This article was originally published on Small Business Currents.
Many small to mid-sized businesses (SMBs) want to play a role in reducing the effects of climate change. These enterprises comprise almost 90% of companies worldwide, so even though their carbon footprints are smaller, their collective impact is large. Current data shows that half of those businesses make an effort to calculate emissions, and 60% have plans to reduce carbon impact.
Any sized business equipped with the right tools can make a difference.
However, companies that are not Fortune 100 might have doubts that they have the precise skills and knowledge to tackle something as complex as carbon accounting, energy management, and climate change mitigation. This uncertainty can hinder implementation. One reason is that many organizations believe it simply costs too much to enact long-term sustainable practices.
The reality is that any SMB can implement a climate-conscious strategy without huge expenditures. The important thing is to get started. Whether a business is committed to sustainability as a company value or attempting to lower emissions to improve its standing as a vendor to larger corporations, it can start with modern tools that can help track, analyze, and visualize its carbon footprint.
A first step could be identifying someone in the company who has a passion for green practices and who can lead initiatives. This individual role can later expand into a sustainability team, but recognizing someone at the onset who can begin identifying opportunities for conservation and tracking results is essential to get projects underway.
To further bolster this green leader’s potential, it’s helpful also to identify someone in management who will serve as an advocate and guide. Early conversations will help create a vision, defining what the organization would count as success, how sustainability initiatives can save money by lowering costs, and the essential metrics to track. An involved executive can ensure that the sustainability manager is clear about the business’s sustainability goals, help them access resources, and shine a spotlight on successes.
Solid, quantifiable data sets the parameters for projects. Gathering as much information as possible at the start allows companies to create reachable goals based on current conditions. Measuring where energy is expended and how it fluctuates and flows throughout a business’s buildings will provide this starting baseline. Equipping the point person with the right tools will help them identify areas that can be improved, execute and track plans, and foster critical collaboration with colleagues, customers, and other stakeholders.
Businesses of every size report that obtaining quality data can be challenging, but moving from manual to automated collection offers enormous opportunities in time and costs. Fortunately, companies who want to move beyond manual compilation while keeping costs down can find reasonably low-priced or even free tools to assist. The U.S. Department of Energy provides a list of free or low-cost tools companies can test to start their sustainability journeys. These digital solutions will save SMBs time by automating the data collection process and highlight how sustainability isn’t just for the largest organizations in the world – any size business in any industry can improve their carbon emissions by just understanding their energy usage.
A side effect of initiating sustainability practices can be their ability to help any business compete for high-quality talent. It’s been well documented in recent years that people care about their employers’ sustainability practices, and having a climate-forward stance can help attract new talent in tight labor markets. A recent IBM poll noted that more than 69% of the potential workforce say they’re “more likely to accept a job with an organization they consider to be environmentally sustainable.”
Some SMBs still consider sustainability a “nice to have” that requires expensive new technology and a team of specialized experts. There is also the perception that a small business can’t make a difference in addressing climate change. But little shifts in behavior add up to dramatic improvements over time. All companies, no matter their size, have some effect on their communities. Starting on the path to sustainability now can bring competitive advantages and contribute positively to the environment.