Excerpted from the book Small Business, Big Change by Susan Chambers. Copyright © 2012 by Susan Chambers. Reprinted with permission of Night Owls Press LLC.
It’s disappointing and frustrating when cold, hard reality intrudes on our ideals and the vision that we want to create for our businesses or ourselves. Whether your socially responsible (S-R) venture has been thwarted by insufficient resources (e.g., time, money, people power) or insufficient (or too much) enthusiasm from key stakeholders, you need some solutions – preferably those that soothe the pain of bruised ideals and still offer a glimmer of hope or encouragement.
You’re on a “lemonade” budget
You’ve probably heard the expression about having “champagne tastes and a lemonade pocketbook.” It’s often used to describe individuals who have expensive ideas or plans but don’t have the budget to match the dreams or aspirations. If you’re facing a disconnect between what you would like to do to make your business more sustainable and what you can afford to do, don’t throw your hands up just yet. Figure out how you can make the best lemonade possible with the ingredients you have on hand. It’s also useful to remember that sustainability is about conserving and caring for resources – including your financial resources – to ensure long-term viability.
One solution: Choose green measures that also save you money
Boost your lemonade budget with measures that are green and cut costs. Think about choosing a few reduction-themed, money-saving S-R initiatives like reducing your energy and resource use (lowering your utility bills), and reducing or eliminating purchases (eliminating or cutting back on disposable cutlery and plates, bottled water, printer paper, etc.). Then, redirect the saved money into your green fund.
Toby Barazzuol of Eclipse Awards points out: “If you’re going to make being sustainable possible and accessible, you have to be creative… [Becoming socially responsible] doesn’t have to be costly.”
In a culture that seems to equate spending money and having the latest, best, or biggest model of an item with being successful, choosing initiatives that are low or no-cost might feel like an insignificant contribution compared to implementing the bigger ticket initiatives included in this book. In fact, there are plenty of low-cost or no-cost strategies you can implement that do contribute significantly to reducing your energy and resource use and carbon footprint. Reduce or banish disposables such as paper, paper coffee cups, and water bottles. Consider turning off all of your electronics and appliances before closing shop for the day. Your desktop computer and CRT monitor left on all day, every day uses nearly 1,000 kilowatts a year.  Think about the amount of energy used (wasted) by other office equipment that is either left on twenty-four hours a day or doesn’t have the energy saving features activated. Remembering to switch off lights and unplug (or switch off from a power strip) equipment at the end of the day will not only save energy, but will also save you money. In my corner of the world, saving 1,000 kilowatt-hours by remembering to turn off computers and other office equipment translates into cutting $55 from the utility bill.  A savings of that amount could help to grow your green fund in no time.
Saul Brown of Saul Good Gift Co. points out that certain socially responsible business practices can also result in greater operational efficiency, saving you money in the long run. “Being conscious of materials and waste–eliminating waste–allowed us to be more efficient and reduce costs,” he says. At Saul Good Gift Co., the team standardized policies around using recycled and reclaimed paper that simplified processes. They now use reclaimed paper shreds from a local printer as filler for their gift baskets, which also reduced costs.
Be discriminating about what green initiatives you launch because some may be deceptively costly. Replacing big ticket items can be costly. Keep in mind that replacing an old item with a newer version means that you not only have to figure out how to dispose of the old appliance or fixture, you also have to take into consideration the resources and embodied energy used to manufacture the new item, as well as the energy and resources needed to recycle or dispose of the old item. So while it’s true that replacing old, energy or water greedy appliances and fixtures will reduce your ecological footprint, it’s just as true that reducing your use of scarce resources in the first place will also shrink your footprint–and conserve your budget. Think about it: Is it really sustainable to replace an old, functioning toilet with a new, low-flush toilet if you can reduce the amount of water used per flush simply by placing a brick or plastic container filled with sand in the cistern?
Likewise, depending on the type of business you’re running, do you really need an office at all? Several of the entrepreneurs I interviewed for this book made a conscious decision to keep their footprint and overhead costs low. True to the name of her business (LittleFootprint Lighting), Nancy Wahl-Scheurich keeps the company’s carbon footprint small by maintaining a virtual office: No energy is being used to run a separate office, and since everyone telecommutes, no one uses fuel or generates carbon emissions commuting to work. James and his partners at Greenstack Ltd. also made the choice to keep their operations as lean as possible. For James, a lean approach means they aren’t “under pressure to make profit just to cover overheads…” James points out that this gives [them] “the freedom to use sustainable materials and ethical manufacturers as far as possible.”
Stay flexible and lean. Remember Linh Truong’s comment that small, local suppliers are often more flexible in working with their clients? Well, the logic applies to you, too. Eileen Webb of webmeadow praises staying small. “Small or microbusinesses [should] embrace the smallness…[they] can be more flexible,” she says.