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How to create a sustainable business at a low cost

Learn some cost-effective ways to grow a sustainable business that benefits the environment as well as your start-up and customers.

Being more sustainable makes good sense for the environment and local communities –and it’s a good business decision, too. Customers are interested in buying from environmentally friendly companies. A 2017 survey by Unilever found that a third of consumers choose to buy from brands they believe are doing social or environmental good, and 21% said they would actively select a brand if it made its sustainability credentials clearer on packaging and marketing.

Making a real effort to reduce your impact on the environment and taking steps to support your local area can give you a commercial advantage over your competitors by attracting customers and clients who value these activities. It can also save you money, which helps your business to grow.

The UK has a target to be net zero, which means putting no more carbon into the atmosphere than we take out of it by 2050. Businesses of all sizes have a part to play in ensuring that the aim is met.

Being more sustainable as a business can seem expensive, but there are many things you can do on a limited budget, including operational and customer-facing activities through to funding and business support.

Want to learn more about what it takes to be a sustainable business?

Discover the aspects involved in starting and operating a ‘green’ business with our free Organisations, environmental management and innovation course. As part of our Learn with Start Up Loans partnership with the Open University, our online course is free to join, delivered by experts and includes a free statement of participation on completion.

Sustainable business operations


Sourcing locally

Switching to sourcing products from local suppliers can bring many benefits to your business, the local community and the environment.

It reduces shipping and storage costs which also cuts down on emissions and energy usage.

It can give you more control over your supply chain as working with a local company gives you more opportunities to meet face-to-face and develop a stronger relationship. This could also reduce costs, as a better relationship means you can negotiate a lower price.

Working with local suppliers means you are helping to keep money in the local community, which in turn supports local businesses and jobs. Sourcing locally can offer a commercial advantage too. Some customers consider sustainability before deciding which company to do business with, so include your support for local suppliers in your marketing.

Travel and transport

Consider the amount of travelling you do for business and see if you can cut down on trips using technology such as video conferencing solutions.

If you must travel, use public transport as much as possible. Flying might seem like the fastest option for domestic trips such as London to Edinburgh, but once you factor in travel to and from the airport, checking in and going through security, taking a train could actually be quicker.

If you rent a car, consider an electric vehicle or at least a small car that consumes less fuel.

Schedule meetings together to reduce your travel. If you book a meeting in a particular area, look for someone else you could meet on the same trip.

When booking a hotel, research the company’s environmental and sustainability policies.

If you have staff, encourage them to walk to work or use bicycles. You could introduce a salary sacrifice Cycle to Work scheme, which may be tax efficient for the employer and the employee.

Energy usage

A 2017 report found that businesses contributed 17% of annual greenhouse emissions in the UK, so if you have a business property, take steps to insulate it. This will reduce your energy usage, cut emissions and save you money.

Switching from conventional to energy-efficient LED light bulbs can reduce costs as they last longer, and using a smart meter gives you more control of your energy usage.

For increased efficiencies, ensure heating thermostats are set correctly and turn systems off when buildings are unoccupied.

Consider installing solar panels. They have high upfront costs, but you’ll save money on electricity bills. You might be able to access grants to pay for some of the costs of installing the panels. Ofgem has a guide to energy grant schemes.

Sustainable businesses and customers


Packaging and other materials

If you’re sending items to customers, look for biodegradable and recycled packaging options and consider using cardboard instead of plastic.

Just using eco-friendly solutions isn’t the end of the story, though. Your ultimate aim should be to cut down on packaging altogether.

Don’t overpack with unnecessary protective material and consider custom-sized boxes or reusing old packaging. If more than one product is used, group them rather than sending them separately.

If you’re running a hospitality business that delivers food or drink, give customers the option to select whether or not they require disposable cutlery, and if you do send it, look for companies providing biodegradable cutlery.

Make it clear to customers that you are using recycled or biodegradable packaging and other materials, as it will reflect positively on your business and encourage customer loyalty.


If you use a shipping company, consider their sustainability credentials. There is an increasing number of businesses that offer delivery services using electric vehicles and bicycles.


Talk about your environmentally friendly efforts on your website, in your social media posts and your email newsletters. Ask customers what else they think you should be doing and communicate your response.

Sustainable business initiatives


Offset your carbon footprint

Look to offset your carbon footprint by funding an equivalent emission-reducing or absorbing activity elsewhere. Actions you can take include paying an organisation to plant trees or delivering eco-friendly cooking stoves to people in developing countries.

Reducing waste

You should embed recycling and the cutting down of waste into the culture of your business. If you have business premises, provide plenty of recycling bins and instructions for what can be recycled. Discourage the printing of documents and use technology solutions like electronic document signing services.

Become a B Corp

B Corp Certification measures a company’s entire social and environmental performance and indicates to the public the businesses that meet the highest standards.

Sustainable business funding and support


UK Business Climate Hub

Through the Government’s UK Business Climate Hub, businesses can find practical tools, resources and advice to understand their emissions and develop a plan to tackle them.

Small Business Planet

Run by Small Business Britain, Small Business Planet is a series of events, content and expert advice on how businesses can address their impact on emissions.

Zero Waste Week

Established in 2008, Zero Waste Week helps householders, businesses, organisations, schools, universities and community groups waste less with a range of products and services.

Wales Recycles

Supported and funded by the Welsh Government, Wales Recycles is the national recycling campaign for Wales.

Zero Waste Scotland

A not-for-profit environmental organisation funded by the Scottish Government and European Regional Development Fund, Zero Waste Scotland, encourages Scotland to use products and resources responsibly.

Grants and loans

Various grants and loans are available to help businesses become more environmentally friendly or develop technology and innovation that benefits the environment.

Businesses in England should contact their local growth hub, and the devolved administrations have online funding databases for businesses in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

Other organisations providing funding opportunities include:

Learn with Start Up Loans and help get your business off the ground

Thinking of starting a business? Check out our free online courses in partnership with the Open University on being an entrepreneur. Our free Learn with Start Up Loans courses include:

Plus free courses on finance and accounting, marketing, project management, management and leadership.

Disclaimer: While we make reasonable efforts to keep the information on this page up to date, we do not guarantee or warrant (implied or otherwise) that it is current, accurate or complete. The information is intended for general information purposes only and does not take into account your personal situation, nor does it constitute legal, financial, tax or other professional advice. You should always consider whether the information is applicable to your particular circumstances and, where appropriate, seek professional or specialist advice or support.

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