AUGUST 9, 2021

10 easy ways to make your business more sustainable

10 easy ways to make your business more sustainable

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1. Use what you already have.

We know you’re excited and eager to start making positive changes, but don’t let that enthusiasm lead to unnecessary waste. 

One common mistake that people make when trying to improve their sustainability is to throw out or otherwise waste the less environmentally friendly products they already have. 

For example, people may throw out plastic single-use pens without using them, throw out plastic-packaged foods, or bag up all their H&M clothes and head out to buy new ones. 

While well intentioned, that eagerness to start doing better can sometimes lead to wasteful behaviors. And remember: waste is one of the natural enemies of sustainability and leading a more eco-conscious lifestyle!

So, first and foremost, use up what you already have before making any low-waste or eco-conscious swaps.

2. Properly recycle old pens, markers, and other writing utensils.

Whether you own a restaurant or a law firm, chances are you have plastic pens, markers, and similar writing utensils in the drawers of your store or office. 

Unfortunately, most of these items were intended to be single-use and are not refillable, nor are they typically recyclable by mainstream government-run recycling programs. This means that most of these single-use items end up in the garbage.

The good news, however, is that Terracycle has partnered with Staples to provide Canadians with a free, convenient means of keeping these old writing utensils out of our landfills. 

How does it work? Basically, all you need to do is save up your old plastic pens, markers, mechanical pencils, and highlighters, then drop them off at a participating Staples store near you. If you go to the Terracycle page here, you can enter your postal code to find the nearest participating store near you. (Just be sure to double-check with your local store whether there are any pauses to their program in the face of COVID-19.)

And, circling back to Tip #1, just be sure to use up the pens, pencils, and highlighters you already have before dropping them off to be recycled!

3. Choose more sustainable highlighters, markers, and pens.

Once you’ve used up all your single-use plastic writing implements and dropped them off to be properly recycled, another easy step you can take towards running a more sustainable business is to choose a better product next time. 

Instead of buying more single-use, plastic products, try to find more sustainable, eco-friendly, responsibly made products.

For example, look for products made from paper, bamboo, or recycled materials, that come packaged in recycled (and recyclable!) materials, or that are refillable or have very long lifespans. 

Here are some specific products you might want to consider:

Chances are, there are local stationery shops, pen shops, gift shops, and low waste stores in your area that carry similar items, so be sure to check there first (to support other local businesses). 

But even big players (like Staples and the U of T Bookstore) carry more sustainable choices. Just be sure to read the labels on the “eco-friendly” products you come across, as not all products labelled as “green” are better choices!

4. Switch to a more sustainable bathroom tissue.

All that paper (and the plastic it comes in!) adds up. 

Next time you need to run out to pick up some bathroom tissue for your small business’ brick-and-mortar store or office, consider choosing one of these more sustainable alternatives: 

  • Tissue made from bamboo
  • Tissue made from recycled fibers
  • Tissue wrapped in recycled paper (instead of plastic)

You may also want to consider stocking up on toilet paper in bulk, which is both better for the environment and for your wallet. 

Personally, we get our bathroom tissue from Bare Market, who also deliver, but big box stores like Staples also carry plastic-free tissue made from recycled fibers, such as this one.

5. Try using low-waste hand soaps and dish soaps in your office or store.

Instead of using liquid hand soaps and hand soap refills that come in plastic bottles or bags, you can consider some of the following lower-waste swaps: 

  • Switch to packaging-free bar soaps, which can be found at local low waste stores, boutique beauty and home stores, and even grocery stores like Bulk Barn
  • Switch to packaging-free dish soaps, like this solid dish soap from Bare Market;
  • Stores like Saponetti allow you to order hand soaps, dish soaps, and other cleaners and household items in bulk. Better yet, they allow you to collect your refills in glass jars, reducing plastic waste. They also deliver! 
  • Bare Market also offers refills for liquid dish soap, which you can collect in your own glass jars.

If you prefer liquid detergents, you can save your current plastic dispensers and refill them with liquid soaps purchased in bulk from stores like Saponetti or Bare Market. 

And, of course, there are other, similar refill spots throughout the city, so feel free to check with your local low-waste or eco-conscious shop to see what they have in stock!

6. Find ways to reduce paper waste.

Regardless of whether you operate a service-based office or a product-based storefront or restaurant, chances are there are steps you can take to reduce your paper waste. 

For example: 

  • Ask customers if they want a copy of their receipt before printing one. 
  • Wherever permitted by law, ask customers whether they would prefer a digital copy of their documents be sent to them (instead of assuming they would like a printed copy).  
  • Only print documents and forms where absolutely necessary.
  • When you must print, print double-sided. 
  • When you must print, use recycled paper (and bonus if you buy a brand that doesn’t come in plastic wrapping!). 
  • Wherever permitted by law, switch to digital filing instead of printing hard copies (this will also save you some money on storage fees!). 
  • Instead of using a pad of paper, take notes on your computer, smart phone, or tablet. 
  • Use virtual “sticky notes” instead of actual sticky notes.

If you think it would be possible to implement multiple ways of reducing paper waste, you may still find that it’s easier for you and your staff (and your customers) to adapt by making one change at a time. 

Alternatively, if you feel comfortable, go ahead and make multiple changes at once, and, where possible, try to give your customers and staff some notice about the upcoming changes.  This will give you time to address any questions or concerns and prepare everyone for a more sustainable workplace. 

