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The best sustainability ideas for businesses

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There are plenty of reasons for ensuring that your new or existing business is green, and they’re not all humanitarian. This article covers the economic and environmental benefits of using sustainable practices in existing businesses and reveals how to get a new green venture off the ground.

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There are lots of green business ideas and lots of ways to make your business greener.

Why should I start a green business?

The obvious reason for starting a sustainable business is to protect the environment. There’s a growing demand for more environmentally friendly products and services, with the Office of National Statistics reporting that 75% of British adults admit to being worried about the impact of climate change.

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With small and medium businesses responsible for 50% of all UK business emissions according to the British Business Bank, starting a green business isn’t simply about meeting a customer need, but about accepting we all have a part to play in helping the UK reach its Net Zero targets.

What are the benefits of going green for a business? 

The good news is that starting a sustainable business or decarbonising your existing business comes with many potential benefits. They include:

  • The ability to drive down costs: every sustainable step – large or small – delivers savings to your bottom line. You can boost both productivity and efficiency simply by reducing consumption across your entire business

  • Ready access to an audience: according to a study by McKinsey, 70% of consumers are prepared to pay up to 5% more for green or sustainable products. This gives green businesses a significant – and willing – audience to target

  • Boost your workforce: decarbonising your business can help make your workplace both happier and healthier, making it easier to attract – and retain – top talent

  • Attract investment: with the environment front and centre, many potential funders are looking for more sustainable businesses to invest in

  • Easy to market: marketing campaigns are much easier to set up and drive with a positive environment-first message that will resonate with many

  • Comply with regulations: you can avoid possible fines, environmental taxes and other penalties while opening up opportunities for qualifying for green subsidies, tax breaks, loans and other financial incentives

How do I start a green business?

The steps for starting a new sustainable business are similar to those for any other business:

  • Identify your idea

  • Research your market and competitors

  • Write a green business plan, including a green mission statement and sustainability plan

  • Register your business

  • Obtain finance

  • Launch

What green business ideas are there?

Reduce, reuse, repair

  • Toner or ink refill service

  • Recycled construction material vendor

  • Second-hand bookstore

  • Bicycle repair and refurbishment

  • Upcycled furniture maker

Eco-friendly products

  • Eco-friendly fashion design

  • E-bike or e-scooter retailer

  • Sustainable toy maker

  • Handmade, all-natural and organic product manufacturer

Local produce

  • Sell your wares via an organic farm shop or farmers' market 

  • Provide an outdoor catering service

  • Set up a local café or restaurant

  • Provide a plant delivery service

  • Launch a microbrewery

Local services

  • Offer eco-friendly landscaping

  • Compost pickup and drop-off 

  • Renewable energy installations

  • Organic spas 

  • Local cooperative

Cleaning services and products

  • Eco-cleaning products and refills

  • Eco-friendly office cleaning

  • Green housekeeping services

  • Air duct cleaning

  • Solar panel cleaning


  • Energy auditing and green consulting

  • Environmental law services

  • Freelance grant writer for environmental organisations

  • Green financial planning

  • Green home refurbishment

Other ideas

  • Mobile app to help people live greener lives

  • Green venture capitalism

  • Eco-travel planning

  • Local green franchise

What can I do to make my existing business greener?

If you already have a business in place, there’s plenty you can do to make it less environmentally damaging. When determining what companies can do for sustainability, start by developing a sustainability plan to guide your transformation. This will involve implementing various green initiatives and specific ways to make your business more sustainable.

Before you implement your plan, measure your business’s current emissions with the help of the SME Climate Hub, which also offers other free tools to help you follow your plans through to a successful conclusion. Also, consult other small business hubs to unlock additional help and support.

How can I make my business more energy efficient and sustainable?

