Sustainability is a popular term right now. Many major companies have a sustainability page on their website. Some even have a chief sustainability officer (CSO).
“We expect the role of the CSO to gain prominence over the next two years.”Deloitte
But is sustainability itself sustainable, or just another popular marketing term destined to fizzle out? That depends on who you talk to and how you look at it. We believe that thinking about sustainability now sets up small businesses for future success.
Sustainability as a Marketing Tool
When keywords are hot, everyone wants to use them. Everyone wants more clicks. It’s really simple. Whatever’s trending gets used. But these keywords change every day. And the popularity of the term sustainable will not last indefinitely. Only those small businesses that embrace the underlying principle behind the keyword will keep its essence alive. That’s where real business strategy comes into play.
Sustainability in Small Business
Say you make a product that relies on a finite resource. When you run out of raw materials, you need to find a new business. That’s the reality of sustainability. Unsustainable businesses grow, mature and then die. Most small business owners and entrepreneurs want their business to last forever. Can your business carry on into the neverending future?
If you make an extra effort to make a product, service, or process that is sustainable, it can make money forever. You’ve created a competitive advantage, an edge, in business that can support you and your customers for the rest of your life and beyond. This is what sustainability really means – prosperity forever.
Environmental Sustainability is a Business Edge
The world we live in provides us with the materials we need to make the stuff that powers our lives. It’s not just for physical products and construction companies. Service firms including accountants and bookkeepers wouldn’t be able to keep up without our computers. You can’t make a computer without certain types of metals. Our businesses all need technology – now and in the future. That’s why we need to use our resources responsibly.
If we use all our resources now, we have nothing to continue operating our business in the future. Our business dies. Not only is environmental sustainability the key to business success, it’s the key to the future of business. What if your business was capable of living forever?
Environmental Sustainability Improves Profit
The income statement is a simple business tool. Add up how much money you earned in a period, subtract your expenses, and see how much profit you have. Want more profit? You have two options.
- Increase revenue (money coming in)
- Decrease expenses (money going out)
Wasting materials is usually a waste of money too. All business owners need to care about money. Using less materials, reducing wastage, and sourcing sustainable processes all save money and can improve your profit margins.
“Products and services that are offered from socially responsible companies may be able to charge more, according to a report by Nielsen.”Business Administration Information
But what if your goal is to make more money rather than decrease your costs? If your company is socially responsible, or your product or service is more sustainable and eco-friendly, you may be able to charge more. Environmentally conscious consumers are usually willing to pay for something that truly is more sustainable or has little to no environmental impact. But be prepared to prove yourself, because they’re not an easy bunch to sell to.
Long-Term Costs of Sustainability
Many people complain about the extra costs for sustainable products. For example, sustainable buildings cost more to construct upfront, but the cost savings in energy use offset the extra cost over time. Consider this an investment in future profit. Hire an accountant to run the long term numbers for you, and see how much you pay over 20 years for a conventional product versus an eco-friendly one that costs more upfront. You may find that higher initial costs result in long-term savings, making you more in the long run. It won’t always be the case, but without running the numbers, you won’t know. You may find opportunities to make more money through sustainability. Many businesses have.
Small Businesses Practicing Sustainability
Small business owners have always been pioneers. They have to be. There’s just too much competition. Too many big corporations that everyone has heard of and can undercut small business prices. If consumers haven’t heard of you, it’s really hard to get their attention. That’s why you see so many small professional firms offering free consultations – it’s really their only opportunity to show a potential customer how they stand out.
But there’s a new opportunity for small businesses to make a splash. Sustainability. Not just a five-second YouTube spot with an iconic environmental figure to boost reach. But a truly innovative product or service that not only creates higher profits for the business, but really improves the lives of the customers they serve as well.
Next we look at two small businesses that have both made an effort to be more sustainable in the last five years. One is a service firm, while the other sells a physical product.
Service Firm: KATA Accounting Solutions PC
KATA Accounting Solutions Professional Corporation is an innovative Canadian accounting and bookkeeping firm that serves Canadian businesses and individuals online. Founded by Jonathan Carter, CPA, CMA, as a paperless firm in 2014 (we’ll be paper-free one day), KATA Accounting provides unique accounting, bookkeeping & tax solutions for Canadians living anywhere in the world. To date, we have served customers in 17 different countries. The main theme: work whenever and wherever you want. Talk to your accountant from anywhere. No stacks of paper.
The environmental debate around whether paperless is better for forests is complex. We’re not going to get into that here, because we’re not experts on forestry. What you need to understand is that it still has an impact; just because it’s half the fat doesn’t mean you can eat twice as much.
“Travel accounted for 91–96% of total [carbon] emissions.”National Library of Medicine
What we will say is that an accountant and a small business owner communicating over a Zoom call as opposed to both parties driving to meet each other and talk in person does produce 66 times fewer carbon emissions. But be aware that our consumption of digital resources needs to also be sustainable. How can we be more sustainable with our virtual meetings? Having fewer devices, using lower quality stream feeds, and purchasing renewable energy or carbon credits to offset the energy used by the internet.
