Does belief drive action or does action drive belief?
Most people will say that belief drives action, that you need to believe in something before you make a change, but it’s actually the opposite. For example, take a look at all the debate around the introduction of 5p plastic bags back in 2015. Many people came up with all sorts of reasons for why it wouldn’t work – and they didn’t believe in it. But in fact, through action people saw it wasn’t that difficult, and remembering your reusable bag quickly became a habit.
But something we as small to medium business owners do need to believe in is our customers. And the reality is that customers are now increasingly making their purchases with companies who do the right thing. So if for this reason alone, it’s critical to believe in your customers, and in turn, this will help them believe in you.
So the starting point to building a greener habit is simply action. Getting started is the first and most important step.
What does it take for small and medium businesses to build greener habits?
In terms of what it takes to build a new habit, it depends on the person and it depends on the habit. Some people pick new things up very quickly. Some new things are easier to pick up than others. Generally speaking, you’ll need around a month, but again, some things can be achieved in days – and others could take a year!
Some things aren’t even a habit but a swap, such as moving to a greener energy supplier or changing the light bulbs. But to quote James Clear, who wrote Atomic Habits: to maximise the chance of success, start with something incredibly small such as remembering your reusable cup. Or remember your reusable bag when you go shopping and encourage your employees to do the same!
When you start with something that’s so easy that you don’t need motivation to do it, the sense of achievement will drive you on. Then keep at it. Daily, tiny gains will have a huge impact. So focus on becoming 1% better every day.
For more difficult habit changes, or if you want to tackle multiple habits, change one habit at a time and break the habits into manageable chunks. Set a goal of doing it a couple of days a week, then a week, rather than setting a target of a full month or longer, immediately, which for many can be daunting. And remember – when you come together as a team to make changes, it can be a lot easier than going it alone – so if you have employees (or a partner, or children), get them involved to make building those habits even easier.
Which habits have the most impact?
This is an interesting one, since there is often a significant difference between what people perceive to have the most impact – and what actually does have the most impact.
In a recent survey, 59% thought that recycling as much as possible has the greatest impact, whereas switching to a green energy supplier, not having a car or moving to electric and eating a plant-based diet generally have much greater impact. Well, actually, the most sustainable thing in the long run is to have one fewer child! But for a lot of us, that’s not something we’re in the position of changing! Below we’ve listed a few of the most impactful habits.
Energy efficiency, in terms of heating, electricity, and water
- The average UK household or small business wastes as much as 1,600 litres of water every week. Here is a previous post we published about saving water at home, but many of the points can be applied to businesses too.
- Additionally, 75% of the electricity consumed by some appliances (including televisions and games consoles) happens when they’re turned off or on standby. For some energy-saving tips, check out this post. Again, it’s based around the home, but the majority of the ideas can be applied to home working or your office or business premises.
Travel and transportation
Travel and transport are Europe’s biggest climate problem, accounting for 27% of greenhouse gas emissions. To reduce your personal carbon footprint, and that of your employees try the following:
- Cycle, run or walk to work and incentivise employees to do the same when they can
- Take public transport if walking, cycling or running are not possible
- Avoid flying. So much can be done remotely these days. Technology is on our side! So before reaching for your credit card to book a business flight, consider whether it’s really needed
Need more ideas for building greener habits in your business?
Here are some more suggestions and stats to help you decide which green habits you and your business want to build next.
Support flexible working
By supporting and encouraging your employees to work from home a few days a week (and doing the same yourself), you’ll help save transport-related carbon emissions. It’s also much easier for people to eat sustainably at home. When working in the office, it can be tempting, and much more convenient, to opt for a plastic-wrapped sandwich or soup in single-use packaging. At home, people are much more likely to remember to eat leftovers or prepare something from scratch – a big win for the planet.
