going green sign

You’ll hear a lot about the advantages of going green and most of us will agree that it’s a good thing, but small business owners could argue that it can hard to be both economically viable and environmentally friendly. 

We’ve written before about why businesses have to respond to climate change and how gyms can reduce their carbon footprint and we’re big believers in companies becoming more eco-friendly, but we also wanted to look at the other side of the coin: what are the disadvantages of going green for businesses?

What does going green for businesses mean?

Going green means different things to different businesses.  For some, it’s building a product or service around a specific environmental concern. 

For example, Energym’s electricity-generating exercise bike was born after its CEO saw first hand the devastation caused by coral bleaching on the Great Barrier Reef. Reducing greenhouse gas emissions in the fitness industry was one way of engaging an environmental mission with a passion for exercise.

For other businesses, going green could be to attract a new audience or customer base.  Green marketing is a powerful way of targeting a more socially conscious demographic.  Green PR can help to create a strong identity, company ethos and a more engaging mission statement.

Companies might also go green to cut the carbon footprint of their business by reducing emissions alongside potential savings on production, packing and distribution costs; it could be switching to recyclable packaging, choosing a different vendor or supplier or shifting from paper to cloud-based record-keeping to reduce ink toner usage and waste, etc.

It could also be installing sustainable gym equipment or replacing industrial supplies with eco-friendly products.  With the UK Government’s net-zero carbon target set for 2050, more businesses will likely be going green in the coming decades.  There may even be incentives and penalties to encourage companies and industries to achieve this.

Some businesses also offset their impact on society and the environment by promoting community work, making financial donations or committing resources to offset their environmental impact both in their communities and beyond them. This is known as environmental corporate social responsibility, which you’ll often find tied into a business’s mission statement.  

What are the disadvantages of going green for businesses?

There are a lot of advantages to going green for businesses but there are disadvantages, too. Smaller businesses may feel these more than companies which have bigger budgets, greater access to expertise, and the financial freedom to implement long-term green strategies.

So, what are the disadvantages of going green for business?

It can be difficult to know where to start going green.  It can feel overwhelming and confusing, and business owners may ask themselves: where do we start?

And at what point is a business able to call itself green?  When it’s halved its carbon footprint or eliminated it?  When it has installed electricity generating gym equipment? Is it enough to design packaging that’s recyclable or should it be biodegradable?

As PBS points out, sustainability is a rather vague term.  Falling short of someone else’s idea of what is or isn’t green could undermine your brand and even alienate customers. 

Big businesses can hire consultants or businesses to take the guesswork away but smaller companies might find it difficult to connect with going green when they’re unable to find something tangible and measurable to focus on.

Any competitors within your industry may have a short-term advantage because they aren’t constrained by eco-friendly policies.  This is unlikely to be a disadvantage forever (and may prove to be a big issue for them further down the line), but in the short-term, it could give them a competitive edge either in production or pricing.  Your business may be at risk of being outperformed by its rivals.

Introducing new systems and thinking up new ways to go green can be time-intensive and tough to manage alongside day-to-day duties.  it may also mean making tough decisions and then conveying the reasoning behind it to CEOs, investors or employees who may not feel as strongly or be as motivated as you.  In the short-term, it’s far easier to maintain a status quo.

One of the main disadvantages of going green for businesses is the initial expense.  You may have to wait longer for a return on any investment.  This is especially hard right now as the economy is navigating the COVID-19 pandemic.  if you’re focused on getting through the next three to six months, it will be tough justifying spending money on something that could take five or ten years to fully benefit from. 

In business, we all need to be looking at the bigger picture: the five-year, ten-year, twenty-five-year plan but it’s easier (and often it feels far safer) to use short-termism as an excuse but this could harm your ROI further down the line.  Climate change is a long-term issue and businesses will be better poised to adapt by working towards going green now rather than later.

You may find it’s more expensive to manufacture or distribute your product.  You may need to increase the cost of your service. 

Businesses will need to measure how sustainable they are.  This will mean tracking your progress to justify your green ethos.  Your business may not have the ability to do this so, to make the most of your eco-friendly credentials, you’ll need a metric to convey how well you’re doing or how hard you’re trying.  Customers are too savvy to take your word for it.

Be careful that you don’t end up greenwashing your business.  this is when a company overplays how environmentally friendly it is.  It isn’t always done deliberately, but an overly enthusiastic PR campaign could spell trouble for any business found exaggerating how green it is.

There are disadvantages of going green for businesses but these are not insurmountable hurdles.  The advantages of starting or converting to a sustainable business far outweigh the potential pitfalls and many issues can be solved with planning and troubleshooting.