Simple, actionable steps like these can make a big difference, even with a lean budget and a small team.

You’re a small business that strives to be sustainable. You sell eco-friendly items and recycle, but how do you integrate sustainability into your core activities and your message? These three steps make sustainability part of your daily work.

1. Put it into your mission statement

Do you have a company mission statement or set of company values? Add sustainability! Dig deep and write a list of why sustainability matters to you and how you came to care. If you’re a restaurant, it might look like this:

  • Sustainability matters because I want to support local farms, I value soil quality, and I want to spread environmental awareness to my guests.
  • Your value statement or mission might say: “Integrate soil and farmers’ needs into decision-making and communication strategy.”

Or if you’re a clothing store or manufacturer of sustainable goods:

  • I care about sustainability because I want the planet to be safe for future generations, and I want to provide alternatives to wasteful fashion and manufacturing.
  • Your value statement or mission statement: “All decisions guided by preserving the earth for future generations and broadcasting alternatives to wasteful economies.”

Why have a mission statement if you’re already a sustainable business? Mission statements are for customers, prospective and current employees, and future owners of the business. Mission statements outlast their makers and carry the company forward. They also matter to your teams: Your mission statement is your employees’ compass. Employees and management use the mission statement in decision-making. If it doesn’t fit the mission, it’s a no.

2. Integrate sustainability into daily activities

“We recycle” or “we use LED lights.” Take it one step further by allocating the “we” and joining these sustainability actions with existing job functions. Whatever sustainability activities run your business, assign someone on your team to monitor and complete these efforts. And put sustainability activities into the job description.

Examples of this include:

  • In social media marketing, the team adds two monthly posts on sustainability to their content calendar.
  • Whoever closes the factory or restaurant each night uses a checklist to make sure everything is off, closed, and shut down.
  • The head of purchasing has a list of environmental criteria to follow when sourcing a new product for the store.

The assigned team member is now responsible for completing the activity, reporting on it, and training a backup.

3. Set sustainability goals

Sing “goals” to the tune of the Beastie Boys song “Girls.” “All I really want is, goals!” Goals can be overwhelming and hard to set. Set sustainability goals the way you set other goals in your business. You know your business best and how many goals to set, how long to make them, or other specifics. Use these goal guidelines as suggestions, letting your intimate business knowledge set the tone.

Set two short-term sustainability goals (12 months) and two long-term sustainability goals (36 months). Make them quantifiable and action oriented. A stranger should be able to read the goal and know who’s responsible for it, what functions it touches, its completion date, and the desired result.

Try to be more specific than, “We’ll reduce energy by 10 percent.” Instead try something like: “We’ll reduce energy by 10 percent compared to 2017 by turning off lights, purchasing a new refrigerator, and shutting down computers each night. This goal is assigned to all employees and will be completed by June 28, 2020.” Being specific with goal-setting reduces questions, creates accountability, and increases success rates.

You can also assign goals to specific departments or with different metrics. “Head of product to present seven compost companies for board approval by September 2019.” Look at employee activities when determining what goals to set, or ask employees to write out detailed goals for their function.

Once you’ve set goals, share them with the people responsible and with the entire company. Make sure those responsible are crystal clear on their roles and responsibilities. To ensure compliance, get input from employees on what they think reasonable action steps or timelines are. Get an end result in place (energy, water), and ask for employee input on how much to reduce, who should help, and how to accomplish it.

The last word

Take these guidelines and think about how sustainability can become part of your day-to-day. Simple, actionable steps like these can make a big difference, even with a lean budget and a small team. I wish you good luck! Please share how these worked for you or other ways you integrated sustainability into daily activities.

Eliza Erskine

Eliza Erskine has a Master’s in Sustainability from the Harvard Extension School and a BA in Business Administration from Boston University. She founded Green Buoy Consulting in 2018 to help small and early stage businesses with sustainability. She grew up in the Pacific Northwest and lives in New York City.

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