How to become a more sustainable small business: q&a

Blogs and Articles

Reducing e-waste, energy consumption, and other negative environmental impacts could be a differentiator for your small business in the years to come. Here's why sustainability matters and how you can become a more responsible company.

August 14, 20237 mins
Iron Mountain logo with blue mountains

Has your small business converted from paper to digital in some or all areas of operations?

Have you started recycling the paper you shred?

Do you remarket or recycle unused office electronics?

If so, you are taking steps to address the environmental impacts of your company. 

As a small business leader, you know how important it is to take care of the communities where you operate. You also know that small businesses can have a big impact, and you want yours to be positive. 

Sustainability can be a differentiator for businesses of any size. As our way of working changes, so too do our sustainability challenges. We understand the challenges small businesses face in managing information. 

Here are some things to think about when it comes to information management and environmental responsibility.

Q: I know sustainability is important. Where do I start?

Begin by evaluating your business's current practices and identifying areas where you can improve sustainability. Organizations often use a process known as a materiality assessment to help establish the most material sustainability issues for their organization and to prioritize their actions. These issues could include energy consumption, waste management, water usage, worker safety, supply chain responsibility, and transportation. 

Once you identify the biggest impact areas for your business, gather data and set goals to improve performance. Consider creating an annual sustainability report to share your journey and results with stakeholders.

Q: What immediate impact could my small business have on the environment?

E-waste is a growing, industry-wide issue, and small businesses are taking a more serious approach to sustainable electronic management as a result. Whether it's tablets, laptops, cell phones, or servers, IT devices keep information flowing and help with efficiency. But what happens once they have reached their end of life? 

While some businesses may not give their IT assets much thought after they're gone, devices that are tossed out with the trash have turned into a significant environmental problem. By 2030, e-waste is predicted to reach 74 million metric tonnes per year, a 16.6 million metric ton jump from 2021. If a company computer or phone has reached the end of its life, chances are some of the electrical components or batteries can avoid the landfill and be recycled. Companies also have the option of remarketing, or reselling, these assets to recover some of their total cost of ownership.

Remarketing and recycling electronics can:

  • Decrease the amount of e-waste in landfills

  • Conserve natural resources by extracting fewer raw materials

  • Recapture value from retired electronics

  • Reduce greenhouse gas emissions

Of course, data safety and cost-effectiveness will be key during the recycling or remarketing process. That's why finding a trusted partner to handle the disposition of your IT assets is key.

Q: Should I go digital or stick with paper?

Consider the specific needs of your business. For instance, if you primarily communicate with customers electronically, it might make sense to minimize paper usage and responsibly shred what you no longer need. If your customers prefer physical documents, find a balance that meets their preferences while minimizing waste. Many businesses opt for a hybrid approach, using digital methods when possible but also incorporating paper for certain tasks or audiences.

Scanning and digital storage solutions reduce space and make remote collaboration more possible so people can access documents from home rather than commute to an office. That said, digital technologies, including servers and data centers, consume energy. This energy use may increase as digital data and services expand. So consider partners who run their data centers on renewable energy.

Q: Will it cost more to be an environmentally responsible company?

Transitioning to environmentally responsible practices as a small business can involve initial costs, but it's important to view these investments as opportunities for long-term savings, improved efficiency, and enhanced reputation. A 2023 Bain & Company and EcoVidis study shows that sustainable businesses working to improve their environmental and social impact tend to be more profitable and attract higher talent.

While some sustainability initiatives might have upfront expenses, many sustainable practices can actually lead to savings over time. Consider partnering with other businesses and suppliers to share resources and reduce costs.

Q: What should I look for in partners and vendors?

Choose suppliers and vendors who prioritize sustainability. Open a dialogue with your suppliers on sustainability issues from emissions to human rights to resource use. Make sure they understand your priorities and will work with you to achieve your goals.

For true sustainability, your supply chain matters. Look for partners who comply with all environmental and data privacy laws and regulations and who have publicly shared commitments like achieving net-zero emissions and using renewable energy.

Welcome to Basecamp

Implementing an information lifecycle management approach to your business is an opportunity to become more conscious of your environmental impact and implement sustainable practices. Iron Mountain's Small Business Basecamp is here to help you begin your journey to becoming a more environmentally responsible business.

Elevate the power of your work

Get a FREE consultation today!

Get Started