In the hullabaloo of getting a new business off the ground, you might be excused for having other things on your mind besides turning your workplace into an eco-friendly hub but the benefits of ‘going green’ – even in the short-term – will be hard for small businesses to ignore for too long.
Whether you’ve been encouraged to ditch those carrier bags for a sturdy ‘bag for life’ or you’ve had a ticking off from the bin man for your disorganised use of multi-coloured recycling bins, the surge in green initiatives in recent years can’t have escaped you in everyday life.
In that time, transferring these domestic responsibilities into corporate social responsibilities has been a tough sell for the green brigade with businesses struggling to balance ethical principles with the bottom line. But now, more small firms than ever before are considering their carbon footprint with the way they do business.
A common train of thought is that going green requires a large financial investment… not so. The market for energy efficient solutions has expanded greatly and products such as LED lights have markedly come down in price. With energy saving products or simply a change of culture (i.e. turning PCs off overnight) your business can improve efficiency and reduce operating costs - potentially saving your business hundreds or thousands of pounds a year.
And it’s not just lighting; could your business benefit from efficient heating or ventilation? Could solar power cut your energy bills? Would your delivery costs be reduced by using electric vehicles?
In regards to the latter, a small London firm showed just how effective this can be. Fruit4London, who – as the name suggests – deliver fresh fruit to workers across the capital, ditched their old vans and invested in a fleet of four electric vans that now save the business £9,000 a year in fuel costs, maintenance and congestion charge fees.
“It was one of the best decisions we ever made,” said co-founder Laszlo Mulato.
Needless to say, reputation and brand awareness is critical in business and by going green and reducing your environmental impact by going green, it will reflect favourably amongst customers, suppliers, and… well, basically everyone.
In essence, green is cool. And it’s got cooler in recent years with huge improvements in terms of design. What used to be very much ‘substance over style’ has transformed dramatically as eco-friendly products and packaging take over the market. According to a Guardian Sustainable Business feature, public image was rated two and a half times ahead of cost savings – demonstrating the power of brand perception as a principle driver.
It is positive PR and something that should be shouted about. If you offer locally or responsibly sourced produce or you only import Fairtrade products, shout it from the rooftops. It’s something to be proud of and people will want to know.
And whilst green is considered cool now, it will be taken to a new level by the next generation who will expect businesses to have strong environmental principles and actively seek eco-friendly businesses for their products and services. Businesses that fail to do so are likely to be left behind.
It’s often said that happy employees equals happy customers which, in turn, equals profits. A jovial workplace often stems from being somewhere employees are proud to work and figures show how going green can breed a culture of workplace positivity for your employees; boosting staff morale and company loyalty.
The youth of today are also particularly switched on when it comes to eco initiatives and often aspire to work for a company that embraces green culture. According to a recent survey conducted by MonsterTRAK in the US, a colossal 92% of young professionals would rather work for an environmentally-conscious company.
Finance and growth
Not all business owners are aware of special financing or grants that they might qualify for but they’re all out there and readily available to augment business growth.
The Carbon Trust, for example, can provide interest-free loans that help small businesses invest in energy-efficient equipment whilst a growing number of specialist lenders are willingly providing finance to those looking to embrace environmentally-friendly initiatives. From a lender perspective, it’s a positive to see a business with strong ethics that invests responsibly in the medium to long-term.
Businesses that also invest in energy-saving equipment and products can also qualify for a number of tax breaks, such as 100% first-year capital allowances – boosting cash-flow and allowing the company to offset the relevant expenditure against taxable profits.
These same capital allowances can be made for expenditure on low-emission/hybrid vehicles which also tend to be free of road tax and receive discounts on company car taxes.
The fact that you’re still reading suggests an interest in the future of our planet and so it’s no surprise that the reason above all reasons is safeguarding the environment itself.
Businesses play a vital role in preserving the world’s natural resources - some of which are already depleted and could get worse as population growth adds further strain.
So, consider the following: alternative fuel vehicles, ditching products with harsh chemicals for those with green ingredients, going paperless, investing in renewable and sustainable energy, recycling wherever possible, replacing light bulbs with efficient non-heat LED bulbs, and using bio-degradable products. If not for our generation; then for our children and children’s children who can then enjoy the same standard of living, and business, that we have enjoyed.
Keith Tully has been involved in corporate insolvency for over 20 years and has a wealth of experience in advising company directors who may be facing financial distress. Keith is currently a partner at UK corporate recovery firm Real Business Rescue.