Small Business, Big Impact: Navigating Sustainability as a Small to Medium-Sized Business

During PEP’s June Lunch and Learn, our speaker, Joy F. Stephens, Senior Project Professional at SCS Engineers, discussed how sustainable business practices can be challenging, particularly for small to medium-sized enterprises (SMEs). She presented relevant case studies showing sustainable business practices’ benefits and possible missed opportunities. Finally, she reviewed practical ways to collect baseline data to meet customer needs and expectations.

This article summarizes Ms. Stephen’s key messages and tips, but you can watch the full video here:

What is Sustainability?

Sustainability in business refers to the ability to maintain and support processes over time. For SMEs, this means implementing practices that benefit the environment and ensure long-term business growth.

SMEs Are Key to a Better World

Ms. Stephens emphasized the pivotal role SMEs play in creating a sustainable future. While larger corporations often dominate the headlines, it’s the collective effort of smaller businesses that can drive significant change.

Regulatory Drivers

Sustainability isn’t just about being environmentally conscious; it’s also about adhering to regulatory requirements. Businesses, especially larger ones, are increasingly required to report on their supply chains and emissions. This is a complex task, but understanding the basics can make it manageable.

  • Scope I: Covers all direct GHG emissions from sources owned or controlled
    • Company facilities
  • Scope II: Indirect emissions from sources owned or controlled
    • Generation of electricity
    • Heat or steam purchased from a utility provider
  • Scope III: Indirect emissions from sources not owned or directly controlled
    • Employee business travel
    • Employee commuting
    • Product transport
    • Waste

Understanding these scopes helps businesses identify where they can reduce their carbon footprint.

Waste Minimization

Reducing waste is a straightforward yet impactful way to enhance sustainability:

  • Talk to Suppliers: Encourage them to take back and recycle packaging.
  • Replace Plastics with Paper: Opt for paper over plastic whenever possible.
  • Recycle Labels: Use standardized recycling labels to streamline the process.
  • Avoid Single-Use Products: Invest in reusable dishes, water bottles, and coffee makers.
  • Support Recycling Programs: Organizations like Mobile County Recycling Center operated by Goodwill Gulf Coast accept recyclables, helping to divert waste from landfills.

Waste Audit

62% of all waste thrown out could be recirculated/reused. Perform a waste audit to see where your business can recirculate waste.

  • Gather waste
  • Estimate total volume
  • Note number of days
  • Note types of waste present
  • Estimate composition by volume
  • Convert to weight, if desired

Water and Energy Use Reduction

Conserving resources is crucial for sustainability. Implement water and energy-saving techniques in daily operations.

  • Water Use:
    • Fix leaks and dripping taps
    • High-efficiency dishwasher
    • Low-flow toilets (or dual flush kit)
    • Low-flow faucets
    • Spray taps
    • Faucet aerators
    • Water audit
    • Office signs to conserve water
    • Ideas from team
    • Document water consumption before and after
    • Share and celebrate.
  • Energy Use:
    • Energy audit
    • Energy-efficient office equipment, dim monitors
    • Program thermostats
    • Turn off lights when not in use; take advantage of natural light
    • Energy-efficient light bulbs
    • Power down and unplug
    • Upgrade HVAC (SEER)
    • Get the team involved
    • Document and celebrate
  • Lighting: Convert from incandescent bulbs to Energy Star-rated LEDs for lightning energy reduction. 
  • Thermostats: Programmable thermostats can optimize heating and cooling.
  • Natural Light: Utilize natural light to reduce reliance on artificial lighting.
  • Vampire Loads: Use power strips to turn off electronics that aren’t in use.

How Companies Can Get Recognition

Implementing sustainable practices benefits the environment and enhances a company’s reputation. Businesses prioritizing sustainability can gain recognition and improve their standing with customers, stakeholders, and the community.

PEP Environmental Stewardship Awards

PEP member companies can self-nominate their company, a project partner or co-nominate with another partner on a multi-faceted project. NEW IN 2024: The new Small Business Environmental Stewardship Award will recognize companies with 75 or fewer local employees. The PEP Board of Directors seeks applicants for the 2024 PEP Environmental Stewardship Member Awards.


Sustainability is no longer optional—it’s a critical component of a successful business strategy. By following these practical steps, SMEs can lead the charge toward a more sustainable future, proving that even small changes can make a big difference.

If you would like to reach out to Joy Stephens at SCS Engineers, contact her at Ms. Stephens provided supplemental resources you can download at this link:

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