It’s a new year—the Earth continues spinning, progress inches its way forward despite the deeply rooted challenges the world still faces, and it’s time to plan for the year ahead. For entrepreneurs, that means looking at business practices for as successful a new year as possible. One of the most important practices to pick up or strengthen is a commitment to sustainability and these green business resolutions can help your business make that a reality.
- Cut the Greenwashing
Study after study is finding that consumers are prioritizing sustainable brands and products, even if it means they’ll pay more.
A 2022 report from First Insight found 68% of consumers are willing to pay more for sustainable products and 72% of consumers say sustainability is more important when deciding on a purchase than brand name, which is up from previous studies.
With the increasing importance of sustainability and the public’s awareness of it, people may be more skeptical of generalized jargon on a product’s label, at best touting vague promises and at worst lying through greenwashing.
Greenwashing is an actively harmful practice and it’s not going to fly anymore with consumers. Last year, when the British watchdog organization, the Competition and Markets Authority, announced it would be looking into several fashion companies’ sustainability claims, ASOS, the British retailer, conveniently deleted the sustainable category from its website.
If you’re looking to dodge greenwashing claims, commit to the work and agree to independent third-party reviews. The Federal Trade Commission’s Green Guides is a good place to start, as is the Green Business Network’s member program. Be on the look-out for our upcoming letter to the FTC, and information on how you can raise your own business voice, as they conduct the 2023 review of the Green Guides.
Another practice to avoid is the newly labeled “greenhushing,” when a company claims sustainability efforts but then never communicates its goals or practices with stakeholders or the public for accountability or transparency.
- Take Advantage of the Inflation Reduction Act
When Congress passed the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) in August 2022, it promised big goals, like reducing the United States’ share of global greenhouse gas emissions by approximately 40%, or 1 gigaton, by 2030.
One of the ways the bill aims to achieve this is through various new incentives making resources and products like clean energy and energy efficient vehicles more accessible.
Some of the incentives include tax credits, rebates on energy efficient appliances and vehicles, better healthcare for small business owners and employees, and more.
To find out more about what benefits your business can claim, see The Inflation Reduction Act: Guide to Small Business Resources.
- Reuse, Recycle, Donate
By now we all know about recycling, donating and thrifting, and generally minimizing our waste. But how thorough is your business when it comes to minimizing waste? Consider these steps and tips for becoming a truly waste-free enterprise:
- Start tracking your business’ waste, including general trash, food waste, and e-waste. Note how things are disposed of and how often—this will make you better equipped for tackling the waste.
- For specific waste, like food and electronics, Google “local composting” or “local electronics recycling” to find programs or organizations in your area that can help.
- No more single-use plastic. None.
- Learn how to really recycle. Every city and municipality is different, so check out How2Recycle to better understand what and how you can recycle.
- Instead of throwing away appliances, office supplies, or anything else your business uses, consider donating them if they’re in good condition. Chances are, another small business, a school, someone working from home could use that old printer. Try checking your local Buy Nothing Project chapter, or Facebook Marketplace.
- Develop a “Takeback” Program
On the topic of waste, consider starting a “takeback” program at your business. Depending on the products or services you sell and their lifespans, some businesses find it more useful for customers to return products once they’re finished with them.
By taking over the entire lifecycle of a product, businesses can minimize waste and consumers’ responsibilities when they may not know as much about local waste or recycling regulations.
Swedish academic Thomas Lindhqvist first defined this idea, or extended producer responsibility (EPR), in the 1990s. EPR is a strategy employed to identify and take responsibility for all environmental costs of a product’s lifecycle, from production to use and, finally, disposal.
Some examples of current takeback programs:
- Patagonia offers free repairs to its products and recycles or reuses products when they reach the end of their life.
- At cosmetics retailer Lush, customers are incentivized to return the 100% post-consumer recycled pots in exchange for a free face mask.
- MUD Jeans takes back any pair of jeans (96% or more cotton) and recycles them back into their own products.
- Encourage Flexibility for Employees
The work from home (WFH) revolution has begun and for good reason. Mandatory stay-at-home orders in 2020 revealed the positives of a minimal commuter culture, from less emissions and cleaner air to a more equitable sharing of land for all living creatures by nature falling back into rhythm and wildlife having more space and freedom to thrive. For more on this, check out the 2021 documentary The Year the Earth Changed.
For businesses where an office or commuting is necessary, there are ways to still prioritize less damage to our planet.
The first way is to offer employees more flexibility, such as a hybrid WFH schedule or allowing employees the choice of when they commute (either specific days or time of day). Another option, if the workplace is local, is offering a subsidized bike, carpool, or public transportation scheme.
For example, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) offers $20 monthly stipends for expenses incurred while commuting to work via bike.
Finally, if travel is involved for your employees, consider buying carbon offsets for work travel when it’s financially feasible.
- Ensure an Ethical Supply Chain
An important point to remember while running a business is that you don’t do it alone (most of the time). When it comes to the timeline of a business and its products or services, there are several steps involved even before a product lands on the shelf.
To make your business sustainable from top to bottom, investigate the sustainability of every step of your business’ operations and ensure you’re working within an ethical supply chain.
Research the suppliers you work with and see if they prioritize the same environmental and social concerns as you and what sustainable practices they utilize. You can also research the types of raw materials being used for your products in order to avoid harmful things like palm oil, lead, and plastic packaging.
Another tip: Consider switching to local suppliers and vendors to limit your carbon footprint from travel.
- Foster a Just and Fair Workplace
There’s no way to have a sustainable planet if it’s not also a just and equal planet—for every person and living thing.
This year, survey your workplace to see how you can better the lives of your employees, from more flexible schedules, generous benefits, DEI (diversity, equity, inclusion) programs, and more.
Some practices to consider this year if you haven’t already, include open hiring and considering potential employees from a wider pool, like those experiencing homelessness or have experienced incarceration; an equitable 401(k) plan; DEI training; and becoming a more inclusive business for employees and customers alike.
The first month of the year isn’t over yet—what can you do with your business to better serve the planet and its inhabitants in 2023?
Join millions of Green Americas fighting for a better labor world, both in your business and personal life.