Start with an energy audit to help identify where you’re wasting energy and where savings can be made. Then, investigate how you can reduce your business’s carbon footprint by changing your energy and water consumption. These include:

  • Switching to a renewable energy tariff: a significant first step to decarbonising your business is to switch away from energy tariffs that burn fossil fuels to those powered by renewable sources like solar, wind and other less polluting sources, like biomass and nuclear. This may increase the per-unit cost of your energy, so it pays to shop around for the best deal

  • Reducing energy usage: a logical complementary step to take – particularly if you end up on a higher tariff – is to reduce the amount of energy your business consumes, which has the bonus of cutting your energy bills, which should, at the very least, offset the switch to renewable. Every little step helps, from switching to low-energy lightbulbs and smart power strips to implementing energy-saving office protocols that encourage colleagues to switch off lights and equipment that are not in use

  • Improving your workplace’s insulation: another way to save money is by implementing energy efficiency improvements such as new double-glazed windows and better insulation throughout your buildings

  • Generating your own renewable energy: once you’ve reduced your energy usage, explore the possibilities of further protecting your business against future energy price shocks by installing solar panels, heat pumps and other forms of renewable energy along with battery storage

  • Encouraging telecommuting: if your workforce doesn’t need to be in the office every day, allow them to work from home. Also, encourage employees to find more green transport options for commuting to work

  • Reducing water usage: look for ways to cut water use by following similar eco-friendly techniques as are used in the home: if you run a hotel, for example, invest in low-flow showerheads, smart toilet flushing systems and aerated taps

How can I reduce the amount of waste my business produces?

Another major part of making your business more sustainable is reducing its consumption and – by extension – waste. Consider embracing some or all these green initiatives:

  • Reduce, reuse and recycle in the workplace: examples include switching to paperless systems in your office or minimising food waste in a restaurant or café with the help of digital inventory management tools

  • Encourage recycling: install recycling units in your workplaces to make recycling as easy and accessible as possible

  • Ditch single-use plastic: look for alternatives like reusable drinking containers and cutlery or biodegradable paper straws from FSC-approved sources

  • Focus on green procurement: if your business uses materials – say in construction or manufacturing – then look to emulate the likes of Dell, Adidas, Nike and others in switching to recycled materials produced by companies like Axion

Get financial support

One of the benefits of choosing to go green is that there is plenty of support – including financial incentives – out there. Look for loans and grants when purchasing energy-efficient equipment and investigate potential government support schemes. Remember, the type of support will depend on your business type, its location and the projects you’re working on.

Spread the word

Once you implement more sustainable practices, don’t keep the good news to yourself. Start by gaining official accreditation with schemes like Green Mark, and celebrate your sustainable achievements with your customers through your website and other marketing platforms. Remember to avoid making claims you can’t back up, as you’ll open yourself to accusations of greenwashing.


How much does going green cost?

That depends on the initiatives you implement. Switching to a renewable energy tariff will cost more if you don’t take steps to reduce your energy usage. Still, while other measures may incur an upfront cost, your long-term costs should fall as less energy and resources are consumed. Potential knock-on benefits from becoming more sustainable include the boost it delivers to your business’s reputation and popularity, helping it grow organically.

What is a green business model?

A green business model places greater emphasis on reducing environmental impact rather than simply maximising profits, while ensuring that the business remains viable. For example, it may involve switching from using virgin plastics to a more sustainable alternative.

What is a green initiative?

This is a project or a plan with the main aim of protecting the environment or minimising the amount of harm done to it. Green initiatives can include large-scale projects and small behavioural changes, such as switching to paperless systems.

What is greenwashing? How do I avoid it?

Greenwashing occurs when a business attempts to promote or exaggerate its environmental credentials beyond its efforts to implement more sustainable practices. Greenwashing is easy to see through, so to avoid being accused of such practices, make sure your claims stand up to rigorous testing – provide evidence, and encourage independent audits. Above all, avoid making misleading claims: aim to under-promise and over-deliver.

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About Nick Peers

Nick Peers has been a professional writer for 30 years and has been published extensively both online and in print in the UK, US, Australia and Europe.

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