Speaking of sustainable eating, switching to a more plant-based diet could be the “single biggest way” to reduce environmental impact on Earth. Cutting meat and dairy from your diet could reduce your carbon footprint from food by up to 73 percent. This has potentially more of an impact than cutting down on flights or buying EVs as your company vehicles.
Even by switching to vegetarian or plant-based catering for your next business meeting or event could have a significantly positive impact on your business’s carbon footprint.
But what we eat is not the only issue. Food waste is not only a waste of food, and all the resources, time and energy that has gone into producing and transporting it. Food that is thrown away is often left to rot instead of being composted. This results in methane, which is more damaging to the atmosphere than CO2. For some easy tips on reducing food waste, have a read of our post about growing food from scraps (maybe make this into an office competition!), which also contains some other food waste reduction tips.
Reduce, reuse, recycle
is a huge problem for the environment, so the first “R” of the three Rs is definitely the most important. Before making a purchase, consider carefully whether you really need the thing you’re buying. If you do need to purchase, try to buy 2nd hand. And when you buy new, take the time to make sure you’re buying something that’s been produced with recycled materials or with as sustainable a supply chain as possible.
Another way to make a huge impact via your business is to support the circular economy. The Ellen MacArthur Foundation has a wealth of information, videos, and resources on the circular economy if you’d like to learn more.
Do business with other green businesses
Just as our own customers are putting their money into products and businesses that align with their values, we as business owners can do the same.
This could be a matter of looking at your supply chain and communicating with existing suppliers about your aims, using green hosting for your website or trying Wholegrain Digital’s Website Carbon Calculator to identify whether your website could do with a green overhaul.
Consider carbon offsets
Whilst purchasing carbon offsets is not a silver bullet in the absence of other changes and actions, it can be a useful way to help offset any emissions that are unavoidable. Purchase of carbon offsets alongside other sustainable changes can move the needle to carbon neutrality. Ecologi is one company that is helping businesses and individuals alike to reduce their carbon footprints through a combination of tree planting projects and carbon offsetting.
Looking after the natural environment and wildlife
We’re the custodians of the planet’s natural environment. Without nature, we wouldn’t be here – so find ways you can incorporate looking after nature into your business. Perhaps you have a garden you could rewild, or organise weekly staff litter picks. Remember, even the smallest changes help.
How do you encourage engagement on sustainability across your organisation?
First of all, it needs to be supported from the top of the organisation. But that shouldn’t be too hard these days since the business world is moving that way, and 96% of business leaders understand that without employee engagement, things won’t change.
Actually, the UK is becoming a leader in sustainability, so there are strong signs that things are going in the right direction.
As I mentioned earlier, it’s so much easier and much more fun to make sustainable changes together, as a team. By sharing your experience, tips & tricks, you can encourage others. Or you could even turn it into a game or a friendly contest!
Communicate your sustainability efforts
Set some targets and goals that are achievable and tell theworld about them. You’ll quickly see that it turns into support amongst your employees, business partners and customers. Share your journey and your learnings on your webite, and use social media to spread the word. Take a look at GoCardless’ posts on LinkedIn, just as an example.
Work with or take inspiration from passionate change-makers such as Earth 51
or Livvy Drake from Sustainable Sidekicks
who can help with kick-off sessions for your team.
You could also consider joining SME Climate Hub, which is a partner of The UN’s Race to Zero initiative. You’ll find loads of tools and inspiration there.
Consider becoming a B-Corp
To demonstrate sustainability and responsible business, consider becoming a B Corp. The B Corp movement is growing every year. You can start with completing the free B Impact Assessment
, to highlight the areas that need your attention.
Ailuna is an app we have built based on James Clear’s habit-building principles. It has teamwork and group chat built-in and is perfect for small businesses that want to become more sustainable. And btw, Ailuna is a small business itself, so we understand the challenges and really want to help you!
Let’s build some green habits together!
So in summary, using a famous quote: Just do it!
It’s good for the environment
It’s good for our personal health
It’s good for business!