We all hear about the benefits that businesses derive from going green – cost savings, increased customer loyalty, great PR – and it seems that it’s the big brands that have embraced the opportunity most emphatically. But in fact, much of the ecological impact that our economy has on the planet occurs at a local level. Not only do global corporations impact the environment at a local level, but the millions of small businesses in the U.S. have a huge collective impact. And so it shouldn’t be surprising that much of the business opportunity can be found at a local level.
More than the global brands, a large percentage of small businesses interact with their clientele (their neighbors) at a local level. These are restaurants, gas stations, electricians, cleaners, and grocers. These are the businesses who consumers interact with the most, and at which they spend the most money. So it’s only a matter of time until consumers begin to understand the ecological footprint of the businesses they patronize and consequently make decisions about where to purchase based on that information.
Whether viewed from an environmental or purely capitalist angle, it’s time for every small/local business to get involved. Once a local business decides to engage in this megatrend, they will realize that there are tons of tools to help them enjoy the benefits of going green like city or county-sponsored green certification programs. But there is more to be done at a local level. The business’s responsibilities do not end at their front door step. Rather, as an institution in the community, it’s the local business’s responsibility to be a leader and help the whole community to find a greener path.
If you’re ready to take a leadership position, start by looking for grassroots organizations in the towns where you do business, such as Cool Cities of which there are currently over 1100 in the U.S. As an example, EcoUnit is located in Los Altos which has the GreenTown Los Altos citizens group. Originally started to motivate our City Council to adopt the Cool Cities program, the organization has taken on a much larger role – essentially to guide the city and community onto a sustainable path. With members coming from business, city government, as well as many concerned citizens, the group is showing how a community can come together to make a real difference. Indeed, many of the group’s members are employed by local businesses, and they have taken on this leadership role because they feel it is their duty as members of the community.
If the call to duty is not enough, local businesses should know that community-level sustainability work is both invigorating and enlightening. There is much to be learned, and many great people to meet and work with. Speaking on behalf of EcoUnit and the work we’re doing with many others in Los Altos, it’s heartening to see the progress we can make with effort and teamwork.
But beyond all of the benefits, small business needs to recognize its role in the community and decide to play a leadership role. Our planet, and our communities, need you.