Online businesses might consider their environmental impact to be minimal, but in actual fact there are a number of ways that they can be incredibly harmful to the environment. Establishing and maintaining a green, ethical reputation as a business is increasingly important with looming climate change targets and consumers becoming more environmentally aware. So, is being green an attainable goal for all businesses? The simple answer is, yes it is.
Improving your business’s green credentials
‘Reduce, reuse and recycle’ is the motto at the heart of most green initiatives, and is actually pretty easy for small businesses to follow. With a little effort you can reduce the amount of waste your business produces, reuse whenever possible, and improve recycling efforts to minimise the waste you send to landfill. Taking these steps can even reduce your company’s expenditures as less resources will be wasted.
The other key aspect of becoming a greener business is reduced energy use. Some simple steps such as switching off lights, computers and not leaving things plugged in unnecessarily is a good starting point.
Taking it a step further, there are a number of green energy suppliers that only use renewable power to produce electricity. It’s even possible to choose green hosting for websites, the environmental impact of the internet is huge but often overlooked.
How green is your supply chain?
If you’re really serious about reducing your business’s environmental impact then you need to consider which suppliers you use. Investigate whether they use sustainable materials, their production methods, how much packaging they use and whether the supplier will take it away, or if you can reuse it. It’s also worth considering transport methods and distances; using local suppliers is a good way to reduce the impact of your business’s supply chain.
What does being a ‘green’ business look like?
If the benefits for the environment aren’t enough of a motivator to change your business practices, it can also save money and will appeal to a growing number of shoppers.
We talked to Zenstores’ user, Harry Brennan, from Tender Essence, about green changes he’s made to his business, and the impact that it’s had:
“When your business is green people want to talk about your business a bit more, share what you’re doing - they recognise that if we care about the planet then we definitely care about our customers.”
Choosing a premises to run the business
When their business started in 2014, it was located in an office in an old victorian building in the middle of the city - cold, polluted and costly.
“We realised that’s not what this business is about, so we moved to a new ‘insulated’ building, outside the city. The rent is a little higher, but it costs us less to run and we save money on a shorter commute.”
Reducing energy bills
Investing in LED light bulbs costs more initially but they use less electricity and save money in the long run. Tender Essence also switched energy suppliers to Gloucester based Ecotricity, who provide energy exclusively from solar or wind power.
Packaging products more compactly, minimises the amount of cardboard and plastics used in the first place, and it can cut shipping costs by reducing the size of parcels. Using recycled and recyclable packaging is also essential - in 2014 73.1% of paper and cardboard packaging was recovered or recycled, while 37.9% of plastic packaging was. However, overall, recycling only accounted for 6.8 million tonnes of the 11.4 million tonnes of packaging waste produced. Wasteful packaging is an issue that shoppers are becoming increasingly aware of.
"Reducing the rubbish that we send to landfill has been another way to cut down the cost of running the business, as well as making us greener. "
All businesses get charged by local councils for their commercial waste, but are charged less for recycling. By reducing the number of bin collections, Tender Essence forced themselves to send less to landfill, and now gets charged less by the council.
“Currently our businesses monthly waste is about the same as a single household would produce in one week - we even take cardboard from neighbouring businesses to reuse as packaging. Reducing the rubbish that we send to landfill has been another way to cut down the cost of running the business, as well as making us greener. “
Tender Essence has audited all of their suppliers and is officially vegan and cruelty-free; they’ve even had the business PETA approved.
“We know that there’s a growing number of vegetarian, vegan and cruelty-free-aware shoppers out there. By ensuring that your products are ethical and animal-friendly you’ll attract these customers, as well as the main bonus of protecting innocent animals.
“Becoming animal-friendly is the best decision we ever made. We now have a great following of fans that we’ve built a relationship with based on the fact that we can deliver ethical products.“
How going green works for the business
Harry believes that there’s a growing percentage of shoppers that are interested in protecting the environment. And, for those customers that aren’t specifically interested, their green credentials don’t put them off making a purchase.
"Enough of our customers choose us over our competitors because we’re environmentally friendly and cruelty-free."
However, maintaining a green, ethical standard does impose certain limitations on the business:
“Due to the ethical policies that we stick to we can’t and don’t sell everything that our rivals sell. For example, Sandalwood oil is farmed to extinction, and buttermilk soap is derived from animal products, so neither of them are available from us but you can get them from our competitors.
“We don’t see this as a disadvantage though, we know that enough of our customers choose us over our competitors because we’re environmentally friendly and cruelty-free. Instead of thinking about the customers you might lose by removing or replacing a few products, think about the customers that you’ll gain - you’ll also improve confidence in your brand.’
Harry sells essential oils on eBay, Shopify and Etsy, and uses Zenstores to manage his orders across all three channels, print Royal Mail shipping labels and dispatch his orders. Find out more about how Zenstores could help your ecommerce business save time and money here.