What are the Benefits of Waste Minimization in Business?

Eco-Efficiency for Small Businesses: Maximizing Profits Through Waste Minimization

By Amanda Winstead

Being a small business owner can sometimes feel like a balancing act. You have to serve a range of needs and priorities; some that are important for your business success and others that are vital for the community or the environment.

This can be pretty challenging to achieve at times. As a result, it’s important to identify practices that enable you to meet various imperatives simultaneously.

Eco-efficiency is a good example of this.

By minimizing waste throughout your operation, there are opportunities to maximize your profit margin and your positive environmental impact.

Let’s explore some of the tactics and approaches you can take to make your small business a more efficient place.

How to Practice Waste Minimization in your Business

Responsible Planning

Planning is an essential part of solid business management. It also happens to be a key component in running a sustainable organization.

When companies take an irresponsible approach to how they plan their use of resources negative outcomes tend to follow. Excess raw material use due to bad planning doesn’t just raise the cost of production, it also puts pressure on the environment. Poor energy planning raises overheads and creates extra emissions. You’ll find that a good strategy is a powerful tool.

For instance, in the food services sector, there are commercial and ethical imperatives to reduce ingredient wastage. This both boosts profits and reduces the potential for scarcity to affect local communities. It’s important to make careful plans for ordering, storing, and using items. These should be based on an understanding of expected demand and the lifespans of foodstuffs.

Enact effective inventory rotation measures that see older ingredients being used first. Ensure that all staff are aware of these protocols and utilize them.

spoon recycling bin for 3d printing
A container for recycling used plastic spoons into material for 3D printing
Credit: victorgrigas – Own work

A similar principle can apply to inventory in retail or ecommerce spaces. In these industries, there are a range of inventory management practices you can adopt.

One of those most conducive to waste minimization is the just-in-time (JIT) principle. This practice involves waiting as close to the point of needing new stock before ordering it, and then only doing so in numbers that reflect current — rather than expected — demand.

There are certain risks involved with this, as it can make a business more susceptible to difficulties caused by unexpected shortages. However, with constant reviews of demand, your business can mitigate the potential for wasteful overstocking while also meeting customers’ needs.

Track and Assess Waste

Another important component of eco-efficiency in small businesses is tracking and assessing areas of waste.

With a small enterprise, you may not have easy sight of the large and obvious sources of wastage that larger corporations may have. This means that you need to be more intentional in how you look for and establish points for improvement before they become problematic.

Work with staff from all areas of your business to look at the current state of operations. They will have insights into process inefficiencies that may not be immediately visible from the standpoint of leadership. After all, they’re interacting with the fine details of the business daily.

Additionally, take the time to get data on the use of resources from production to sales. Pinpoint where time, energy, product, or material wastage can be reduced.

One of the areas many businesses are finding unnecessary waste is excessive packaging. This tends to be negative for both the environment and operational costs.

Take some tips from larger brands that have reviewed their usage and made mindful adjustments. For instance, Asos has reduced the thickness of its shipping bags from 20 microns to 10 microns, resulting in an annual plastic reduction of 583 tonnes.

Importantly, keep a running note of areas of excess waste and make them a point of continued scrutiny. Ensure that tracking wastage is not just a responsibility of management but also of ground-level employees.

Aim for mutual accountability in which oversights aren’t necessarily punished but rather everyone collaborates on finding solutions. Indeed, spotting and addressing wastage can be part of your company’s rewards program.

Equipment Maintenance

It’s worth remembering that waste doesn’t just come from the excessive use of raw materials or unnecessary inventory. Waste can also be caused by issues with business equipment which can easily be avoided with equipment maintenance.

Old and outdated equipment may no longer be functioning at a premium capacity, so updates can help to mitigate productivity lapses. Similarly, malfunctioning equipment can produce both operational inefficiencies and lead to costly errors.

You can also find that your technology lasts longer when it’s well-maintained. This prevents capital waste that comes from the need to repeatedly purchase replacements. From an environmental standpoint, the longer your equipment lasts and the better it functions tends to put less pressure on resources.

So, how can you approach maintenance in ways that affect profits and the environment positively?

