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How to Create a Sustainability Program for Your Small Business

As we approach the new year, business owners may be looking at initiatives they want to undertake in 2023 or, possibly, didn’t get a chance to accomplish in 2022. One such effort could be upping your company’s sustainability practices. IEE Member company Butler Technologies Inc. recently endeavored on the project and shared their process via this guest blog post to not only provide a great look into how they approached their sustainability initiative, but also to serve as a guide to help other small businesses seize the same opportunity.


As many corporations are starting green initiatives to reduce their environmental impact, your small business may want to consider implementing a sustainability program. But how do you go beyond buzzwords to make meaningful impact? A robust sustainability program should not only address environmental concerns, but also health, wellness, education, and equity concerns.

With many different causes to address, it is easy to feel overwhelmed. You may be wondering where to start or what it will cost. In reality, you’re probably already working towards sustainability initiatives but lacking specific goals.

This guide is meant to help small businesses set up their own sustainability program. It is based on the experience of Butler Technologies, Inc, a small, family-owned manufacturer located in Butler, PA. As a manufacturing facility, we know we have a greater responsibility to manage our carbon footprint. We implemented a sustainability program in early 2022 to hold ourselves accountable to specific goals. Here are the steps we took to implement our sustainability program:

1. Follow the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals

The United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals is a collection of 17 goals that serve as a universal platform for monitoring impact and harmonizing sustainability initiatives. These goals are meant to help eradicate the world’s toughest problems, from climate change to gender equality.

2. Select a few goals, not all 17

The UN’s list of goals may seem daunting, but you probably already work towards some of the goals. If you’re starting from scratch, choose goals that you can make the most impact for your people and your local community.

At Butler Technologies, we decided to focus on five goals in order to be more action oriented. We knew we could not tackle 17 goals with our staff, and neither should your small business. We have chosen to focus our efforts on: Good Health & Well-Being, Gender Equality, Decent Work & Economic Growth, Sustainable Cities & Communities, and Climate Action.

We chose “Sustainable Cities & Communities” as one of our five goals because giving back to the community lives within our core values. Before implementing a sustainability program, we donated to and participated in several local charity events throughout the year but now we have a goal of 500 combined volunteer hours to reach by the end of the year.

3. Start tracking metrics

You can’t work towards a goal if you aren’t accurately tracking your progress. Once you’ve picked which United Nations goals you’re working towards, you need to set your own measurable goals. If you’re working towards “Climate Action,” you can measure that by how much waste you divert away from landfills and to recycling facilities. To do this, you will have to reach out to your local garbage company to see what types of recycling program they offer. If they can drop off a recycling bin to your business that gets filled and picked up every week, you can calculate the amount of waste is diverted based on the size of the recycling bin.

Once you’ve decided on your trackable metrics, make your goals public by putting them on your website so your customers and employees can also hold you accountable.

4. Get buy-in from your team

Whether you’re the CEO of the company trying to start a sustainability program or an employee asking to make a difference, you’re going to need the support of your team. If you’re an employee, you can present your ideas and goals to the decision-makers at your company. You’ll want to come with facts and figures so they know exactly what it will cost and what kind of impact can be made.

If you’re the decision maker, don’t simply tell your employees that they must start recycling their cardboard or volunteering in the community. Instead, explain why it is important to you and your business to start a sustainability program. You need your employees’ support for a successful sustainability program.

5. Kick off your initiative with a sustainable event

Once you’ve secured finalized your goals and secured support from your team, now starts the fun! Plan a kick-off party to get the rest of your team on board and officially mark the beginning of your sustainability program. By marking the start of your program with an official event, your employees will be more on board with the program if you make it into a fun event rather than another to-do. You can also mark the day with an official press release and social media posts to let your customers know you’re serious about making a difference.

At Butler Technologies, we began our sustainability program on Earth Day with a clean-up event around our local neighborhood. We divided our 70-person team into small groups so employees could bond and chat while cleaning up the neighborhood. Plus, this event counted as 70 hours towards our goal of 500 combined volunteer hours for the year.

Conclusion

It is in your best interest as a business and community leader to foster a culture of sustainability and progress. Implementing a successful sustainability program as a small business will help attract a younger generation of talent, set you apart from your competitors, and most importantly, truly make an impact on your local community.

Do not be intimidated by flashy corporate sustainability programs. A small business with little to no budget can easily take steps towards achievable goals and make an impact. If your company is publicly traded and considering a sustainability program, there are different standards that your company should follow. Check out the Sustainability Accounting Standards Board or the Global Reporting Initiative for more information.