Insulate windows, doors and attic spaces
  • Look into solar panels or renewable energy credits

Buy Sustainable Products

  • Source locally to reduce transport emissions
  • Choose products made from recycled materials
  • Avoid excessive packaging and one-time use items

Making step-by-step changes creates momentum towards environmentally sustainable practices over time. Engage staff in the process and communicate achievements to demonstrate your commitment. Every small improvement makes a difference!

What are the practices of environmental sustainability?

Environmental sustainability refers to business practices that protect the natural environment and conserve resources for future generations. Some examples of environmentally sustainable practices for small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) include:

Reduce, Reuse, Recycle

  • Set up recycling bins around the office to collect paper, plastic, glass, and aluminum. Encourage employees to use reusable containers, mugs, and utensils.
  • Donate or sell any unused office furniture or electronics instead of sending them to landfills.
  • Go paperless where possible by using online filing systems, sending electronic invoices, etc. Print double-sided when you do need hard copies.

Conserve Energy And Water

  • Switch to energy-efficient LED light bulbs, program thermostats to an eco-friendly temperature when the office is closed, and remind staff to turn off computers, lights, etc when not in use.
  • Install low-flow faucets and toilets or place water displacement devices inside toilet tanks to reduce water waste.

Sustainable Commuting And Travel

  • Incentivize employees to carpool, use public transport, walk, or bike to the office. Consider subsidizing transit passes.
  • For necessary driving, aim to use electric or hybrid vehicles. When flying, buy carbon offsets.

Ethical Procurement

  • Source office supplies and other materials from local, environmentally responsible businesses. Seek products that contain recycled content or minimal packaging.

Engage Employees

  • Appoint a “sustainability champion” to lead initiatives. Start an employee green team.
  • Educate all staff on importance of sustainability best practices through training and communications.

Following these environmentally sustainable practices enhances an SME's sustainability profile while embedding eco-friendly operations into everyday workplace culture. Small changes can make a meaningful collective impact.

What is environmentally sustainable activities?

Environmental sustainability refers to practices that protect the natural environment for current and future generations. It involves using resources efficiently and reducing negative impacts on ecosystems.

Some examples of environmentally sustainable activities for businesses include:

  • Reducing energy and water usage through efficiency measures
  • Minimizing waste production and increasing recycling rates
  • Using renewable energy sources like solar or wind power
  • Buying eco-friendly office supplies made from recycled materials
  • Offering incentives for employees to use public transport or carpool
  • Planting trees or creating green spaces around facilities
  • Tracking and offsetting carbon emissions from operations

Small actions can make a meaningful difference over time. SMEs don't need major overhauls to incorporate sustainability. Simple changes to daily procedures can reduce environmental footprint while often cutting costs. With growing stakeholder expectations around climate action, even small sustainability achievements have reputational benefits.

What are examples of environmental sustainable methods?

Sustainability practices come in many forms across business operations. Here are some examples of methods companies can adopt to become more environmentally sustainable:

Energy Efficiency

  • Upgrade equipment, appliances, lighting to more energy-efficient models
  • Install smart building automation systems to reduce energy waste
  • Switch to renewable energy sources like solar or wind power

Sustainable Transportation

  • Encourage employees to walk, bike, carpool or use public transport
  • Transition fleet vehicles to EV or hybrid models
  • Offer incentives for employees to drive less

Responsible Resource Use

  • Audit and reduce paper, plastic, water usage
  • Eliminate single-use items, use reusable products
  • Establish recycling and composting programs

Green Supply Chain

  • Source raw materials from eco-conscious suppliers
  • Favor local vendors to reduce transport emissions
  • Send less print marketing material, use digital channels

Offset Emissions

  • Calculate carbon footprint across operations
  • Invest in accredited carbon offset projects
  • Join emissions trading schemes

With some creativity, environmentally sustainable practices can be incorporated across nearly all business functions in impactful ways. The examples above demonstrate there are viable options for SMEs to operate sustainably without compromising productivity or profit.

What is environmental sustainability?

Environmental sustainability refers to the responsible interaction with the planet to avoid depletion or degradation of natural resources and allow for long-term ecological balance. It ensures we meet present needs without compromising the ability of future generations to meet theirs.

Sustainable practices minimize environmental impact through resource efficiency, waste reduction, recycling, energy conservation, and more. These help preserve biodiversity, ecosystems, and natural capital while supporting sustainable development.

For businesses, environmental sustainability brings both moral obligation and economic opportunity. It demonstrates social responsibility while reducing costs and risks associated with resource scarcity, emissions, and regulations.

