Why You Should be Thinking About Sustainability
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Why You Should be Thinking About Sustainability

Few resources, a tight budget and lack of time can push any sustainability initiative to the back burner for a small business. It used to be that small businesses didn’t know what to do about their sustainability plan, but more recent research suggests the opposite is true. Companies know what to do, they just don’t know when and how to do it.

But having a sustainability plan doesn’t have to be complicated or all that time consuming. Here are four steps to get any small business on the right path to success. 

Step 1 – The blueprint

Whether you are a 2-person company or have a staff of 50, knowing where you stand is by far the most important first step. Having a base from which to measure success will help you see the impact of your initiatives. To create this benchmark, go through your daily activities from start to finish. When and how do you arrive to the office, what tools to you use (coffee pot,etc), who do you interact with? And what do you interact with? (computer, phone, fax,).  Go through your day and write down everything that you do. 

Step 2 – What can you change?

Now that you have outlined what you do all day, take a look at how you might be able to change some of those activities. Do you drive to work, spending a lot of time in traffic, money on gas and contributing to emissions in the air? Which activities contribute to your highest use of power in the office (you can find this out by speaking with a BC Hydro representative, or visiting the BC Hydro website). How involved are your employees? Are they always taking sick days and do you constantly need to spend money and time on training new employees? Categorize your activities based on environmental impacts and human resources.

Step 3 – How to motivate your employees – goals and flexibility

In a recent New York Times article it is estimated that last year, unhappy employees cost the US economy $300 billion dollars in lost productivity. That is a lot of money and even worse, a lot of unhappy employees. 

To save yourself from an unhappy workplace, why not consider goal coaching and flexible schedules.

Goal Coaching: First try to implement a monthly meeting with staff to discuss their goals and where they see themselves within your company. This meeting should be relatively informal and engage the employee to think about where they see themselves in the future. Take notes at the meeting and have the employee write out a goal sheet for their 1 and 2 year goals. Some of the best companies have a goal-coaching program for their employees and its said that employees work harder and find their job more rewarding when they believe that their company has a vested interest in their well being. 

Flexibility: If you have the ability to make your schedule flexible, why not try and implement a flex day; a day that employees can take off so long as work is done and there are no pressing issues that need to be addressed. For example, if your staff likes the outdoors, suggest a flex day for snowboarding, hiking or other activities. Staff can use these “well-being” days to keep motivated to work hard on a project. This flexibility and innovative thinking will give you a competitive advantage over other companies when job seekers are researching your company. 

Step 4- Money 

Most importantly, take a look at your financial statements and clearly outline how much you are spending on activities such as training, heating, energy. Can you reduce these costs? Have you thought about programs that are offered to businesses that implement better energy management tools? Organizations such as BC Hydro and the government of BC have offered many incentives to companies who are willing to invest in their “green future”. Take a look at the tools available through BC Hydro’s PowerSmart program for small businesses.

In the end, the most important thing to remember is that small steps are better than no steps and with every small step you will begin to make progress toward a better business.

About Allyson Clark

Allyson Clark is completing her Master’s at the University of British Columbia with a focus on small businesses and sustainability. She is passionate about social change and hopes to one day, be able to consult with small businesses on how to be more sustainable. She is a board member for Connecting Environmental Professionals. You can find her on Linkedin, and Twitter: allysonclark1