There are lots of ways to help the environment as a small business. One can pay a company to track orders for carbon offsetting. Or one can buy sustainable products to operate the business side. There are the two main ways that many small business deal with it. The problem is that in order to utilize those options the business needs to raise the prices of the items. This can lead to a lack of sales.
Many small businesses tend to walk a thin profit line. In order to compete with big box companies or even well established companies prices and products must be affordable and unique. As the bigger selling sites tend to push quantity over quality, and have the overhead to cover loss, this means that the smaller businesses need an edge.
People want a bargain, I understand that.
This has always been an issue. Grocery stores had a gimmick where you would receive stickers so that you can get a good deal on a dinner set. Banks would offer toasters when you opened multiple accounts. Sandwich club cards, free bookmarks or pens, and other cheap free gifts with purchase are still given today. All of this is to bring customers back and build loyalty. Unfortunately this causes a lot of clutter in the landfills.
Some companies offer non-tangible incentives, like free shipping over a set price, or free gift wrapping or even future percentages off the next purchase with in x about of days. While it does bring some customers back, the percentage is never high enough to justify the loss of the razor thin margin line.
In the last decade environmental friendly has become the new gimmick. I am not saying that carbon offsetting is a sham, or that climate change is real or not. But the trend has picked up pace with society and here we are. So how does a company become more environmentally sustainable?
It all comes down to money.
If a company has room in the profits to pay a company to set up an offsetting program, then that is a way to go. Of course if there is enough money, one can start buying more products that are recycled or made from more sustainable materials. But what if there is not enough money?
One of the main ways to run a small business in an environmentally sustainable & friendly manner on a tight budget is to upcycle and reuse. Yet the consumer tends to frown upon it.
For example I have twenty three bookcases- all wood. Buying them new with sustainable wood will cost me $200 per case at a starting point. But if I buy prefab or another wood from the local thrift market or seconds store it will cost me $40 each. Display cloths? $35 for newly made by people getting paid well. Or $3-10 each from a seconds shop. Glass display cases? Store closing down selling them off for cheap or have it newly made? These items would be tossed into the landfill if they are not bought and that would create more greenhouse gases. So isn’t it better to use what has already been made, instead of tossing it and making something new?
The same thing goes for packing supplies. While I can buy bags of packing peanuts that are made from vegetable matter that will dissolve in water, and newly printed papers to wrap things in, I don’t. Some stores will allow other stores to come and take their used packing supplies. Industrial waste is a massive issue, and any attempt to reuse them should be considered a good thing. I also buy gift wrap that has been marked down for clearance and brown paper bags to wrap my products.
The problem is with perception.
When I did fairs and festivals I would bring my products in cardboard boxes with paper shred made from old bills and adverts. If I sold enough and a box was damaged it would be used as firewood or taken home to be mulched. Thing is when I started to mail out products with paper shred people tended to not like it. I was told that it was trashy because it did not look nice. So I switched to wrapping items in cloth. At one point I had a lot of vintage unused handkerchiefs and tea towels. It was easy to wrap the products in and worked very well as a padding. Unfortunately customers complained that it was unsanitary and looked cheap. Perhaps they did not want to deal with the cloths afterwards, but they never said that. So now I still use those cloths when I go to shows and fairs. Envelopes need to be new, boxes have to be wrapped so that they cannot see previous company information.
Customers seem to want things to look nice and new, even if they want to feel better about how they are impacting the environment. It is getting ridiculous. Re purposing something does not mean it is damaged, nor does it mean you are getting scammed. Reusing until it cannot be used again is the other side of the environmentally friendly coin. It is the modern tale of Mr Willowby’s Christmas Tree. (If you haven’t heard of this book, I suggest you find a copy!)
So this is what I suggest. If you, as a customer, want to help the environment or just follow the trend, then please not only check and see if the company is carbon offsetting, but if they are recycling & re purposing. This will not only help save the planet, it will help the small business stay in business and help save you money as well.