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How smaller retail businesses can become more sustainable

The pressure is on businesses, now more than ever, to consider their corporate responsibility. From reducing your carbon footprint to recycling your plastics and reducing your energy and water consumption. So where do you start when you want to make your business more sustainable?

Firstly, what does being sustainable mean? In essence, it means to consider the environmental impact of the decisions you make within your business. While this may seem frustrating to some, many businesses are using it to their advantage, leveraging this potential limitation to become another tool in their marketing repertoire. Here’s how you can make your brand more sustainable, while also showcasing your efforts.

The fundamentals of sustainability is; less is more. Meaning reducing what natural resources you’re using and also reducing what you’re putting out in the environment. So how do you do that? The easiest way is to remember these three R’s – Reduce, Reuse, Recycle.

Firstly, look at the consumables you use within your business. We recommend going through your expense invoices over the past few months and make a list of the consumables you use to run your business. For example, copy paper, toilet paper, coffee pods, packaging and shipping materials. Then make two lists. The first list in order of consumption from highest to lowest and the second list in order of ease of implementation to change. For example, it’s easy to switch non-recycled copy paper to 100 per cent recycled copy paper so this could go to the top of the ease of implementation. Look at the “low hanging fruit” in regards to what changes you could make within your business easily. Then look at the order of consumption list as this will give you the best idea of where your biggest impact will be.

If you’re shipping products, can you reduce the amount of packaging and are you using fit for purpose packaging and shipping materials? We’ve all received that one small item we’ve purchased online and it arrives in a ridiculously large box with a ridiculous amount of packaging. Is your business guilty of this? Remember the less packaging and the smaller the shipping box you use will reduce your shipping expenses.

The next step is to look at what you can reuse within your business – the little things can add up. Is your business using any disposable cups or cutlery? By reusing items and not sending them to landfill, this can also reduce the cost of waste disposal for many businesses.

Thirdly, if you can’t reduce or reuse, then you need to look at recycling. Offer returns for end of life products – do you sell a product that can be recycled? Lots of materials (including hard plastics) can be recycled at the end of their lifespan, yet customers generally won’t do this if it’s an unfamiliar process. If you offer end of life returns, you can recycle those products for your customers, lowering your product’s environmental impact. If it’s not a simple step, you can recycle returned products in bulk a few times a year. If you offer a consumable product, consider switching to eco-friendly packaging that can be easily recycled/composted by your customer or add an option for their packaging to be refilled.

Recycle also applies to using products that are made from recyclable materials. Another initiative your business can implement is a “buy recycled policy”, where you only purchase materials that are made from recycled content. This is of course if you can’t reduce or reuse first.

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