Whilst it’s no news that both customers and companies need to be more environmentally friendly to save the planet, there’s a surprisingly lucrative reason to go green. Growing appetite for a greener approach is creating new opportunities for all businesses. Unilever revealed at the start of last year that 33% of customers choose to buy from brands they believe are doing social or environmental good. It’s no surprise then that the corporation’s own sustainable range grew 50% quicker than the rest of the business in 2016. This trend doesn’t apply to retail alone either. According to The Guardian, sales of organic ranges in the catering and restaurant sector rose 10.2% to reach £84.4m in 2017.

As well as appealing to customers, there are a number of ways that choosing to go green can save — and sometimes make — you money. Here are some of the most achievable and forward-thinking for small businesses.

Go paperless

Many businesses can’t quite seem to shake the paper-based approach. One way to do it whilst also increasing time-efficiency and productivity is to replace paper processes with software. Here are some of our top recommendations.

For document storage:

  • Google Drive gives you 15 GB of free online storage to keep photos, documents, spreadsheets, drawings and more.
  • Dropbox is very similar to Google Drive, but some people prefer the ways it syncs folders.

For organisation and project management:

  • Trello helps you plan, organise and prioritise without the need for post-it notes and pin boards.

For legal documentation:

  • Docusign is an electronic signature service that scraps the pen and paper approach for document-based work.

For accounting:

  • Xero is online accounting software that keeps everything you need in one place, speeding up the way you manage money.

For invoicing:

  • Square Invoices takes the paper and hassle out of invoicing for you and your customers. Create, customise, send and track invoices for free, and receive deposits as soon as the next business day.

For receipts:

  • Square digital receipts saves on till roll whilst enabling you to chat direct to customers and get their feedback.

All of these options save trees, streamline your daily tasks and reduce the need to buy costly office equipment. And for the paper you can’t go without, make sure you have a recycling bin — many councils charge less to take commercial recycling than they do waste.

Ask before offering

If you run a retail business, restaurant or coffee shop, the gesture of always offering bags, straws, plastic cutlery and so on can be detrimental, not only to the environment but to your bottom line. The less you give away as standard, the less you have to buy in the long-term — and you might be surprised how much your customers appreciate a forthright green approach.

Change to LED lightbulbs

Changing the type of lights you use is a simple fix that can yield long term savings. LED lighting is a little more expensive up front, but the investment can be worthwhile. Which? has revealed that the annual running cost of LED bulbs is considerably lower than CFL and halogen, especially because of how little energy they use to achieve more light. This useful tool from Philips will help you calculate how much you can save per year by switching to LED.

Get access to tax breaks

Switching to greener lighting has other benefits too. The government offers capital allowances to environmentally friendly businesses who invest in energy efficient, or low or zerocarbon, technology. This means you can get tax relief on things like vehicles, boilers, fridges and water-saving equipment. You can also get relief if you’re not using much energy overall. For more information, check out the gov.uk website.

Buy second-hand furniture

The shabby chic trend is far from dead, and projects like Second Home in East London show that even professional spaces can make reclaimed, mismatched furniture work. If it suits your brand, you can pick up stylish, retro pieces for next to nothing online and at second hand shops. You may even find free deals nearby as businesses and residents give away their old items.

If you need more official-looking, matching furniture, Amazon, eBay and Gumtree are obvious but very effective resources for finding affordable second-hand sets.

Compost your waste

For coffee shops and restaurants especially, you can go green whilst making money by composting your food waste. You’ll have to invest in the equipment and space to make it, but businesses like Green Cup prove that there are profits to be made. On a small scale, you could sell your compost to green-fingered customers or partner with local city farms, florists and plant centres. As well as bringing in a little extra cash, building your business network and giving your company a unique selling point, you’ll be reducing the cost of commercial recycling pickup too.

Some of these ideas are more creative than others, but all are achievable for small businesses. Even the smallest steps can be a big deal, both in terms of your environmental impact and your reputation with customers. To make the most of the effort you put in, promote your activity on social media or in-store. Once you become known as an environmentally friendly business, new opportunities and markets will start opening up to you.

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