Small Business Sustainability: 7 Challenges and How to Overcome Them


Running a small business is already challenging enough, but when you have to add yet another ingredient to the mix, things can become even more complicated.

The ongoing global concern for environmental sustainability has prompted many businesses, big and small, to try and modify their business processes, so that their environmental footprint becomes as small as possible. Some are improving their business operations, others are making changes all the way up to the supply chain, but all have a common goal: to make their business a little less of a harm for the environment. 

Sustainability brings on a tremendous amount of benefits for small businesses, but it also brings an entirely new set of challenges business owners to need to overcome. Below are the most common of these challenges and how to effectively tackle them.

Not enough capital to make sustainable changes

Sustainability is all about consuming fewer resources, but it does require some initial investment to get there, and small businesses usually need to keep a close eye on their budget. T

The strategy for making sustainable changes when you don’t have too many financial resources available is to start with projects that are going to pay back soon. For instance, you can start by investing in energy-efficient lighting, which will start having a good payback, since your electricity bills will instantly decrease. This way, you can slowly start to make sustainable changes to your business and save some money in the process.

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Look for local organizations that focus on helping small businesses become more sustainable and feel encouraged to ask for their help. They have experience in the business and can help you find cost-effective ways to slowly turn your company into an eco-friendly business.

Lack of time to change business practices

Some sustainable practices take time until they can be fully implemented, while others require you to pause your business operations for a few days. But you don’t need to do everything at once or shut down your business until it becomes 100% sustainable.

Take things one step at a time and focus on your priorities, because chances are, you won’t be able to do everything at once. Your first step should be to identify the changes that align best with your business goals and will have a significant positive impact on your overall operation.

Another thing you can do to speed up the process of going green and ensuring you make the right changes at the right time is putting together a “green team”, whose purpose is to tackle the transition to a more sustainable business.

Employees are not engaged in sustainability

When you are trying your best to reduce your carbon footprint and make your business less harmful for the environment, you expect your employees to be all on board and help you achieve those goals. However, when your staff seems to not be as engaged in making those changes possible, it can become a headache.

The best way to engage your employees in this change is by giving them the channels to get engaged. Training employees to understand the necessity and benefits of going green should help nurture the sustainable culture you want to build in your company. Giving employees the tools to actively participate in this change is another way to make them feel their contribution is needed.

Not sure which initiatives suit your business

It’s obvious that not all sustainability initiatives will suit your business. Some will fit like a glove, some will take time to implement, while others may not work at all, but it is up to you to identify the changes that benefit your operations best.

Start with small, but significant changes and work your way towards those that are more difficult to implement as you gain more experience. For example, you can start using recycling balers, similar to those Mil-Tek provides in different locations in New Zealand, to collect, compress and recycle waste much easier. Costs are not high for recycling compactors and could be a good way to teach your employees to dispose of waste more consciously.

Keeping up with sustainability trends is too demanding

Sustainable business practices are evolving as we speak, thanks to the everchanging technologies used in the process. This means businesses have to keep an eye on trends and ensure they are up to date with the changes.

When you are a small business, however, making constant changes can take a toll on your time and budget. But you don’t need to follow every single sustainability trend that joins the market; especially not if you want to grow your business. Again, focusing on the sustainability practices that fit best with your business is the most suited way to make a change, while also being mindful of your business’ wellbeing.

Keep yourself educated by reading about sustainability from reputable sources or ask your green team to keep up to date with what’s changed. Then, choose the trends that are more likely to result in positive changes for your business in the long term.

Limited support from vendors

One of the keys to becoming a sustainable business is being able to count on vendors that follow the same policies. That, however, is sometimes difficult to obtain.

You can begin talking to your vendors about sustainability and hint to them how it can help improve their business while also doing something good for the planet. If you can, offer to help them with answers or advice that has helped you turn your business green, to make their transition easier.

If some of the vendors you are working with don’t want to make active changes in turning their business more sustainable, you can look for other collaborations. Look for vendors that are certified green or develop a sustainability questionnaire and choose suppliers based on their answers.

Educating customers about sustainability

In many cases, advertising sustainability to customers can be tricky, as there are plenty of examples involving rampant green washing to support their disbelief in your claims. The only thing you can do here is to constantly show how you are actively making changes in your business operations. Being honest and transparent with customers is the best policy when it comes to winning them over.