Adopting sustainable practices like reducing paper usage, improving energy efficiency, or switching to renewable power benefits the bottom line. It also attracts eco-conscious talent and customers. Plus, sustainability reporting aids stakeholder communication and accountability.

With proper strategy, even small and medium enterprises can incorporate comprehensive environmental stewardship into daily operations. This guide shares practical tips to get started.

Assessing Your Environmental Sustainable Practice in Business

Companies today face increasing pressure from stakeholders to demonstrate environmentally sustainable practices across their operations. Proactively assessing your current environmental impact provides an essential benchmark to measure future progress towards sustainability goals.

Calculating Your Carbon Footprint

The first step is to analyze your company's greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, commonly known as your carbon footprint. Online tools can help measure and categorize emissions from sources like energy usage, transportation, waste output, etc. Break these down into Scope 1, 2, and 3 emissions as per leading carbon accounting standards for accurate tracking over time.

Evaluating Resource Use Efficiency

Once aware of your largest emissions sources, conduct an audit of resource utilization across business activities. Gather historical usage data for inputs like electricity, fuel, water and raw materials. Identify operational areas for potential savings through efficiency improvements or elimination of excess waste. Installing low-flow water fixtures or optimizing equipment energy use are examples.

Analyzing Waste Streams

Catalog all forms of waste outputs from daily operations, categorizing them into solid waste, wastewater, air pollution emissions, etc. Then explore options to reduce overall generation through source elimination or substitution of more sustainable alternatives. Reuse outputs as inputs for other processes if feasible. Finally, ensure maximum recycling rates for any remaining unavoidable waste.

Assessing Supply Chain Impacts

Expand your environmental assessment to include sustainability impacts from sourced products and services. Collaborate with key vendors to estimate GHG emissions attributable to your supply chain. With this visibility, devise shared strategies for achieving emission reductions up to the usage phase of procured goods.

Identifying Sustainability Risks and Opportunities

Drawing on the quantitative and qualitative insights gathered thus far, pinpoint aspects of your operations representing the most material ESG risks from an investor perspective. These could range from supply chain disruptions due to climate change impacts or failure to meet tightening emissions regulations. In parallel, highlight potential areas for eco-innovation such as product/service redesign for circularity or carbon neutrality. Publicizing your commitment to addressing these risks and opportunities is vital for engaging stakeholders.

In summary, a comprehensive environmental sustainability assessment of your current business practices is crucial for establishing an accurate baseline. This then serves to regularly track progress on priority KPIs and demonstrate your genuine commitment to positive climate action to all stakeholders. Solutions like EcoHedge provide user-friendly tools to seamlessly facilitate this entire sustainabilitily journey.


Enhancing Energy Efficiency: A Core Sustainability Practice Example

Following energy efficiency best practices is a key way for companies to cut costs, lower emissions, and demonstrate environmentally sustainable practices. This enhances their sustainability profile while maintaining business efficiency. Here are some top recommendations SMEs can implement:

Upgrading to LED Lighting and Smart Controls

Replacing traditional bulbs with LED lighting that consumes ~75% less energy is an easy first step. Connecting lights to occupancy sensors, timers, and daylight harvesting controls further optimizes lighting energy use aligning with occupancy and daylight availability. Smart lighting cuts waste, lowers costs, and demonstrates sustainability commitments.

Optimizing HVAC and Insulation

Getting an HVAC tune-up and upgrading insulation, windows, weatherstripping and programmable thermostats optimizes heating and cooling - one of the largest operational energy uses. This maintains occupant comfort while enhancing energy efficiency. Prioritizing properly insulating warehousing and facilities cuts waste heat losses.

Procuring Renewable Energy

Transitioning electricity accounts to renewable energy plans offered by many utilities directly supports environmentally sustainable practices. This allows companies to tap into clean power without upfront solar panel installation costs. Some utility green power programs cater to business customers.

Installing Solar PV Systems

Adding rooftop solar photovoltaics allows companies to generate clean electricity onsite. With reasonable 5-7 year payback periods, solar PVs offset daytime peak demand charges and demonstrate tangible climate action to stakeholders. Solar installation costs have fallen 70% over the last decade.

Phasing Out Inefficient Equipment

Replacing aging, inefficient motors, pumps and compressors with ENERGY STAR certified models cuts energy waste by 10-30%. Newer models incorporate better technology, controls and variable speed options to optimize efficiency. Phasing out old equipment reduces emissions and operational expenses.