  • Establish a preventative maintenance routine. The last thing you want to do is only care for equipment when there is already a problem occurring. Arrange a regular schedule of pre-emptive repairs and upgrades. Wherever possible, collaborate with experts in establishing the areas of focus for each tool. Discuss your goals for the efficiency of the equipment and identify strategies that tend to extend lifespan. This preventative maintenance also enables you to spot potential issues early on.
  • Utilizing smart analytics tools and telematics. One of the benefits of the current digital landscape is that there are accessible smart tools available that allow you to collect data on the condition and performance of your equipment in real time. This may take the form of on-board telematics for vehicles, artificial intelligence (AI) driven systems monitoring software for computer networks, or sensors in the Internet of Things (IoT) that track the condition of production tools. This data, coupled with analytics software, may highlight immediate and less visible problems, while also giving you insights into how performance and waste are developing over time.
  • Maintain energy efficiency. One of the keys to minimizing electronic waste (e-waste) is to ensure you invest in energy-efficient equipment. However, part of your maintenance routine should also include ensuring the settings of your equipment maximize the efficiency potential. This can involve ascertaining that screens and lights are not at full brightness unless necessary or activating power-saving settings on computers.
Pile of e-Waste / Electronic waste: A few older and defective computers, CRT monitors and a television. What are the Benefits of Waste Minimization in Business?
Defective and obsolete electronic equipment
Credit: AvWijk – Own work

Remember that maintenance routines of any kind tend to be most effective when they’re performed by people with relevant expertise. If necessary, work with external contractors who have experience in optimizing workplace tools for both efficiency and sustainability.

That said, it’s well worth investing in training your staff to perform these tasks. You’ll not only have in-house experts at your disposal, but they can also mentor future generations of workers in keeping your tools effective and environmentally friendly.

Stock Repurposing

Stock is one of the common areas of wastage for small businesses.

It’s not difficult to see how this problem can arise. When there’s significant demand for certain products, it makes the most business sense to build more than enough inventory to meet the expected demand.

The issues occur when the expectation and reality don’t quite meet in the middle. Yes, you should make efforts to avoid overstocking in the first place, but there are also steps you can take when obsolete inventory is unavoidable.

A good approach is to repurpose and recycle your excess stock. Certainly, in the interests of a healthy bottom line, your efforts here will ensure the stock is sold as well as mitigate negative environmental impact. Some positive ways to navigate this include:

  • Developing consignment relationships with other retailers. While this may not garner the full retail profit, it does mean your items are both sustainably used and your business retains a percentage of the proceeds.
  • Recycling components. Particularly if you manufacture your own products, it might be practical to reuse components of overstocked items when making new products. This may include fabrics, electrical parts, or small hardware.
  • Waste reuse. There are a growing number of businesses utilizing unwanted or expired materials as a core part of their business models. For instance, swimwear brand Auria reuses old fishing nets to create fabric for their garments. You may be able to find reuse protocols that serve your own production processes, or partner with other businesses to provide your waste for their raw materials.

Additionally, there can be some value to be found by donating old stock and equipment. This boosts sustainability from both an environmental and social standpoint.

It can also be particularly powerful from a marketing standpoint when your efforts are focused on local initiatives. There’s also the potential to recoup some of the base costs — if not the full retail value — in the form of tax deductions, depending on the organization.

Conclusion

Solid planning, regular equipment maintenance, and responsible stock repurposing can be effective ways to both boost profits and prioritize sustainability.

It’s vital to remember, though, that ethical — and profitable — waste management doesn’t come from just adopting a few tactics. It can be easy for superficial approaches to fall by the wayside after some time. Rather, it’s best to find ways to integrate sustainable practices into the heart of your business operations.

Make certain that waste mitigation becomes a key part of your workflow and communicate its importance to your staff. This helps to ensure that all the actions of your organization proceed from an environmentally and entrepreneurially positive place.


About the Author

Amanda Winstead is a writer focusing on many topics including technology and digital marketing. Along with writing she enjoys traveling, reading, working out, and going to concerts. If you want to follow her writing journey, or even just say hi you can find her on Twitter.

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