Jeff Basch, owner of Sierra Roofing and Solar in Dublin, Calif., was among the first roofing companies in his area to embrace the advent of solar panels in 2010. As an environmentalist himself, he saw not only the potential of solar to conserve energy, but also to help his business grow. Five years later, the solar portion of his business has indeed blossomed, as has the rest of his company. “Customers will call us because of our solar niche, but they’ll also have us do their new roof while we’re at it,” Basch says. “Offering a sustainable option with our traditional services has really propelled our business.”
As Basch has found, being a sustainable small business is not only good for the environment—it’s good for the bottom line.
Here are five benefits of building an eco-friendly small- or medium-sized business:
1. Lowers cost of operations—There are countless ways to root out energy and economic waste in a small business. Basch has swapped his salespeople’s F150 trucks for hybrid vehicles, which he estimates saves about 13 miles per gallon. Basics Fitness Center in South Portland, Maine, installed a solar hot water system, which essentially eliminates gas consumption typically needed to heat water six months out of the year.
Even something as simple as switching out your traditional incandescent bulbs can have an immediate impact on your energy bill. Compact fluorescent lamps (CFLs) use about one-fourth of the energy and lasts ten times longer; light emitting diodes (LEDs) use only 20 percent to 25 percent of the energy and last up to 25 times longer.
“It’s like free money when you drive out costs because that money you’re not spending goes directly to your bottom line,” says Martha Young, founder of Sustainability4SMEs.com.
2. Presents new market opportunities—Young says many small business owners find significant marketing opportunities when they start offering green services. She worked with a landscaping company in Omaha, Neb., that built a new client base by reducing their customers’ water use through xeric landscaping, which uses plants, such as lavender, iceplant and yucca that are well suited to drought-like conditions and drier soil types.
3. Meets customer needs—A 2013 study found that corporate social responsibility is now a reputational imperative, with more than 90 percent of shoppers worldwide likely to switch to brands that support a good cause, given similar price and quality. Additionally, more than 90 percent of the consumers surveyed are more likely to trust and be loyal to socially responsible businesses compared to companies that don't show these traits.
4. Ensures a steady supply chain—Relying on substances such as oil or other natural resources can put businesses at the mercy of fluctuating prices and potential disruption of their supply chain. Choosing a renewable source for raw materials, such as recycled plastics instead of polyester and fleece for clothing, or soybeans rather than plastic for containers, is a great option, Young says.
5. Promotes downstream business—Smaller businesses trying to sell their products to large companies are increasingly being asked to provide details on their eco-friendly practices. “If you’re trying to do business with companies like P&G or Walmart, they will require you to fill out a survey, and then will give preference to sustainable companies because their own supply chain management and Corporate Social Responsibility reporting requires it,” says Young.
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