Following these best practices for optimizing energy use and tapping renewable sources allows SMEs to reduce overhead, lower emissions and showcase environmentally sustainable practices to stakeholders. This enhances their brand's sustainability profile without compromising business efficiency or outputs.

Implementing Water Conservation Measures in the Workplace

Water conservation is a key aspect of environmentally sustainable business practices. With rising water costs and recent droughts highlighting water scarcity issues, companies have significant incentives to decrease their water usage. This section outlines actionable measures organizations can take to reduce water consumption in their facilities and operations.

Installing Low-Flow Plumbing Fixtures

Replacing existing faucets, toilets, urinals, and showerheads with WaterSense labeled models certified for low water flow can generate major water savings. For example, WaterSense toilets use at least 20% less water than standard 1.6 gallon per flush units. Retrofitting all restroom fixtures can reduce overall water usage by 30-60%. Many local utilities even offer rebates to partially offset the upgrade costs.

When budgeting for the project, consider smart touchless faucets and flush valves to further decrease water waste. Also, choose durable commercial grade fixtures designed to handle heavy usage in a workplace environment. Properly installing and maintaining the new low-flow fixtures is key to realizing their full efficiency benefits.

Upgrading Cooling Towers

If process cooling towers are used onsite, examine options for enhancing their water efficiency. Variable speed drives can dynamically adjust the fan speed to match the current cooling demand. This prevents overcooling and unnecessary evaporative losses. Consider also upgrading to an advanced water treatment system to prevent mineral scale buildup on heat exchange surfaces. Keeping the towers operating at peak condition improves energy efficiency and allows operating at higher cycles of concentration while still protecting equipment.

Deploying Smart Irrigation Controls

Commercial landscaping and grounds maintenance often accounts for the majority of a facility's water usage. Installing soil moisture sensors connected to the irrigation system controllers enables watering based on actual vegetation needs. During rainy periods or in cooler months grass and plants require much less hydration. Smart controllers adjust the watering schedule automatically based on sensor feedback, reducing overall usage by 20% or more.

Harvesting Rainwater

Capturing and storing rainwater in cisterns provides a free natural source of water for non-potable uses like landscaping irrigation. Depending on the local climate, collected rainwater may supply over 50% of the facility's total water demand during wet seasons. Reduce municipal water withdrawals even further by utilizing harvested rainwater for flushing toilets and urinals inside buildings.

Testing for Leaks

Leaks in supply pipes, valves, and fittings can waste thousands of gallons annually. Establish a monthly leak inspection plan to check for any dripping faucets or wet spots around plumbing infrastructure. Also deploy smart water meters to track usage and automatically flag possible leaks via analytics. Any identified leaks should then be repaired as soon as possible. Proactive leak monitoring prevents the water and energy waste associated with undetected slow drips.

Taking steps to curtail water waste makes business sense, saving on utility bills and institutionalizing sustainable practices that help the environment. The actions above provide impactful yet practical efficiency measures companies can implement to responsibly reduce their water footprint. Along with securing water resources for the future, embracing water stewardship also improves public perception and supports meeting sustainability goals.

Reducing and Managing Waste: Examples of Sustainable Practices in Business

Businesses seeking to adopt environmentally sustainable practices should make waste reduction a top priority. With landfill space dwindling and public concern over sustainability growing, companies have a responsibility and an opportunity to minimize their environmental impact through smart waste management.

Implementing a zero-waste strategy not only benefits the planet - it can also lead to significant cost savings from lower disposal fees and materials purchasing. Here are some impactful ways businesses of all sizes can reduce, reuse, and recycle.

Setting Waste Reduction Targets

The first step towards responsible waste management is to analyze current procedures and set clear goals for improvement. Conduct a waste audit to identify top sources and volumes of different waste streams. Then pledge to lower total annual waste outputs by 10%, 20% or more over 1-5 years, with the ultimate objective of reaching zero waste. Track progress through periodic assessments.

Adopting Paperless Workflows

Transition key workflows like accounting, human resources, and records management to paperless digital systems. Reduce need for hardcopy files by uploading documents to secure cloud storage. Set printers to duplex mode and encourage staff to think before hitting print.

Procuring Reusable Goods

Seek out durable, repairable products and reusable transport packaging to replace single-use disposables. Prioritize reusables for office supplies, kitchen items, shipping materials, event decor and more. Support circular economy principles through lease-and-return equipment rental over new purchases.

Recycling and Composting

Provide clearly labeled waste receptables for all mandated recyclables, plus collection bins for organic waste like food scraps and soiled paper towels. Engage haulers to collect and compost organic materials if no municipal program is available. Ensure recyclables enter clean streams without contamination from trash.

