01 August 2018

Six ways to cut costs and become a more sustainable business

Small businesses are always looking to save money, but the benefits don’t have to end there. Cutting costs can lessen your environmental impact and make you a more sustainable business, which can be a powerful marketing message. So, what can your small business do to become leaner, meaner and greener?

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1. Use less energy…

Switching energy supplier could immediately reduce your costs and sites such as uSwitch and Money Super Market enable supplier price comparisons. Energy is a significant overhead. On average, a UK small business spends £2,566 a year on electricity (source: SmarterBusiness).

According to independent experts the Carbon Trust, most businesses could use much less energy. Moreover: “Even low and no-cost actions can usually reduce energy costs by at least 10% and produce quick returns. Going further, a 20% cut in energy costs represents the same bottom line benefit as a 5% increase in sales in many businesses”. The Carbon Trust offer energy-saving tips for small businesses.

Action point: Download the Carbon Trust’s Better business guide to energy saving.

2. Consume less water…

According to regulator Ofwat, about 1.2m non-household customers in England can now choose their water supplier, with 130,000 business customers in Scotland able to do the same. Utility broker and consultancy Utilitywise reckons that, on average, UK businesses can save 10% on their water bills simply by switching supplier or re-negotiating a better deal with their current supplier.

Using less water is better for the environment, too, of course. Utilitywise also offers water-saving tips for businesses. Independent NGO Waterwise, which promotes greater water efficiency and conservation, recommends educating your staff about the business and environmental benefits of using less water, while advising how to achieve greater water efficiency in your business.

Action point: Download Utilitywise’s Little Book of Big Water Saving Tips (registration required).

3. Wage war on waste…

Thankfully, waste from commercial and industrial activity in the UK is falling. Whereas some 41.9m tonnes of waste were generated in 2014, the figure for 2016 is about 32.2m tonnes (source: ONS).

To make your small business less wasteful, first carry out a comprehensive audit. Try to identify areas where waste is evident. Are you buying materials or stock you don’t need? Could you get more from less? Can you use less packaging or less paper? Would staff training help to reduce waste? Maybe your staff or customers have ideas on how you could reduce waste and save money. Ask them. Incentivise them. Devise a plan to monitor waste control in your business.

Action point: Read the Wrap (the “circular economy and resource efficiency experts”) guide to waste management in office environments.

4. Re-use and recycle more…

You may be able to reduce costs by buying things your business can re-use rather than discard. Alternatively, you may be able to sell your waste or turn it into a saleable product. Even if you can’t earn money from it, making sure your waste is recycled rather than sent to landfill will enhance your sustainability credentials.

Make sure enough recycling bins are strategically placed around your premises. Encourage your staff and customers to recycle. When it comes to equipment, furniture and other things, try to repair and re-use rather than replace.

Action point: Visit Wrap’s Recycle Now website for guidance on recycling everything from food waste to staff uniforms.

5. Travel less…

Meetings with customers or suppliers can be expensive. As well as the actual meeting, there’s travel time to pay for – and the actual cost of travel, whether that’s by public transport, car or flight. Five years ago, travel costs and time spent on the road and in meetings was estimated to cost UK businesses £15,979 per head a year, on average.

Although face-to-face meetings are essential at times, it’s much cheaper to use video conferencing technology (eg Skype, Google Hangouts, etc). And, enabled by technology, allowing your staff to work from home can reduce their costs and your overheads. Less travel is better for the environment, of course. If applicable, bring the same thinking to your deliveries. Could you drive fewer miles, save more money and reduce your carbon footprint?

Action point: Read Business West blog – Virtual Meeting Etiquette - 5 Dos and Don’ts.

6. Focus on your suppliers…

It’s wise to stick with reliable suppliers that provide great service and value for money. However, you must always weigh up your options, because buying from more local suppliers could not only save you money thanks to lower delivery costs, but it also can be much better for the environment, as less mileage means fewer emissions and less environmental impact. You could also find out whether you could buy products or materials that are not only cheaper, but more sustainable – ones without excessive packaging, especially single-use plastic.

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