20 Green Tips for Small Businesses

20 Green Tips for Small Businesses

[Editor's note: This article originally appeared as a guest post on Marc Gunther's blog, and is reprinted with permission.

Small businesses employ more than 52 percent of working Americans, according to the Small Business Administration, and comparable percentages in other developed countries. It follows that small businesses generate a substantial portion of the business world's environmentally harmful waste. To help small business owners and employees minimize their environmental impact, here are 20 simple ways to more sustainably market a small business. I hope that you'll contribute your thoughts -- what I've gotten right and wrong and what I've omitted -- in the comments.

  • 1. Print all marketing materials on recycled paper. Whether you're going to send out flyers, pamphlets or other marketing literature, make sure it's on recycled paper.
  • 2. Hold your meetings remotely. As you meet with your colleagues, including external vendors, try to hold as many meetings as possible over the Internet. Try tools like Skype, TokBox and other free videoconferencing technologies.
  • 3. Send email instead of paper newsletters. Not only will you save money by switching to an email marketing service, but you'll also do far less damage to the environment. Even better from a business standpoint is that email marketing provides huge insights into how your marketing efforts are being received that printed flyers cannot. For instance, email marketing services can generally tell you what percentage of your emails were opened, how long they were opened and which links were clicked.
  • 4. If you're going to use paper flyers, make sure you clearly indicate that they are recyclable. A comedian named Mitch Hedberg had a joke about paper flyers: He used to joke that when someone on the street shoves a flyer in your hand, it's as if they said, "Here, you throw this away." He wasn't far from the truth. But if you absolutely must print paper flyers, make sure you clearly print the phrase "This flyer is recyclable" on the backside. Though it may be obvious to some, many people need that instantaneous reminder.
  • 5. Buy marketing materials locally. This will minimize the shipping costs both to your business and to the environment.
  • 6. Use GreenSeal.org products in your marketing efforts. In Green Seal's own words, Green Seal uses "life cycle-based sustainability standards for products, services and companies and offer[s] third-party certification for those that meet the criteria." They've done the sourcing. All you have to do is choose from the products they've already certified.
  • 7. Sell online. While that might sound obvious, many small businesses still don't sell their products online. Selling online is a must both for your business and the environment. It instantly expands your customer base from just your local neighborhood to the entire world (in addition to allowing you to sell products passively 24 hours a day). All of this is also great for the environment; this means that you can sell more products with fewer people having to drive to your store. While some might argue that this will increase the impact from shipping, the power to ship greenly is within your control (we'll get to that).
  • 8. Buy promotional products that directly encourage green behavior. For example, instead of buying branded bottled water in disposable bottles -- a growing trend -- order branded reusable coffee mugs or branded reusable water bottles. Not only will you avoid adding to the over 2.5 million plastic water bottles that are used every hour by people in the United States alone, but your marketing message will be put in front of people's eyes for far longer, as your coffee mugs and/or water bottles will be reused.
  • 9. Visit TheGreenOffice.com. TheGreenOffice.com is an ecommerce website that allows you to purchase all types of green-certified office products, many of which you'll need for nearly any form of offline marketing.
  • 10. Explore using reusable envelopes and/or recycled post-consumer content envelopes in your next direct mail campaign. The leading reusable envelope brand is EcoEnvelopes.com.
  • 11. Use energy efficient transportation for marketing-related travel. Traveling to trade shows? Use a car that gets great gas mileage.
  • 12. Get your products listed on GreenSeal.org and GoodGuide.com. GreenSeal.org and GoodGuide.com are great ways to get your eco-friendly products in front of people who are buying with green wallets.

  • 13. Provide your customers with incentives to participate in green behavior. Offer coupons if customers provide evidence of green actions. For example, you could offer 20 percent off coupons to customers who participate in your community's park clean up event.
  • 14. Think about how you can encourage green behavior within your own business. If you own a stories, can you offer a discount to people who bring their own reusable shopping bags or a reusable coffee mug?
  • 15. Use shredded scrap paper to ship promotional products. When shipping breakable marketing materials (i.e. promotional mugs, etc.), use your scrap paper as packing materials -- just be sure to run all scrap paper through a shredder first. For even more sustainable packaging ideas, visit SustainablePackaging.org.
  • 16. Print in an environmentally friendly way. Printing is terrible for the environment, but if you've already determined that it's an absolutely necessary component of your marketing plan (and often it's not -- see #3), then make sure you're printing in a way that minimizes its effects on the environment. GreenerPrinter.com is a good place to start.
  • 17. List your website in a variety of green directories. While this alone isn't a green activity, it does two things: (1) It helps you attract green-conscious customers and (2) being listed in legitimate, useful directories helps advance your search engine optimization efforts, which is one of the greenest marketing methods available.
  • 18. Encourage your satisfied customers to review your business on Yelp.com. Yelp is increasingly becoming an integral part of any local marketing plan. By encouraging your happy customers to write great reviews about your business on Yelp, you'll be ensuring your online presence is as positive as it can be. Implementing this marketing strategy costs nothing and causes no harm to the environment.
  • 19. Don't rent mailing lists; allow your customers to opt in to your mailing list. By renting mailing lists, you can be sure that most of what you send out is being thrown away without being read. Accordingly, your business suffers because your marketing message is not absorbed and the environment suffers because additional waste ends up in landfills. Instead, build an opt in mailing list over time. Allow customers to opt in to receiving your printed marketing materials at every turn (when they checkout online, when they pay at the register, etc.). Better yet, allow them to specify that their preference is to only receive marketing materials online (#3).
  • 20. Offset the negative effects of travel with innovative carbon offsets from organizations like TreesForTravel.info. Every time we travel, our actions add harmful greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. Unlike other organizations that sometimes sell carbon credits from completed projects, Trees for Travel, a registered charity, ensures that your contribution goes to planting new trees. So, next time you plan to take a trip, consider organizations like Trees for Travel. Even better, incorporate your contributions to organizations like these into your public-facing marketing efforts so you can build an eco-friendly reputation with your customers.