Engaging Employees in Sustainable Business Practices

Educate staff about proper sorting of waste and recycling. Solicit their ideas for source reduction and process efficiency projects. Foster dialogue around sustainability objectives and celebrate collective and individual contributions towards waste goals through competitions, prizes or recognition programs. Align incentives by offering small perks for teams hitting targets.

Following comprehensive waste minimization guidelines at all levels of operations demonstrates a strong commitment to environmentally sustainable practices. Small everyday choices to reduce, reuse and recycle add up to a major collective impact over time. Leading by example can inspire industry-wide change.

Sustainable Sourcing: Greening Your Supply Chain

As a small or medium-sized enterprise (SME), building a sustainable supply chain is key to reducing your overall environmental impact. By collaborating with vendors and contractors to procure eco-friendly goods and services, you can significantly cut emissions while supporting the green economy. Here are some best practices to prioritize.

Prioritizing Local Sourcing

Purchasing from regional suppliers and manufacturers helps minimize transportation-related emissions associated with shipping goods over long distances. Aim to source at least 50% of products/services within a 100-mile radius of your facilities when possible. This cuts down on fuel usage and delivery costs over time.

Locally sourced goods also tend to reach end users faster with fewer chances of shipping delays or damages. Support your community’s economy and create goodwill with partners in your area. Shop local when procuring everyday office supplies, catering/food items, print materials, fleet vehicles, etc.

Selecting Eco-Certified Products

When buying goods like electronics, appliances, cleaning items, etc. preferentially choose those with recognized eco-labels like Energy Star, Green Seal, or EPEAT. This indicates third-party certification of environmentally sustainable design, material usage, energy efficiency, and proper disposal protocols.

Eco-labeled merchandise may carry slightly higher upfront costs but save substantially on energy bills in the long run. Promote your green procurement policies to staff and educate them to identify credible sustainability certifications. This motivates employees to make eco-conscious purchase decisions.

Requiring Sustainability Reporting from Suppliers

Make sustainability reporting an integral procurement requirement for key vendors and contractors spending over $50,000 annually with your firm. Comprehensive CSR reports tracking greenhouse gas emissions, waste generation/diversion rates, water usage, etc. allow you to accurately estimate and reduce supply chain impacts.

Provide reporting templates and offer technical assistance to ease the compliance process, especially for smaller businesses lacking dedicated sustainability teams. Offer incentives like preferential contract renewal terms for top performers meeting emissions reduction milestones.

Collaborating on Emissions Reduction

Initiate joint working groups with major suppliers to develop action plans for incrementally decreasing Scope 3 emissions related to your operations. Set specific timelines and targets for optimizing manufacturing/transport efficiency, shifting to renewable energy, minimizing packaging waste, etc.

Share best practices for cost-effectively transitioning to environmentally sustainable models and troubleshoot obstacles together. Co-investing in greening supply chains creates shared value for all stakeholders.

Adopting Green Shipping Practices

Stipulate clear policies for logistics partners mandating fuel-efficient transport modes like rail/sea freight over carbon-intensive air freight. Encourage local sourcing and centralized ordering to optimize transport efficiency with full truckloads.

Push suppliers to reduce extraneous packaging, utilize recycled materials in packaging design, and properly label recyclable/compostable components. Promote ground shipping instead of air freight for non-urgent deliveries. These steps drastically lower the environmental footprint of procurement.

Offsetting Residual Emissions

After reducing emissions from operations, neutralizing remaining outputs through high-quality offset projects can help companies achieve net-zero environmentally sustainable practice. Offsetting involves funding external emission reduction activities to counterbalance unavoidable internal emissions.

Understanding Carbon Offsets

Carbon offsets allow companies to invest in environmental projects around the world to reduce greenhouse gas emissions equivalent to their own residual outputs. Common project types include:

  • Renewable energy like wind or solar farms
  • Forest conservation to preserve carbon sinks
  • Clean cookstoves in developing countries

High-quality offsets go beyond business-as-usual activities and enable additional emission reductions that likely would not have occurred otherwise.

Identifying Trustworthy Standards

When selecting carbon offsets, it's critical to choose credits certified under rigorous standards like:

  • Gold Standard - Ensures projects demonstrably reduce emissions and undergo strict verification.
  • Verified Carbon Standard (VCS) - The world's most widely used voluntary offset standard with strict additionality requirements.

Trustworthy standards provide credibility through independent validation and give confidence offsets are not overestimated or double counted.

