An Open Letter to Local Businesses about Sustainability

By: Ann Davis-Rowe

We read every day about the dangers of climate change and garbage, about cities not being able to afford recycling programs and the fact that without major changes, our planet is doomed.

Uplifting right?

Here at PEA, we’re out to prove that every bit helps – from taking our lightbulb interactive, energy use display to schools and street fairs to sharing budget-friendly swaps you can use to start working toward a waste-free lifestyle.

And now, businesses, we’re here to talk specifically to you. Using your larger physical footprints and communication platforms to promote sustainable transportation, reduce waste, conserve water and energy, source locally, and prevent pollution can do more than any one of us can individually.

Obviously, major projects like installing solar panels and water-saving toilets are a major investment – but in the long run, the energy and water they save can pay for themselves and then some, sustaining our environment and your business.

Not ready to make that big leap? Not to worry; there are many smaller best environmental practices to consider to start:

  •  Do you have multiple business sites that need constant communication? How much more of this communication be done via phone or email instead of having people drive between locations
  • Encourage employees to take webinars instead of traveling to conferences, when applicable.
  • Instead of having multiple Staples and Amazon orders each week, condense ordering to once a week to reduce transportation fuels and packaging.
  • Do your suppliers offer a discount for bulk deliveries or if you return packaging? Have you ever asked?

  • Switch out breakroom materials to those that are reusable or compostable.

  • Focusing on reducing and reusing – not just recycling – can help your business save on overhead costs. Start with something as easy as making double-sided printing the default on your copiers and requesting staff use scrap paper instead of buying notepads.

It’s most important to note that these kinds of changes need buy in from those at the top. We as staff can only do so much when it comes to bringing in our own reusable water bottles and scribbling notes on the back of last week’s menu. Consider making a Green Team of environmentally-minded staff to help brainstorm ideas about what is most feasible for your company.

When the owners of the new Buie’s Market began creating their neighborhood one-stop-shop, they brought in manager Cassandra Bryant, who has spent her life traveling the globe and making her own home as sustainable as possible. At her encouragement, Buie’s isn’t offering single-use plastic bags, and all the disposable cups they use are compostable. The staff even take home the coffee and espresso grounds for composting.

When it comes to their grocery stock, Cassandra sources locally as much as she can – not just to support local farmers, but also to reduce the market’s carbon footprint, since goods don’t have to travel as far. Those things she can’t source locally are all from reputable national brands – no factory-farmed meat, for instance.

Once you start doing making these changes, don’t keep it to yourself – shout about it! People are eager to support businesses whose values align with their own. Don’t just hand out samples in compostable cups, make sure the sample-ees know those cups are composted. Put a sign up in the public restroom bragging on your unbleached paper towels made from recycled materials.

Jenny Lawrence, aka Dancing Lemur Photography, has incorporated her own personal habits into her business, making it a point to do as much business as she can digitally: PDF contracts, wedding pose checklists via Google docs, and online invoices and payment options.

Of course, while it’s true that every bit helps, we’re not just talking about buying all your employees branded reusable bottles while not fixing sinks that have been leaking for years. Greenwashing, that is implying that you’re focusing on sustainability just as a marketing ploy, is easily seen through, and customers will notice.

To date, over 750 residents have signed our petition to encourage you to focus on how your business can be more environmentally friendly. They are eager to support you with their dollars – ask us how we can support you as you grow your sustainability efforts.

Ann Davis-Rowe is a librarian by training, a secretary by trade, and semi-professional actress by occasional happenstance. She has also been writing and involved with environmental groups for decades.