“Logging for paper and wood accounts for 13% of deforestation in the tropics.”ourworldindata.org
The main benefits of being paperless are saving time and money. The main benefit of working online is having more freedom.
I asked Jonathan what sustainability has done for him, his firm, and his customers since opening in 2014. He replied, “Our customers and our team love our flexibility and the fact that they don’t lose paperwork because it’s all available in the cloud. They don’t have to take time or incur costs by going to in-person meetings. Often, a lot can be accomplished with a quick Zoom or phone call. It definitely affects the way we think about communication and satisfying stakeholder needs, both internally and externally. We need to continue to be diligent about how our business affects society at large – including the environment – and take a continual improvement, or KATA, approach to growth.”
Product Company: Fresh Start Environments
Product companies generally do the most damage to the environment. And the cheapest products generally do the worst. But there’s a silver lining in products that reduce impact. Let’s take a look at the cleaning product industry with Fresh Start Environments, owned by Canadian entrepreneur Lianne Krane. Many cleaning products are used and go down the sink and back out into our rivers. They are laced with harsh chemicals. This damages the great outdoors, hurts even kills wildlife. But the worst part is we poison ourselves as these chemicals get back into our drinking water. Cancer is on the rise, and water pollution may be to blame.
“Water pollution could cause 100,000 cancer cases.”ehn.org
But Lianne has a “fresh start” for the cleaning business world. It’s a cleaning product that has a much lower negative impact on rivers and our health.
We asked Lianne how her product works. She replied, “Chlorine dioxide disinfects through oxidation, but unlike other oxidants it does not produce chlorinated by-products. Specifically it rapidly kills microorganisms by disrupting the transport of nutrients across the cell wall. It is 10 times stronger than bleach but leaves no residue behind. It is described as a clean kill that does not poison microorganisms to eliminate them.”
When we heard the word chlorine, we were skeptical, but Lianne explained, “It is very important not to confuse chlorine dioxide with chlorine as these are two distinct chemicals that react very differently and produce separate by-products with little in common.”
When asked about the benefits, she said, “The benefit I see for chlorine dioxide in plants, especially in the hydroponics industry, is when biofilm builds up inside water pipes and equipment. This layer of slime containing bacteria and other disease-causing organisms protects them from sanitizers and chemicals. Chlorine dioxide breaks down the slime and the micro-organism hiding underneath. It does this thoroughly, quickly and does not leave nasty residues behind that need additional rinsing.
“Chlorine dioxide is effectively used to control biofilms in water distribution systems and for the control of legionella bacteria. It is also extremely effective against waterborne pathogenic microbes such as viruses, bacterias, and protozoa.
“Chlorine dioxide is a true gas, which means it retains its chemical structure and properties at all times. It does not form another compound when introduced to water or other hydrocarbons and because it is extremely soluble in many fluids, it can penetrate through materials that protect microorganisms from other biocides.”
Cleaner Homes & Environment
“What eventually runs into our rivers and streams is a microscopic saline that is safer for the environment than traditional cleaners.
“Clo2 Delivery Systems is our manufacturer of the line of DeOdorPro products and has been doing so for almost 20 years.
“Fresh Start Environments is the Canadian distributor of DeOdorPRO Liquid (LiquaSan) for cleaning and odour removal. Selectrocide is Health Canada approved liquid chlorine dioxide for disinfecting. It is food grade and an amazing spray to disinfect all surfaces, and DeodorPro Gas Kits neutralize malodours in confined spaces and comes in small, medium and large sizes.”
We did some additional research to confirm, and it turns out that chlorine dioxide is also used as a safe disinfectant in water treatment facilities around the world. That said, you shouldn’t breath the gas itself, and we recommend consulting a health professional for safety information.
Sustainability in Small Business
Every business needs customers. That means people. Healthy people live longer, earn more, and buy more products and services than sick people. It’s in the best interest of any business that people are healthy and happy. This is where social responsibility affects your small business bottom line.
Social responsibility, the environment, and sustainability all go hand in hand. One hand washes the other. What do we mean? A healthy environment provides the ideal place for healthy people to flourish, and buy products and services. A damaged environment makes people worried and worse. The sad and the sick don’t go shopping as much as the healthy and the happy.
And then there’s sustainability. Will there be healthy and happy people out shopping in ten years? If we continue to damage our business environments, maybe not.
Business Benefits of Sustainability
You’ve seen that reducing wastage can decrease your costs. We’ve told you that you can potentially charge more for your products and services if they truly have less negative impact. And you hopefully understand how your future business depends on healthy people and a healthy environment.
Many people are thinking about responsibility in business. It’s more than just a trend. It’s a way of doing business that’s better for everyone. But there are more benefits to be reaped from sustainable and socially responsible business.
Pioneering Small Business
Pioneering is about paving the way for the next generation of small business owners. The pioneers above have at least tried to reduce their impact, and have innovated the industries they work in. They have paved the way for future small business to prosper forever.
For a look at a few eco businesses that have already reduced their impact to zero, or better yet are in themselves actually solving problems and making life better in the products and services they offer, check out our Earth Day is Good for Business post. And subscribe to receive future posts just like this one below.
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