Scenic aerial view of a sunrise over a green pasture.
Recent data shows that sustainability is a big part of the mission for many small businesses, including heating panel company Ducoterra, a FedEx Small Business Grant recipient. — Getty Images/Toltek

Today’s consumers are calling for businesses to take greater responsibility for reducing their environmental footprint, and many companies are listening. Data shows that 72% of small business owners believe that focusing on sustainability is highly important, and more than three in five businesses have already implemented changes to reduce their carbon output.

One small business that has put sustainability at its core since its inception is Ducoterra. The company, founded by Patrick Beebe-Sweet in 2011, is a leading producer of high-performance, energy-efficient infrared heating panels and boasts a zero-waste manufacturing process.

A recipient in the 2023 FedEx Small Business Grants Program, Ducoterra is committed to sustainable innovation, using the grant to expand its product line and increase access to its sustainable offerings. For businesses that are ready to take steps toward improving their own sustainability, Beebe-Sweet recommended some key strategies that can help.

Strategies for small business sustainability

Taking small steps toward a more sustainable business can greatly impact the environment— and your business’s bottom line. Here are Beebe-Sweet’s recommendations based on what has worked for Ducoterra.

Consider your supply chain and indirect impact

Improving your business’s sustainability starts with sourcing your products and managing your business's indirect environmental impact.

“While being sustainable with our direct processes and materials usage is important, we also [keep] an eye on our indirect impacts, such as inbound freight costs, where our suppliers are located, and where components we purchase are manufactured and assembled,” said Beebe-Sweet, who currently serves as President of Ducoterra.

However, it’s not realistic to expect changes overnight. According to Beebe-Sweet, collaborating with suppliers to reduce waste throughout the production process is a time-consuming effort, as it involves engineering and design adjustments along with the careful selection of potential providers.

“Not every vendor we worked with early on was able to meet our quality standards, provide reliable delivery timelines, or have reasonable pricing,” Beebe-Sweet said. “That upfront, and continuing, effort pays off in the long run as reduced production costs and a better working environment. In addition, we don't have to spend much on disposal and recycling services!”

Prioritize the quality and location of your vendors

Despite an automatic assumption that sustainability is synonymous with increased costs, Beebe-Sweet’s business has found that its eco-friendly processes cost less than traditional manufacturing.

“While some aspects may be slightly more expensive, overall, I have consistently seen our costs reduced when we dial in our manufacturing processes to be less wasteful,” Beebe-Sweet explained.

Ducoterra has fine-tuned its approach by optimizing manufacturing processes to minimize waste — utilizing up to 90% of materials for metalwork and ensuring the rest is recyclable. The business focuses on building a quality product that lasts, reducing the likelihood of early replacement while delivering value to both the business and its customers.

This strategic decision to prioritize high-quality local vendors over cheaper, lower-quality alternatives from abroad has proven advantageous.

“Customers … appreciate the quality and consistency of our products that are the result of working with high-quality local suppliers, rather than … the cheapest overseas option that will inevitably end up costing us more in returns or warranty work, as well as damaging customer goodwill,” Beebe-Sweet said.

While some aspects may be slightly more expensive, overall, I have consistently seen our costs reduced when we dial in our manufacturing processes to be less wasteful.

Patrick Beebe-Sweet, Founder and President, Ducoterra

Choose a shipping vendor committed to sustainability

Given that freight transportation (which includes ground, rail, air, and sea transportation) is responsible for 8% of worldwide greenhouse gas emissions, opting for a provider who is committed to sustainability now can significantly contribute to ongoing reduction efforts and lower your carbon footprint.

When selecting a logistics vendor, research their environmental efforts to learn what steps they’re taking to help build a sustainable future. A vendor like FedEx builds sustainable practices into its operations, from reusable and recyclable packaging solutions to providing emissions information from its FedEx® Sustainability Insights tool.

“FedEx[’s] … understanding and acceptance of our eco-friendly packaging has enabled us to provide customers with shipping materials that are easily recycled and disposed of by the end user,” Beebe-Sweet said. “[The company’s] ability to reliably deliver our products while we reduce our indirect and direct carbon footprint helps our company stay true to our environmental mission.”

How FedEx is helping small businesses be more sustainable

FedEx is committed to a sustainable future, with a goal of carbon neutrality by 2040. This three-step plan includes innovating their operations, conducting research and development, and working collaboratively across stakeholders and customer groups to work towards a more sustainable future.

You can see FedEx’s changes on the road as the company is starting to transition its global pickup and delivery fleet to electric models with zero-tailpipe emissions and investing further in alternative energy sources to reduce emissions for both aircraft and vehicles. Some of its facilities are also getting an overhaul, with the company focusing on investments in energy-efficient buildings, renewable energy sources, and various energy management strategies.

FedEx has also committed $100 million to help establish the Yale Center for Natural Carbon Capture to create a more robust pipeline of science that can one day mitigate and capture carbon at scale.

These initiatives underscore how FedEx's commitment to sustainability benefits small businesses, enabling them to align more closely with eco-conscious practices.

Looking to improve your small business’s sustainability? Explore FedEx’s small business shipping solutions to learn how your business could reduce its carbon footprint.