Prioritizing Additionality

The key principle behind carbon offsets is additionality - funding projects enabling incremental emission reductions unlikely to occur otherwise. Assessing additionality involves comparing a project's financial viability and barriers with and without offset revenue.

Additional offsets often carry price premiums but are essential for driving new emission mitigation and achieving real neutrality. Non-additional projects fail to facilitate progress toward closing the emissions gap.

Matching Offsets to Inventory

To meaningfully neutralize impacts, companies should procure offset credits matching the:

  • Residual emission types in their inventory - e.g. use forestry credits to neutralize biogenic emissions
  • Geographies where internal emissions occur - e.g. prioritize local offsets aligning with stakeholder expectations

Strategic matching demonstrates awareness of impacts and shows stakeholders concerted efforts to counterbalance specific outputs.

Avoiding Double Counting

Once offsets are purchased, it's essential to retire them in an external registry like Gold Standard or VCS. Retirement permanently removes credits from circulation, preventing multiple entities from claiming the same emission reductions.

Careful registry management eliminates double counting and ensures transparency on neutralization claims. Independent registries also enable clear communication with stakeholders on specific offsets funding and retirement.

Companies That Use Sustainable Business Practices: Tracking and Reporting Progress

Regularly monitoring key sustainability metrics allows companies to demonstrate continuous improvement in their environmental performance. By routinely collecting usage data, analyzing emissions, benchmarking progress, and reporting achievements, businesses can underscore their commitment to adopting environmentally sustainable practices.

Regular Data Collection

The first step towards tracking performance is gathering primary data on resource consumption and waste generation. Companies should implement systems to record usage for key areas like:

  • Energy (electricity, gas, renewable sources, etc.)
  • Water use
  • Waste output (recycling, composting, landfill streams)
  • Transportation fleet (mileage, fuel efficiency)
  • Other major emission sources unique to their operations

Automated data collection using smart meters, sensors, and monitoring software enables accurate tracking over time with minimal effort.

Ongoing Footprinting Analysis

Conducting an annual environmentally sustainable practice allows benchmarking year-over-year progress. Using the latest emission factors and activity data, companies can update overall GHG inventories and identify emission hotspots to target. Recommended footprinting methodologies like The Greenhouse Gas Protocol provide standardized frameworks for carbon accounting across scopes 1, 2, and 3.

Benchmarking Against Sustainability Practices Examples

The footprinting analysis also facilitates comparison against industry peers, regional facilities, or sustainability practices examples from leading companies. Where does performance rank relative to competitors? What emission targets should be set aligned to science-based guidelines or sectoral decarbonization pathways? This external benchmarking contextualizes internal data, acting as an evaluation mechanism.

Internal Reporting

Monitoring efficiency gains relies on widespread staff engagement. Companies should promote awareness by circulating interactive dashboards highlighting usage trends, emissions tracking, cost savings from green initiatives, and other meaningful sustainability metrics. Infographics with comparatives against historical baselines make environmentally sustainable practices more tangible for employees.

External Reporting

Communicating achievements externally enhances reputational standing with investors, customers, policymakers and other stakeholders seeking evidence of climate action. Major reporting platforms include CDP, GRI, EcoVadis, DJSI and more. The appropriate channels depend on business priorities like emissions disclosure, ESG performance, ethical sourcing standards etc.

Eco-smart Summary: Embracing Environmentally Sustainable Practice in SMEs

SMEs today face increasing pressure from stakeholders to demonstrate environmentally sustainable practices. However, many smaller companies struggle to determine where to start when it comes to "going green". The good news is that incorporating eco-friendly principles into daily operations does not require extensive time or budget.

With some strategic yet straightforward changes, SMEs can significantly reduce their environmental impact while maintaining smooth business workflows. Here are three impactful areas to focus sustainability efforts:

Energy Conservation

  • Switch to energy-efficient LED lighting and properly insulate facilities
  • Install smart power strips to reduce phantom load waste
  • Encourage employees to power down equipment when not in use

Waste Minimization

  • Institute paperless workflow using online storage and approvals
  • Provide clearly labeled recycling stations throughout facilities
  • Donate or sell unused office supplies and furniture instead of trashing

Sustainable Procurement

  • Prioritize products with eco-labels like EnergyStar when restocking
  • Work with local vendors and producers to reduce transport emissions
  • Rent or share infrequently-used equipment with industry peers

By putting these eco-smart recommendations into practice, SMEs can seamlessly build sustainability into everyday operations. With persistence and employee engagement, the small changes add up to create a leaner, greener workplace.

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