Small Businesses' Sustainability Efforts Hampered by Costs

Nearly one-third work with green vendors, one-quarter purchase Energy Star appliances and 20 percent run a paper-free office, but find larger initiatives too expensive, according to Manta's survey.

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Although more than half (53 percent) of small-business owners do not view climate change as a serious threat, the majority still embrace eco-friendly practices, according to a Manta survey of 1,174 small-business owners.

The survey found 93 percent of owners believe sustainability is important to their business. Nearly two-thirds (64 percent) of owners say they try to reuse or donate items and 58 percent recycle.

However, high cost was cited as the top barrier to being more sustainable (39 percent), closely followed by the 38 percent who said it's hard to measure. Thirteen percent said sustainability is not a business priority.

"While smaller sustainability practices like recycling are fairly cost-efficient and simple, implementing larger eco-friendly measures like smart meters, energy-efficient equipment or solar panels are still expensive and complex," John Swanciger, CEO of Manta, told eWEEK. "However, business owners should weigh the larger up-front costs with the long-term potential savings. By carefully measuring potential savings and researching available tax breaks, owners may find that some of these bigger initiatives may be more affordable than originally thought."

He explained that while Manta doesn't have any specific data on whether small businesses are offering recycling and waste management partnerships to their customers, if those companies prioritize sustainability practices, small-business owners could look for vendors that are embracing eco-friendly practices.

"If it's not clear through Websites or FAQs, small-business owners can ask vendors about their sustainability programs and for any data they have around their initiatives," he noted.

Nearly one-third (32 percent) work with green vendors, while 25 percent purchase Energy Star appliances and 20 percent run a paper-free office, the survey results showed.

The top initiatives that would encourage small businesses to be more sustainable are affordability (31 percent), government incentives or tax breaks (30 percent), more sustainable material and vendor options (26 percent) and greater public demand (13 percent), according to the survey results.

"There are many straightforward and affordable practices that small-business owners can adopt to be more eco-conscious," Swanciger said. "Our survey found that 64 percent already try to reuse or donate items, and 58 percent recycle. Other simple but effective practices include selecting green vendors and going paperless. By adopting just a few eco-friendly practices, small-business owners can collectively make a substantial impact on the environment."

One program aimed at doing that is Staples Business Advantage technology recycling service, where businesses can recycle old electronics with the help of Electronic Recyclers International.

The company also offers battery and lamp recycling programs and zero-waste box solutions by Terracycle, while Staples stores offer free in-store technology and rechargeable battery recycling for businesses and consumers.