There are countless ways to market your products and services. Most of these are focused on the single goal of increasing sales. However, integrating eco-friendly or “green” strategies into your marketing plan is not only a strategic business decision but it’s also good for the environment.
Environmental stewardship is no longer only fueled by concern for the Earth or limited to non-profit organizations. It has become smart business and in some cases even a necessity to achieve customer expectations. Going green can have a positive impact on many areas of a business – from improved customer relations to increased bottom line savings and more. And many businesses are taking advantage of the opportunity. According to an Office Depot survey conducted in 2012 of small businesses, more than two-thirds have already implemented green practices and over 82 percent have a recycling strategy.
Have you been considering incorporating environmentally-responsible business practices to attract new customers? Let’s take a closer look at some of the latest trends that can help you develop them and make them work for your business.
Walk the Walk
When the first wave of “corporate sustainability” hit prior to the economic downturn, many companies purchased carbon credits and made statements about their concern for the environment without actually developing meaningful sustainability policies that could be implemented. In some cases, businesses even made false claims about their dedication to the environment. Customers quickly saw through the hype, and many became skeptical of businesses touting any pronouncement of environmental stewardship.
Fortunately, times have changed. More and more businesses are actually integrating sustainability policies into their workplace operations. Their environmental commitment can actually be seen in day-to-day activities, and this certainly adds credibility to their efforts.
If you are considering going green, it’s more important than ever to actually do what you claim to do and care about. It’s no longer enough to add a sustainability statement to your website or drive a hybrid to the office. It’s now about building sustainability into every aspect of your business.
Measure and Report Your Sustainability Impact
There are definitely better quantitative methods today for assessing and communicating sustainability performance. These include benchmarks, sustainability indices, and stakeholder/consumer reporting.
Benchmarks enable you to set a specific goal or point of reference to analyze a strategy and monitor progress. For example, Coca Cola developed and rolled out a petroleum-free, 100 percent recyclable bottle. The soda maker set an aggressive benchmark to transition 100 percent to these bottles by 2020. They update customers and shareholders about their progress as they navigate through this transition.
Indices measure sustainability based on multiple data sources. There are many available that assess air and water quality as well as energy consumption. Metrics from these indices can be used to establish your own goals.
Reporting has become a very important component of a sustainability plan, as well. It’s a well-established fact that businesses that collect and share their progress through reporting are perceived as more transparent and proactive than those that don’t. If you’re a small business, you certainly don’t have to create a formal report to shareholders. However, updates about your efforts can certainly be published on a blog, website, or in print collateral you share with your customers.
Choose Your Vendors Carefully
Large companies with well-crafted sustainability plans carefully evaluate their suppliers to ensure they’re in line with their initiatives. Small businesses can also strive to work with vendors that are equally focused on environmental responsibility. This can include everything from purchasing from makers of recycled packing materials to working with suppliers that donate a portion of their proceeds to an environmental cause. Start by making a list of whom you buy from, and then take the time to learn about their efforts to protect the earth.
Partner with a Respected Non-Profit
Sure, you can go it alone when it comes to your environmental action plan. However, there are many reasons why it may make sense for you to partner with a bigger non-profit organization that is aligned with your plan goals. Why? For starters, most of the larger organizations have support and tools for partners to succeed in their environmental efforts. They can offer advice and give you guidance to maximize your success. Another big benefit to partnering with a non-profit is the additional exposure you may obtain through their public relations and outreach campaigns. Having a well-known, respected partner will also give your plan more credibility, which will resonate with your customers.
Pitch In and Help
More than ever, businesses are giving their employees paid time to volunteer. This not only enriches their employees’ lives but it also delivers a public message that a company cares about more than just sales. For example, Kabbage, through their Kabbage Kares program, gives its employees time each month to give back to their local community. By working with your chosen non-profit, you can establish a regular schedule of volunteering and share your efforts with your customers and larger online community via blogs and social media channels.
Thanks to advancements in eCommerce platforms, it’s easier than ever for a business to direct a portion of each sale to a chosen cause. In real time, you can now instantly see how much you’re generating and when donations are made. There are also charity portals such as iGive and Give Back America that raise money for causes. Retailers can participate and are given promo codes and coupons that they can share with customers. A portion of sales made using these are given to the business’s chosen charity.
Some Ideas to Get You Started…
Creating a sustainability plan can be challenging for any business, particularly a small business with limited funds and resources. However, a good place to start is with developing some simple ways you can improve processes or incorporate new ones to better the environment. Here are just a few ideas to use as a starting point for your own plan:
Create a policy about turning off equipment when it’s not in use.
This may sound like a small task, but it can have a surprisingly big impact. In fact, a business can reduce energy consumption by up to 25 percent by turning off computers and other equipment at the end of the day.
Encourage Communication via Email
Minimizing paper usage by cutting back on printing letters and memos is a simple, yet effective way to help protect the environment. When you do need to print, use both sides of the paper, too!
Closely Monitor Sinks and Toilets
Water waste is one of the most significant environmental problems we’re all facing, especially in areas that are currently being affected by drought conditions. Consider this – one drop wasted per second wastes 10,000 liters of water in a year!
Choose a Supplier of Recycled Paper and Green Cleaning Products
Printer and copy paper, toilet paper, kitchen supplies, and more.
Refurbish Existing Office Furniture before Throwing It Out
Not only is this less expensive, it’s much better for the environment.
A green business plan consists of many small steps. Focusing on reducing the energy, water, and paper you use is a great place to start and can make a significant difference. From there, you can branch out to supporting a cause, volunteering your time, and finding new ways to protect the Earth. These efforts will be recognized by your customers and at the same time, will be helping to improve the environment. Now, that’s a real win-win for any business!