Sustainable afterthoughts


Minnesota 2020 is proud to launch this year’s Made in Minnesota holiday shopping report, which focuses on sustainability.

Researching the report, we’ve met a series of innovative business owners who incorporate sustainable strategies into their practices. Restaurant owners are changing their menus to adapt to what’s available locally and printing presses are using vegetable and soy-based inks.

Remarkably, some of the business owners MN 2020 spoke to have reported better profitability as a result of making conscious sustainable decisions.

However, in light of an economic downturn, social responsibility and ecological consciousness seem to take second priority after profit maximization.  Sometimes, though, the two are mutually interdependent.

While sustainability has evolved into a catch phrase that many business owners might interpret to mean “higher operational costs,” there are many eco-decisions that are glaringly obvious cost-savers that they should become an established norm.

Economists call it eco-efficiency, when a firm’s strategies are both environmentally friendly and cost effective. Consider packaging: when a business minimizes the materials used to package its product (or uses recycled materials) there’s no doubt that it will save money. Trying to ship more products at once will lower fossil fuel costs. Even the decision to flip off the light switches at your business will save energy and lower bills. These may seem like obvious smart choices to make, but for some reason, not every business is being deliberate about these decisions.

Industrial giants are usually the targets of environmental policy decisions. They, after all, capture the headlines when there is a large spill or environmental incident. Yet, small businesses often bypass sustainability regulation when in fact, as a whole, they are the largest contributors to waste and environmental degradation.

Small businesses are a fundamental component of Minnesota’s economy; imposing regulations or offering tax incentives for more glaringly obvious environmental harms may motivate business owners to make some of the subtler sustainable choices. State legislature is the perfect place to wed environment and economy. Most importantly, there ought to be an economic incentive attached to every policy decision, because firms are going to try and make a profit in the long run. Simple regulations may prevent businesses from overstepping their environmental limits today, but within the context of the market, smart policy can be the fundamental contributor to a healthy bottom line long term.

We’re impressed by the conscious effort many local, small business owners are making to be sustainable. But to truly get this bandwagon rolling, a legislative push may be the primary motivating factor. Sustainability should be the blueprint for all small business owners, rather than an after thought for a few.