As business owners, we always want to make a difference in the world -- but we definitely don't want to alienate our loyal customer base. According to a recent study, 87 percent of customers choose to purchase from a company that advocates for issues they care about, whereas 75 percent will actively avoid companies that support issues contrary to their beliefs.
For some companies, this means that they can't risk taking a stand on any issues at all. However, for those who want to take a stab at being socially conscious, the best way to navigate this potential minefield is by making some small tweaks to their business practices.
Here are a few things you can do to make a big difference in your company without being controversial:
1. Start with your packaging.
If you sell physical products, check out your packing supplies. Packaging is the root of an enormous amount of waste in our society, and it's also one of the biggest consumer complaints for companies.
Determine how much of what you use is recyclable. If you currently use non-recyclable plastics, try to find recyclables for your packing. Recyclable plastics include soda, water, and plastic bottles. Look for new ways to recycle your packing such as an online recycling service. A lot of recycled materials are made into new packing for other companies.
One solution that currently is in use by over 1500 brands, like Calvin Klein and Lego, is How2Recycle, a special label which helps consumers understand what parts of the packaging can be recycled and where.
2. Calculate your carbon footprint.
Your carbon footprint is the calculation of how much carbon dioxide your company emits into the atmosphere. The lower you can get this number, the more environmentally-friendly your company is. If you are able to operate your building on solar power, for example, you will have a lower carbon footprint.
You can also consider offsetting your company emissions through an organization such as the Nature Conservancy.
Patagonia has set the gold standard for showing how a company can calculate their carbon footprint in every aspect of their business, and giving examples on the things they do to offset.
3. Use better ingredients.
Determine which materials you are using in your company that are toxic and harmful to the environment.
Some of the most common materials are petroleum-based, such as paints, pesticides, or adhesives. If you are planning to cut back on the amount of paint or pesticides you use, you will need to replace these materials with alternatives that are non-toxic.
And, most importantly, make sure that your process -- from start to finish -- is non-toxic, or you might as well not bother with the expense.
4. Go green.
The next step is to set up a green policy for your company. As your company grows and you need more room for employees, you will have to look for more energy efficient ways to keep your energy costs down.
Some ideas to consider are installing solar panels and photovoltaic devices. In many places, businesses can get tax incentives for these devices that will lower the cost even further and make them more affordable.
5. Change your message.
You can't manage what you don't measure. When you've completed all of these tactics, you will have a better idea of how much of a difference you are making in the world.
Only then will you be able to convey this in your marketing message in a way that feels genuine.
It is a difficult balance to strike, but it will result in a better and more authentic message that resonates with customers.
You may lose a few of your loyal customers. If you are selling any animal-based products, for instance, you could lose some of your business when you no longer sell leather or fur.
However, you are also likely to both attract and retain new customers if your company seems forward-thinking. Also, as bottom-line profits increase, you will have a better chance of attracting investors.
And making a difference in the world is a great place to start.