As the U.S. faced ever more extreme weather this fall – fires ripping through California, hurricanes and cyclones devastating coastal communities, and the aftereffects surging into disaster flooding in their own right – a group of scientists wrote a message to the government.
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has been working on the content of the report Global Warming of 1.5°C for years. The takeaway inside is clear and alarming. It says that by 2050, if humans continue to heat the world at our current rate, humanity will be overwhelmed by events that will resemble Hollywood blockbusters.
The world is at a critical tipping point, but our ability to enact change is, fortunately, greater than ever. Green technologies are now more available and effective than ever. Diverse forms of energy have become viable. Plus, true financial drivers for being sustainable now exist. The cost of avoiding green technology is high, and the potential reward for embracing it wholeheartedly is massive.
Business owners can help thwart climate catastrophe
While the report is directed at policymakers, it has the business community in its sights too. In fact, it has historically been business owners and entrepreneurs who can take policy and push it into practice. And because small businesses are nimble, they can adopt new technologies and strategies relatively quickly. It's these small-scale changes that can drive global shifts.
Business owners are uniquely positioned to stimulate the global economy for low-impact development and sustainable technologies. Some experts are even pushing for small- to medium-sized enterprises to be officially recognized by governments as significant actors and "core economic engines" of climate change reduction.
Five ways to kick-start your sustainability journey
Both staying competitive and making a difference for future generations depend on fostering a green mindset and putting it into practice. Here are a few simple actions you can take.
1. Make sustainability a core value.
All action begins with admitting a need. To start making sustainability a business practice in your organization, you first need to identify the need for it.
This means making a proud and deep commitment to sustainability as one of your core values. Talk about this value with your team and get approval from each member. Then you can begin to view all your business decisions through this lens.
This perspective shift is financially costless, and it will allow your employees to connect the work they do with its effect on the planet.
2. Aim for low-impact printing and packaging.
Gradually adopting more sustainable printing and packaging options is an easy, low-cost way to make a huge dent in your carbon footprint.
First, you could aim to make your office paperless within the next few years. Use recycled content in your packaging whenever possible, or commit to printers that use chemical-free inks. These are small actions that reduce waste and add up over time to make a big impact.
3. Talk to your neighbors.
If you're in a co-working space or a building with other companies, talk to your neighbors about what you can do together to become more sustainable.
Could you set up a common recycling center or collection area? Could you share printing resources or start a ride-sharing program? Solicit other ideas from employees and those around you to turn sustainability into a creative business practice.
Creating relationships that check your accountability can have a profoundly positive effect on your business while also helping the planet.
4. When you build, build green.
As a small business, you may not be able to drastically change your community's architecture. You live and work where you can afford to, right? But as you grow and build out the spaces of your business, consider incorporating green energy and technology. Alternately, if you are renting space, push the building's owners toward adopting these solutions.
Start small: Reduce the amount of hardscaping around your business and add grass-filled permeable pavers instead. When you're resurfacing your parking lot or driveway, ask your contractor to use only sustainable, recycled or porous materials.
Afterward, you can incorporate other technologies into your business. Green roofs and insulation, low-water toilets, and heating and cooling systems aligned with the natural patterns of the sun are all viable options.
5. Offer work conditions for the eco-minded.
Work atmospheres have shifted as millennials have come of age, and by 2025, this generation will make up 75 percent of the U.S. workforce. Millennial dominance brings with it an emphasis on sustainability. Young employees have grown up aware of the startling effects of climate change and are eager to stop it.
To attract and harness the power of these young people, businesses should consider offering a more sustainable workplace. Offer remote or flexible work policies if you can. This cuts down on overhead and transport needs.
But beware cutting corners to appear sustainable or merely selling the idea of sustainability. Millennials are acutely attuned to authenticity, and they'll be a strong team player only if your motives are genuine.
Being green is good for business at large. It speaks loudly to customers about you and your values, demonstrating that beyond profit, you care about the world we all share.
When you're a small business, everything you do is especially visible and important. If your parking lot is made from recycled plastic, if you serve locally sourced food, or if your office lights are solar-powered, customers will see that you're forward-thinking and engaged in the mission to end climate change.