Small and medium-sized businesses (SMBs) have an exciting opportunity to foster a sustainable business from the ground up. They can communicate with their customers on a personal level, giving them a unique ability to create loyalty by sharing how well they make progress on their goals and align with company values.
Regarding sustainability, there are many ways to implement projects to achieve progressively greater awareness of how the business affects the planet. But how can that be seamlessly communicated to customers?
Start at the Beginning
Communicating sustainability to your customers is only possible once you obtain an accurate picture of the business as a whole. Companies that understand their environmental impact from every perspective can avoid greenwashing while taking care to create the most sustainable business possible. It can come off as disingenuous if the SMB claims to be eco-friendly by recycling at its flagship location, but its supply chain contributes an enormous amount of recyclables to landfills.
Though the companies you affiliate with are not under your direct control, it is within a company’s ability to choose the parties they collaborate with. Customers have increased awareness about how businesses large and small operate, and it’s important to have cohesion in a sustainability endeavor.
Review your corporate social responsibility (CSR) initiative and start researching. Communicate internally with everywhere, from the supply chain to IT staff. See how each department is undertaking sustainability according to the values of your SMB. These communications also remind business partners, stakeholders, and suppliers that sustainability is a priority. Communicating with them will prime the SMB to effectively convey their environmentalist point of view to their customers.
At this stage of process discovery, an SMB can analyze the business’s carbon footprint and find opportunities for consolidating, automating, and optimizing for sustainability. Find ways to adjust and minimize to guide priorities for action, such as engaging with carbon offsetting or switching to more eco-friendly suppliers.
Once everything is solidified and you are confident with the progress and dedication of the whole company, it’s time to go public. Start talking to consumers. There are active and passive ways to do this, and both are effective at ensuring awareness of how dedicated you are to operating a business that prioritizes green operations.
A passive method is posting materials on your website – nowadays, more customers research businesses before they shop. The more resources you offer before they step through the door, the higher the chance of turning a lead into a repeat customer. It’s a way to communicate to them that you are not only an SMB, but also an advocate for the planet.
Websites are an ideal place to store every detail of an eco-friendly business, including:
- Research reports about the SMB’s environmental impact
- Collaborations with other green brands
- Charitable donations and campaigns
- Proof of sustainable certifications, like certified B Corp or LEED
More active methods involve posting on social media and talking to customers directly in-store. Feedback is the greatest resource for any SMB trying to be eco-friendly because shoppers could provide insights you weren’t aware of. Engagement includes asking questions in social posts, hosting live streams of store events, and promoting non-profit causes.
If you have an e-commerce operation, it’s not as easy to chit-chat at the register. However, you can still send messages or include notes with packaged materials so customers know your sustainable intentions.
Design Products and Services
You may have started your business on a sustainable foundation or you might be making switches. Altering your product, service, or storefront for sustainability is the most tangible way to communicate with customers about your efforts without saying a word. The product and service will do all the communicating for you. Here are some ways this can manifest:
- You have recycling or compost bins at your location.
- Your packaging is reusable, recyclable, or made of recycled materials.
- There are customer incentives for sustainability, such as bringing containers or shopping bags from home.
- Sustainable sourcing of the products and actively seeking renewables, such as bamboo and wood.
- The building uses internet of things (IoT) technologies to analyze environmental metrics like energy usage and air quality.
- You use eco-friendly fuel and energy methods for buildings and company cars.
Even if your business seems to be in an unrelated sector to the green industry, there are always ways to incorporate sustainability. SMBs can seek environmental consulting firms for advice on taking steps in the right direction. Posting the updates as your SMB makes them on social media will never hurt because it shows active participation – the sustainability journey is continuous, not a one-and-done change.
Communicating Sustainability as a Small or Medium-Sized Business
Embrace the accessibility and connection you have with your customers as an SMB. Not only does communicating sustainability help your business flourish, but it also sets a precedent in your area or sector that environmentalism is a priority for businesses that want to succeed.
Chat with customers at the register or go to non-profit events. No matter what options you choose, ensure it always aligns authentically with eco-friendly values and data-driven results.
Written by Jane Marsh.
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