Business owners across the country are starting to realize that going green doesn’t have to mean slipping into the red. Besides capital-intensive green initiatives like harnessing wind or solar power and retrofitting offices with more energy-efficient appliances, there are more measured approaches businesses can take that will still make an impact. Here are six ways to create a more eco-friendly business without sacrificing your bottom-line.
1. Start a carpool program
If your employees have long commute times and you can’t find the room in your budget to subsidize public transit options, consider organizing a carpool program and reserving a few prime parking spaces for those who participate. It’s an easy and budget-friendly way to build teams and take a few cars off the road.
2. Lighten up on lighting
With the cost of fossil fuels on the rise, small changes now can make an even bigger difference later. Switching from traditional incandescent bulbs to energy-efficient T5 fluorescents can reduce energy consumption by 50 percent. For businesses that lease space in a larger building, talk with management about installing a motion-controlled lighting system that automatically cuts the lights after-hours.
3. Recycle waste or find alternate uses for by-products
All businesses produce waste, but some types of waste have more potential value than others. Take a creative look at how your company’s waste or manufacturing by-products might be repurposed. One company I know of gives all of its printing paper boxes to a local food bank for storage and transport of donated groceries. A micro-brewery in Portland, Oregon, lets local farmers pick up its spent barley, malt and hops to be used for soil amendment and livestock feed. This approach builds relationships with the local community, is eco-friendly and reduces waste removal costs.
4. Go (almost) paperless
Many times, we use paper out of habit. From invoices to deposit notices, many businesses still cling to the notion that leaving a papertrail is somehow more permanent than leaving an electronic one. Boost your green efforts and reduce your paper and printing costs by going paperless for more common types of communication. When you can’t avoid printing, print or copy on both sides of a sheet, and minimize the default font and margin sizes.
5. Dispose of disposables
How many of us have worked in an office where the break room was a veritable sea of plastic utensils, Styrofoam cups and paper plates? According to the Clean Air Council, the average office worker uses 500 disposable cups every year. Even more shocking, Americans toss out enough paper and plastic cups, forks and spoons each year to circle the earth 300 times. Rethink your use of disposables and reinvent the business kitchen and coffee station. Opt for reusable mugs, silverware and plates, and rotate employees or teams to enforce a responsible “clean kitchen” policy for everyone.
6. Unbottle your water
Bottled water is a ubiquitous part of our business landscape. It’s convenient, considered relatively inexpensive—and terrible for the environment. According to the National Resources Defense Council, despite our best intentions, only about 13 percent of plastic water bottles are recycled. With Americans purchasing 29 billion bottles of water every year, that’s a lot of waste that ends up in landfills. For the next conference, workshop or meeting you host, consider investing in a few reusable pitchers and serve filtered or tap water the old-fashioned way.
For businesses that want to want to minimize their carbon footprint without maximizing their budgets, going green does require a bit more effort and planning. But with some creative problem-solving, modest changes to routine and networking with other local businesses and charities, companies large and small can rethink “business as usual” and begin to remake our world. For information on environmental stewardship and more tips on how your company can go green, visit the Environmental Protection Agency’s EPA for Business and Non-Profits.
Learn more in OPEN Forum's Going Green 2012 series.
Kentin Waits is a freelance writer and marketing specialist based in Portland, Oregon. His work has been featured in US Airways magazine and top-rated blogs such as Wise Bread, the Consumerist and MSN SmartMoney. When he's not writing, Kentin runs a small online antiques business.
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