Sustainability Tips for Small Businesses

April 22, 2016 • 5 min read
Amy Johnson

Amy Johnson


This Earth Day, the U.S. and China will be signing the Paris Agreement on climate change, and while most of us don’t have quite the same level of influence, it’s the perfect time for small business owners to think about the environment on a more local scale. Sustainable business practices are increasingly popular for two very good reasons: They keep our communities healthier and they can save businesses a good chunk of money. According to the government’s Energy Star site, most businesses could actually save anywhere from 2 to 10 percent simply through better energy management. According to the California Green Business Program, which focuses on small to medium-sized business, the average annual savings of a sustainable business is over $1,000.

Sustainability with Potatoes

When San Francisco Townsquared member Guenevere Blanchard, owner, CEO, and founder of 3 Potato 4, started thinking about opening a small business, she knew she wanted to offer her customers food that would be good for them and for the planet—a sustainable business, in other words. She chose potatoes because they’re versatile and already quite popular, albeit in the not-so-healthful form of French fries. Like anyone looking for potatoes, she first thought of Idaho. Unfortunately, potatoes are such big business in Idaho that its potato farmers aren’t regulated. Turns out, the best potatoes your money can buy come from Washington state. They have the highest organic standards, grow their potatoes from organic seeds at an altitude that keeps them away from potentially contaminated groundwater in pH-balanced soil.

3 Potato 4 serves fries, but as Blanchard likes to say, they’re not French and they’re not fried. Her fries are baked and served with an array of delicious (I speak from experience) homemade sauces—all of it organic, non-GMO, vegan, and gluten free. Not only does baking the fries mean they retain more of their natural goodness, in the form of vitamins and antioxidants, it means the business doesn’t produce any oil waste.

Prepping fries at 3 Potato 4
Look, Ma, no grease! Blanchard preps some baked fries for a customer.

In fact, 3 Potato 4 produces no garbage at all. They don’t even have a garbage can. All of the napkins, plates, and other potato-eating paraphernalia are made from—wait for it—potatoes. Taterware is a readily-available and cost-effective compostable plastic manufactured from potato starch. Because they don’t produce any garbage, 3 Potato 4 was able to negotiate their recycling fee.

And not cooking with oil means that the business doesn’t need air vents, which saves money on build out when she opens a new shop. For restaurants looking to lower their environmental impact, Blanchard also recommends looking for equipment that qualifies for the Energy Star. Folks forget, she says, that the rating isn’t only available for home appliances.

Of course, it’s not just food businesses that can benefit from implementing sustainable practices. 42 Inc., an IT consultancy specializing in small to medium businesses and a Berkeley Townsquared member, has also been conscious of its environmental impact since opening its doors in 1992.

Making Sustainable Business a Practice

42 was the first East Bay small business to join City Car Share, signing up all its employees, and it donates used computer parts to local schools and non profits, among other environmentally conscious practices. As the Small Business Association (SBA) points out, “You can’t manage what you can’t measure,” so 42 now uses TerraPass, which helps businesses offset their carbon footprint by purchasing renewable energy credits (REC) or BEF Water Restoration Certificates. Renewable energy credits are created for every megawatt-hour of renewable electricity—wind, solar, biomass, geothermal or other—generated and delivered to the power grid, and by purchasing the credits, a business supports the renewable electricity created and the environmental benefits that accrue from not creating that energy through fossil fuels.

Water Restoration Certificates are a program created by Bonneville Environmental Foundation and TerraPass in which water users are provided with “an economic incentive to devise new water management solutions that restore water to critically-dewatered ecosystems.” Each certificate is equivalent to 1,000 gallons of water restored on the behalf of the purchaser and helps restore critical freshwater ecosystems. The program is reviewed by the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation to maintain quality and optimum benefit.

If your business already employs sustainable practices, don’t be shy about letting your customers know. There’s no shame in taking advantage of Earth Day for a little do-gooder brand glow—Earth Day is itself the product of successful marketing. In organizing the first Earth Day (originally named the National Environment Teach-In, which is just not quite as catchy), Wisconsin Senator Gaylord Nelson chose the date in order to energize college students in particular. He looked for a day between spring break and exams that didn’t conflict with religious holidays, and most April 22nds, at least in the short term, are still likely to have good weather.

earth day sustainable business

If you haven’t had the opportunity to start greening your business, here’s something to think about. Earth Day has dramatically increased environmental awareness and, in the U.S., helped the passage of legislation like the Clean Water Act (1977). Yet, despite strengthened environmental protections, on the 46th Earth Day, the planet is warming up like the blue plate special under a heat lamp. In fact, as far as climatologists can tell, the only reason 2015 is still the hottest year on record is because 2016 isn’t over yet.

To begin reducing your business’s environmental impact, start by figuring out the business’s carbon footprint, using one of the several free online calculators. You’ll need your gas and electric bill to get the most accurate response. Terra Pass’s calculator even includes an “event” option, in addition to the regular business operations one.

Energy Star offers a guide, Putting Energy into Profits, to help small businesses become more energy efficient, and the SBA devotes a section of their website to sustainable business practices. Envious of 3 Potato 4’s zero garbage? Check out the SBA’s section on Waste. If your business uses a lot of paper, you might consider switching to paper that produces less pollution during its production.

Not ready to dive into sustainable business practices yet? You can still help the environment, celebrate Earth Day, and get a little brand boost by supporting this year’s theme, Trees for Earth (#trees4earth). The Earth Day Network is planting 7.8 billion trees, the first of five goals celebrating the countdown to its 50th anniversary, in 2020. That’s a lot of trees, and they, and the earth, could definitely use your help.


Business Carbon Footprint Calculators

Cool Climate Calculator for businesses (UC Berkeley) 

Carbon Footprint business calculator

Climate Care business calculator 



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