7. Cut back on takeout coffee trips, walk to the cafe, and use reusable mugs.

Going on “coffee runs” has been an office and workplace tradition for some pretty legit reasons: 

  1. It gets you out of the office. 
  2. It marks progress or key turning points in the day (which is good for our sanity). 
  3. It can be a form of exercise (if you’re walking to the cafe). 
  4. It’s delicious.
  5. It gives you that little caffeine boost. 
  6. It supports local cafes (or Tim’s or Starbucks) 

However, if you’re grabbing one or two disposable coffee cups in a day, that can really add up.

So, next time you and your coworkers have a hankering for that afternoon coffee, consider some of these tips: 

  • Take a walk around the block to get out of the office and break up the day. Seriously — it’s okay to step away from your desk or the cash register just because you need to or want to, and this is something we should be working towards normalizing. 
  • If you can, bring a coffee maker (whatever style you prefer) to the office and make your coffee in-house, in reusable mugs. To keep supporting your local cafe, you can buy their coffee beans, loose leaf tea blends, etc. And, if you love Keurig-style coffee makers, try using reusable K-cups instead of the single-use, disposable kind. 
  • Go to the cafe as usual, but bring a tray of reusable travel mugs (instead of using the single-use kind).
  • Walk to the cafe instead of driving. 
  • Support a local cafe that sources their beans as responsibly as possible.

Regardless of which of these tips you choose to implement, every change is a step in the right direction. 

8. Stop purchasing bottled water.

We know — having bottled water on hand is super convenient both for you and your customers. 

However, there are likely ways for you to reduce or eliminate your reliance on plastic, single-use bottles of water.

For example: 

  • If you’re a service business that needs to entertain clients at the office or if you regularly have in-office meetings, you can pre-fill reusable bottles with filtered water and keep them in the fridge. 
  • For office meetings, consider using a pitcher of water and glasses in place of bottled water.
  • To make things even more refreshing, you could make batches of infused water and keep them in the office or store fridge. 
  • Keep a few extra reusable water bottles in your office or store so that staff will never be without, reducing the temptation to purchase bottled water.

And, if having bottled water on hand is absolutely necessary for your business, you can consider switching to a glass-bottled brand (instead of using the plastic kind).

9. Cut back on food waste in your office or store.

Even if you don’t run a restaurant or grocery store, all that lunchtime and snacktime food waste adds up. 

Here are some tips for cutting back on your small business’ food waste: 

  • Buy only what you need and encourage staff to do the same. 
  • Don’t “surprise” people with food you’re not sure they like or need. 
  • Ask staff to contribute to your office shopping list to ensure you’re only buying what will actually be eaten. 
  • If you’re in the mood to eat out, try not to pressure your team members to come out for lunch too, especially if you know they brought their lunch.
  • If you sell food products, try to keep track of your inventory and sales, and consider reducing your orders for items that are expiring before being sold. 
  • Make sure food waste ends up in the green bin (aka the organics bin). 

Again, every little change makes a difference, so don’t feel pressured to tackle too many items at once.

10. Keep yourself and your team educated and up-to-date.

As the saying goes, “knowledge is power”! The more you and your team know about what’s going on with our planet and what you can do to help, the better equipped you are to make positive changes. 

Here are some tips for how you can keep yourself and your team informed: 

  • Subscribe to environmentally-focused newsletters. Here’s a list of suggestions. 
  • Follow eco-conscious blogs. Here’s a list of some great starting points. 
  • Follow key environmentally conscious Instagram accounts. Here are some recommendations from Flashfood, and another, more recent list of suggestions can be found here.
  • Pay attention to environmental concerns reported in the news. 
  • Create a monthly bulletin or newsletter to share with your team.
  • Use your own company newsletter or marketing emails to let your customers know what you’re doing to improve sustainability and conduct business more responsibly. 
  • Ask your local BIA or neighborhood association about what they’re doing to address environmental concerns in your area. From there, you can ask questions, offer to get involved, or make suggestions for what other steps can be taken towards improving sustainability in your community.

And, of course, don’t be afraid to ask questions or start a conversation! Whether it’s with an Instagram account you follow, your team, or a member of your local BIA, most people will welcome the opportunity to chat about environmental concerns and work with you to help you find the best ways to improve the sustainability of your business. 


At the end of the day, everyone has to start somewhere and all those baby steps in the right direction add up. 

So, don’t feel pressured to make a bunch of changes all at once — you can always start by picking one thing from a time off this list. 

And, no matter what, don’t let any setbacks or hiccups freak you out! Changing habits and deeply-entrenched ways of thinking both take time. So, there’s no need to feel ashamed if you find yourself struggling to make these changes or find old behaviours popping up again. 

Just forgive yourself and keep at it. 

Also, don’t be afraid to ask questions, voice your frustrations, or share your setbacks — whether with us or with other members of your eco-conscious community. You’re not alone in this journey, and we celebrate your desire to do better. 

For more small business guides and resources, you can check out our blog here

Or, for a free, no obligation consultation for our sustainable proofreading and editing services, you can get in touch with us here.

Jessica Blackwell

Jessica Blackwell

Jess is the founder of Lumida Ltd., a passionate environmentalist living a low-waste life, and a lifelong writer. When she isn't helping our clients make their writing shine, Jess can be found working on her writing projects, experimenting in the kitchen, or taking nature walks.

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