Small Businesses Lag on Sustainability: What To Do About It

All the recent headlines about corporate sustainability initiatives are encouraging: Fortune 500 companies are embracing environmental sustainability like never before, investing millions of dollars in greener operations and making sustainability a key part of their business strategy.


“Nearly every large company has shown some commitment to sustainability,” author Andrew Winston recently told a Huffington Post blogger. “They’re all engaged on some level now, with most having a senior executive responsible in some way.”

Great news. (Of course, many experts don’t think Corporate America’s sustainability efforts are ambitious enough, which I’ll discuss another time.)

But when you look at the landscape of small businesses across the country, sustainability isn’t nearly as prevalent as it seems in the corporate world.  Sure, some small businesses have jumped on board and are leagues ahead when it comes to energy efficiency and conservation. But plenty of them have done practically nothing to go green. They continue to operate the same way they’ve operated for 10, 20 or 50 years. They haven’t upgraded their lights or equipment or even undertaken the lowest-cost sustainability initiatives.

A survey last year by MIT’s Sloan Management Review and The Boston Consulting Group found that only 9% of companies with fewer than 1,000 employees fully embrace sustainability.

What’s going on? Why are small businesses falling behind?

For one thing, it’s more of an uphill battle for many small businesses to devote the time and resources to sustainability – and some just don’t feel it’s important in the grand scheme.   Here’s a look at two main challenges small businesses face when it comes to implementing sustainable practices, along with some potential solutions:

Challenge #1: Time.  Many small business owners are so busy that they simply can’t devote time to researching and implementing sustainable practices.

Solution: The obvious answer is “make time for it.” But that’s easier said than done. There are some resources that can guide small businesses through key steps related to sustainability. Consider joining a local business sustainability networking group, which many cities and communities now have. Also take advantage of free consulting: Many universities offer business sustainability-related majors and thus have students looking for real-world experience. Some small companies can take on summer interns to help them conduct research and put together sustainability initiatives. More nonprofits are also springing up devoted to helping local small businesses go green.

Challenge #2: Money. Despite quick paybacks on some energy upgrades, such as lighting, many small businesses can’t spare the upfront investment costs.

Solution: Many utility companies now offer their small business customers free or low-cost energy audits, along with rebates and financing programs to help them make energy upgrades with minimal upfront costs. Also consider somefederal tax incentives for businesses that make energy upgrades, and check with your city or local government to see whether it has loan or rebate programs for green business projects.  The DSIRE database makes it easy to find financial incentives in your city or state.

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Date / Fecha: 09/03/12

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