Small Business Survey Results
Q4 2018 Small Business Energy Report
Understanding more about business owners and how they use energy
The consumption of energy and resources is an important part of almost any business model, and how business owners approach energy use can vary widely.
A business owner’s choices around energy use and sustainability initiatives also have marketing implications, as today’s customers often seek out businesses that align with their values.
With our energy use survey, we set out to determine the range of attitudes about energy and sustainability held by small business owners, as well as their perceptions of what their employees and customers value in an employer or business.
Small Business Owners’ Attitudes About Their Business Energy
Depending on what services or products a business provides, its energy needs may be a more significant percentage of the operating budget. Small business owners also start their own business for a variety of reasons, and all of these factors can influence how the owner approaches energy use and the methods they choose to implement to promote sustainability.
We asked a few questions to find out what motivates small business owners when starting a business, adding sustainability measures and deciding on an energy provider.
1. Which of the following best describes your current attitude toward your business?
The business owners surveyed are a practical and pragmatic group. Nearly half of the respondents look to their business to help them make a decent living or as much money as possible.
But a significant percentage also valued their community and the social impact of their business.
The data suggests there are two distinct groups that we call Pragmatists and Sustainability Enthusiasts. Pragmatists are highly practical and focus on financial efficiency, while Sustainability Enthusiasts may be willing to relinquish some profits to implement sustainability measures they value.
2. Running an environmentally sustainable business is important to me.
According to the results, small business owners care about running a sustainable business.
Of the small business owners surveyed, over three quarters -- 78% -- say that running a sustainable business is important to them.
While only about 3% of business owners survey said that sustainability was not important to them, about 19% of small business owners said that they haven't really thought about how sustainability can impact their business.
3. What are your top reasons for choosing an energy provider?
Respondents were asked to pick their top three reasons for choosing an energy provider.
“Best price” was chosen by 52% of respondents as one of the choices. Clearly, small business owners care about price. But almost half did not choose price at all. Some have no choice of energy provider or are not aware that they do, making price less relevant.
The second most popular choice was a supplier that “shares ways for me to save money on energy,” with over 34% choosing this. Value is clearly important to small businesses that are looking to their energy providers for audits, tips and other saving strategies.
The availability of “green energy options” was among the top responses from respondents who said that running a sustainable business was important to them.
Small Business Owners’ Use of Sustainability-Promoting Technology
Advances in smart technology have made it easier to automate processes that promote sustainability and improve the over efficiency of most small business. Energy choice can also allow small business owners to pick the type of energy that best fits there sustainability goals.
We asked our respondents what type of energy they use in the operation of their business as well as what smart technology they have started to use.
1. What type of energy does your business use?
About 85% of surveyed business owners use electric or natural gas as their primary energy source.
Eleven percent of business owners reported using renewable energy sources such as wind and solar, which is on par with national consumption estimates for 2017.
Other reported sources of energy include everything from wood to propane and oil.
2. Which of the following "smart" devices do you use in your business?
Nearly 28% of survey respondents said that they were not using smart connected devices in business.
Business owners for whom running a sustainable business is important are more likely to use smart devices especially smart lighting and thermostats. But overall, only 12% of small businesses that responded to the survey are using smart thermostats.
Business owners with multiple physical locations for whom sustainability is not a primary focus are more likely to use smart security systems and RFID barcoding systems to minimize theft and inventory loss.
3. Which of the following do you use in your business?
Small businesses are heavy users of computers and printers with 83% and 72% respectively. This holds true across all industries and user types, including home-based and multi-location businesses.
Many businesses also use standard appliances such as refrigerators, coffee makers and microwaves, and multiple-location businesses tended to have heavier energy demands from commercial HVAC systems.
Energy-efficiency: an opportunity for Pragmatists & Sustainability Enthusiasts
Take a look at all of your standard office equipment and determine what machines or devices use the most energy. Investing in energy start-ups can help you monitor your energy usage and identify ways to save.
4. Which of the following environmentally friendly practices have you implemented in your business?
We asked small business owners which energy-saving strategies they use and which they are most excited about. Recycle bins came out on top, closely followed by energy-saving light bulbs and turning off equipment when not in use.
It’s encouraging to see that many business owners are noticing the take advantages of being environmentally friendly, but there is still untapped potential. For example, 43% do not use recycling bins and 45% have not switched to energy-saving light bulbs.
Few selected advanced money-saving strategies offered by energy suppliers such as energy audits or using renewable energy.
Perception of Customer & Employee Attitudes Toward Sustainability
Just as the attitudes of small business owners can vary concerning energy usage and sustainability, so can the attitudes of employees and customers. We wanted to know how important environmental sustainability was to employees and customers, as perceived by the owners of small businesses.
In a competitive environment, having a business that adequately addresses sustainability issues could close the deal when it comes to a potential customer or well-qualified job candidate.
1. My customers care about whether my business is environmentally sustainable.
Sixty-two percent of owners say their customers care about the small business’s sustainability practices. Interestingly, that’s lower than the 78% of owners who care about sustainability themselves.
Nearly one fourth of survey respondents -- or 24% -- say they aren’t sure how their customers feel about the environmental sustainability of their business.
2. I have employees who are environmentally conscious.
A majority, or 70% of respondents, say their employees are environmentally conscious. This is important because employees tend to be attracted to employers with shared values, creating a stronger employer-employee bond.
Yet nearly a quarter -- 23% -- of small business owners surveyed say they simply are not sure about employees’ attitudes toward sustainability.
Environmental sustainability is good for business.
This year’s survey shows that promoting environmental sustainability is becoming increasingly important. Finding and implementing the right practices can be a strategic business decision for both Pragmatists and Sustainability Enthusiasts.
We will be tracking the attitudes of small business owners about energy and environmental sustainability in 2019 as well, so check back to see how, and if, anything has changed.
Learn more about the respondents in the Small Business Energy Report
If you're looking to learn more about the Small Business Energy Repot, visit our respondent data for a breakdown of industries, and read about the types of businesses our survey participants operate.