Why green your business? For many companies, the initial motivation is financial. Energy and other consumables are commodities. And like most commodities, if you use less, you pay less. Save energy, and you save money. Reduce the amount of paper you waste, and you pay less for paper. Plus, as the costs of these resources continue to fluctuate, your reduced usage can lessen the impact on your cash flow.
Beyond bottom line savings, being green can help your company in other ways. A growing number of consumers look to buy from companies that comply with eco-friendly practices. Promoting your commitment to sustainability can help your company differentiate itself in the crowded marketplace. Employee morale can be improved as staffers rally around the idea of doing the right thing for the environment.
“Sustainability” really refers to the idea that a company uses only as much of a resource as it can generate in return. The term is most commonly used to refer to environmental sustainability — how a company manages its use of environmental resources such as energy, water, waste management, emissions and the like. In other words, the company holds itself accountable for the resources it uses.
How your business actually implements its sustainability program will depend on a number of issues. Certainly the industry you are in will have an impact — a manufacturer may want to look at everything from the way its assembly line uses energy to how it handles certain chemicals in the manufacturing process to the environmental practices of its subcontractors. A smaller, services-oriented company may have fewer concerns. How your company currently handles environmental issues is another matter.
Companies don’t “go green” overnight, so if you’re just starting out on sustainability, you may need to create a list of actions you are willing to take as your company moves toward a green future.
What steps can you take to create a sustainable business? Start by defining the goals of your business and then determine where and what sustainable practices fit best. Some key areas to target include:
It is no secret that energy costs have been rising considerably, and the impact on businesses can be significant, from higher electric bills to more expensive raw materials to increasing stress on cash flow. For the typical business, energy efficiency is often a matter of taking steps in three key areas — lighting, heating/cooling and your building itself. In terms of lighting, replacing traditional incandescent lighting with energy-efficient alternatives such as compact fluorescent bulbs or LEDs is a good first step. Another basic is to institute and enforce workplace policies requiring employees to turn off lights and other electronics when not in use. In many areas, HVAC (heating, ventilation and air conditioning) systems may be the biggest part of a business’ energy bill. The keys here are to turn it off when it is not needed, run it less by using more efficient temperature settings and make it more efficient. Finally, the physical aspects of your building or office can have an impact. A poorly insulated roof, for example, can cause your HVAC system to work overtime.
There are many resources available to businesses looking to reduce energy consumption. Start by contacting your electric utility and ask for an energy audit — utilities may offer this for free. The evaluation will generally look at both your energy usage and your current systems and offer specific incentives for reducing consumption. Finally, there also may be tax incentives available to help you further reduce energy use. For example, clean energy programs may offer tax rebates for putting in place solar panels used to provide heat and hot water
Take a close look at what your company consumes and look for ways to reduce, reuse and recycle materials. Consider the concept of the “paperless office.” Start your efforts by reducing the number of printouts your company makes. Next, look for ways to reuse paper by printing on both sides, turning old sheets into scratch pads or shredding paper to use as packing material. Encourage all waste paper to be recycled, and when possible, use recycled paper products.
Look at other areas of waste. Encourage employees to use washable and recyclable dishes and coffee mugs in lieu of paper or plastic goods. Refill ink and toner cartridges instead of relegating them to a landfill. Instead of throwing out old phones or equipment, create a pass-down strategy within your organization or donate them to charities or schools — there may even be a tax write-off.
Computers, networks, printers and copiers can be major energy users. Look for solutions that comply with Energy Star, the government’s program for energy efficient design. For more computing- intense companies, technologies such as virtualization (where one server does the job of several) can help reduce power and cooling requirements. Proper disposal and recycling of computers and other equipment should also be a top priority as are policies that require employees to turn off computers, printers, faxes and other office equipment when they leave for the day.
Transportation and logistics
Transportation can have an impact both in terms of emissions of pollutants and the cost of fuel. If you need a company car or small truck, consider a hybrid — there may be tax incentives for purchasing or leasing these kinds of alternative motor vehicles.
Look for ways to help employees commute more efficiently — set up carpools, promote public transportation options or encourage low impact options such as cycling.
Reduce your carbon footprint by taking advantage of technologies that encourage remote collaboration. Web-based meetings and conference calls can take the place of air travel. High-speed Internet connections can enable employees to telecommute instead of having to physically drive to the office every day.