Running a Sustainable Small Business

Have you made the decision to live more simply and sustainably? And have you left, or are you considering leaving, the Rat Race in order to set up in self-employment, either through choice or redundancy? Perhaps you’d like your business to be a genuine reflection of your interests and values – for your livelihood to be more authentic for you, true to who you really are.

Perhaps you’d also like your work to reflect a calling to contribute more to the world in a way that also brings you joy.

Having made the leap from high tech corporate roles to self-employment over 20 years ago, I am admirably placed to accompany you on this journey. The small businesses I have run include a marketing consultancy, two different education businesses and a coaching practice. I often work with those who are, or aspire to be, change agents of some kind, helping to manifest a more ethical and sustainable future on earth.

From what I’ve learned so far, working in this way ultimately leads to a higher level of enjoyment, fulfilment and meaning, not just for you, but for all those involved.

What is a “Sustainable Business”?

One official definition goes something like this:

“A Sustainable Business is a constituted organisation that takes full account of its triple bottom line – i.e. managing and contributing to social, environmental and economic improvements in its business practices.”

Simply put, a business’s “triple bottom line” can be expressed in terms of the three Ps – People, Planet and Profit. So now, rather than taking the conventional, materialist view and running our business primarily for profit, we are running our business equally for the welfare of society and of the environment.

Expressing your Business Purpose

For most of us there are a host of different ways in which we care capable of earning money, even if some of those ways we believe wouldn’t generate “enough” income for our current needs. When we set up our own businesses, hopefully there are reasons other than money and capability that prompt us to do so. These reasons form our Business Purpose and they stem from our Business Values. They are what’s most important to us in our business lives: the non-negotiable parts. Examples of business purposes might be “providing enjoyable education programmes for adults”, “helping others to improve their health”, “enhancing the lives of children/the elderly/new parents”, “making marketing ethical and easy”.

What I have found so far is that coaching helps many clients to formulate and to voice their Business Purpose. Why is this important? Your Business Purpose will form the basis from which the whole of your business plan stems. By staying mindful of the “big picture” of your Business Purpose, you can then begin to flesh out strategies and techniques to get your business off the ground and to keep it running sustainably, from a personal, environmental and financial point of view.

Starting up on your own can feel lonely at times.  With coaching, you will find it easier to balance home and working life and maintain your motivation, focus and enthusiasm for your business venture. By using me as your sounding board, you will have thinking space each month to brainstorm, gain new perspectives, overcome hurdles and step outside your comfort zone. We will look at your business skill set, where your strengths lie and where to plug any gaps in your knowledge. We can discuss when to delegate and when to take on more, which activities to let go of and where to concentrate your creative energy.

Coaching can help you implement all three elements of the triple bottom line efficiently and effectively:


Think about all of the people who are involved with your business. Even if you don’t directly employ anyone else, who else do your actions affect? Who else does your business depend on? Your answer might well include your suppliers, your clients, your associates and colleagues. A sustainable business treats all of these people in a way that’s in keeping with its business purpose and sustainability, for example, by employing staff who live locally and sourcing from local suppliers. You could reduce your clients’ needs to travel by providing your products and services local to them rather than centralised wherever possible.


You will probably be familiar with the term “Reduce, Re-Use, Re-cycle”. Maybe you are not aware that those instructions are stated in order of priority. That is, it is more important for us to reduce our consumption than it is to re-use items and re-using items is more important than re-cycling our waste. So, uppermost in your mind as a sustainable business owner will be minimising the negative impact on the planet of running your business by reducing consumption of energy, fuel, water and toxic substances.


Just because profit now shares the business bottom line does not make it any less important as a concept. For a business to be sustainable in the sense of growing and surviving long term it will need to generate a profit (unless it was set up as a not-for-profit organisation.) What the triple bottom line does is to remind us to keep profit generation in perspective with the other elements. With our business accounts as with our personal finances, if we keep our costs to a minimum and minimise our consumption, the income we need to generate to cover our costs and pay ourselves is reduced.

To help you in your business planning, I’ve produced a “Sustainable Business Checklist” Do contact me if you’d like a complimentary copy.

Communicating your Sustainability

Once you have incorporated sustainable business practices into your everyday business operations, it is worth considering how you can use that information to communicate your sustainable approach with the outside world.  Coaching can help you put together an ethical marketing plan that will incorporate all the elements of a sustainable business and maximise awareness of your green credentials amongst your client base, thus positioning your venture as an ethical and trustworthy company to do business with.


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