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Top 5 tips for growing a sustainable small business

Top 5 tips for growing a sustainable small business

You can be a green business even if you didn’t set out to be one. No matter what you sell or the service you provide you can always be more sustainable, and it will not only improve your social conscience but your cash flow too.


Reaching consumers who care more about sustainability

Research* shows that consumers bought more locally produced goods in 2021, and nearly one in three claimed to have stopped buying certain brands because they had ethical or sustainability-related concerns about them (* source consulting firm Delotte).

This adds to the evidence that small, authentically sustainable start-ups could take a chunk of business from bigger, more opaquely run brands. Agile, creative, and innovative local small business owners are perfect for attracting this increasing market of green consumers who want transparency from their products or service.

Optimising what you have and making more responsible decisions (even at the micro-level), will not only help the planet but your bottom line too, by appealing to a larger customer base.

Here are our top 5 tips to help you manage this:


Plan sustainable sourcing

Customers want you to pay attention to your suppliers’ values as well as your own. They want to know where their products come from, as well as how they’re made and by whom.

Who you work with and purchase from matters as a sustainable business – look for the same credentials and certifications listed below to ensure the manufacturer or your supplier is actually committed to sustainability. You can attend trade shows or use a sourcing tool to help find the best sustainable partners at your disposal.

Keep in mind, that you can also work with your existing suppliers to help them become more sustainable.


Hire the right people

A business is only as good as its employees. Hiring the right people who understand and share your mission and sustainability goals is crucial. This goes for hiring across the board— each employee, regardless of the department they work in, must be willing to comply with your sustainability initiatives and requirements.

Additionally, you might consider hiring a sustainability leader, so you have a point person who handles difficult questions or concerns regarding sustainability. This person will be responsible for communicating your company’s mission and ensuring everyone is contributing in a meaningful way.


Build on your benefits and passions

The most important part of being a sustainable business is your intention behind it. Don’t chase sustainability just to appeal to the wider audience; instead, understand why you’d like to pursue this goal. Putting passion behind your initiatives will ensure they’re coming from a genuine place, which will naturally increase your commitment and efforts.

Define your beliefs and values associated with sustainability. Then, create attainable goals that are in alignment with them. Use your values to guide each decision, both large and small, so you can move forward in a way that makes the most sense to you.


Get certified as a green business

Becoming certified as a green business is a surefire way to understand your responsibilities as a sustainable business and gain the credibility needed to appeal to environmentally conscious consumers.

There are a few industry-recognised certificates you can pursue as a business, these organisations offer businesses the roadmap to measure and mitigate their social and environmental impact with the end goal of being carbon neutral or even better carbon negative.

These certificates offer a ‘badge of honour’ so your business can then advertise your sustainability credentials.

Here are our top picks, but other certifications are available:

  • B Corp is to business is what Fair Trade is to Coffee. To gain this certificate businesses must pass an online assessment that gauges their sustainability efforts. Their online tools are free to use so you can DIY your application and then decide not to certify. They don’t certify non-profit organisations and the process can take up to 12 months.
  • Planet Mark does work with charities, non-profit and for-profit businesses. The tools aren’t free to use so you need the Planet Mark team to access your business.
  • FutureFit Business is a relative newcomer with big potential and excellent free-to-use tools, but don’t yet have the kudus as a brand like B Corp.
  • The Ethical Company Organisations (ECO) is the UK’s only cross-spectrum (people, animals, environment) ethical accreditation which exists to reward ethical companies’ behaviour.

Apply for awards that highlight your business’s sustainability efforts

Applying for sustainable business awards can establish your reputation as a sustainable business and help gain valuable exposure to a wider audience. This will attract more customers who value sustainability and further your objectives by offering the support needed to run a sustainable business.

These days most business awards include categories relating to the environment, green innovation, sustainability and social impact. Start by searching for local business awards before moving on to more national awards.

For more support to help grow your business and understand how being more sustainable can have an impact on your business sign up to join the SETsquared fully-funded Sustainable Technologies Scale-up Programme.  The Sustainability Workout is held each month until May 2023 and provides expert mentoring and coaching to help with your organisation’s sustainability challenges.

Funded through the European Regional Development Fund and open to organisations in the West of England – submit your application using the online form:

Scale Up Programme Application

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