As any expert can tell you, the decision to "go green” is not just a question of politics, what your values are, or what science you believe. Sustainable business is smart business. It’s forward-looking, responsible, and will save you money in the short and long-term. With government policies aligning to support green intiatives and offset new infrastructure costs, there’s no excuse to wait for the next regulation. Take advice from these OPEN Forum contributors and revamp your strategy today.
Lower your expenses
Not so ironically, this is a green command. If you’re accustomed to thinking like an accountant, use your money-saving savvy to think about energy consumption. “Lighting accounts for about 30 percent of commercial utility costs, so implementing energy-saving fixtures, bulbs, and other cost-saving measures (such as turning off lights and equipment when not in use) can pay off,” says Barbara Weltman.
Start by tracking and quantifying your environmental impact, and then focus on how you can use your current resources more productively. Patricia Laya advises that business owners should “measure their office's water, waste and energy use, and then try to come up with a budget that will significantly reduce them. Energystar.gov offers user a free, online portfolio where you can track your business' energy and water consumption, as well as estimate its carbon footprint.” You may also want to apply for an energy audit. This detailed information will help you understand and plan your next steps.
Start small, right now
Structural change takes time, commitment and often capital. Shira Levine suggests that you start with small, realistic goals that can kick start your green campaign and yield tangible results. “Start with a few attainable transitions like turning off equipment when it’s not being used and communicating by e-mail to avoid printing and faxing paper,” she says. You can also reduce your company’s paper use by “introducing Web tools like Microsoft Sharepoint, Google Docs and cloud servers for collaborating on projects; and electronic data storage and scanning systems,” suggests Nell Merlino.
Alana Horowitz offers other simple solutions such as making clear recycling bins and policies, donating old products, replacing disposable kitchenware with good old-fashioned dishes and sealing your windows to prevent heat loss. If you must use packaging, try switching to recycled materials. She also encourages entrepreneurs to challenge the old mores. So what if the default is set to single-sided printing? It’s important to embrace the momentum of change, and launch in.
Small adjustments are not enough
While simple reductions are a good place to start, “reducing waste is not enough,” claims Tom Harnish. Ultimately, if you want to meaningfully shrink your footprint, you need to take a top-down approach. Where are you causing the most environmental damage? “Consider things such as electricity consumption, materials sourcing, shipping methods and any factor that involves producing carbon emissions,” advises Karen Michelle-Mirko.
Once you’ve identified your biggest liabilities, you can plan for long-term changes. For example, does your business rely on the transportation of goods? Consider upgrading your equipment to one of these eco-friendly transportation alternatives. While a significant shift in your operations may require an initial investment, you’ll save on gas and oil prices in the long run, qualify for tax deductions, preempt legal restrictions and improve your public image. Are you planning a development project? Set new standards and build for long-term sustainability with green construction materials and amenities.
Whatever your business is, establish an environmental-friendly ethos in your office, and allow these values to define your operations. Draw inspiration from these five profitable companies that have built their businesses on principles of resource-sharing, reuse, and repair.
Take a hand from the government
“To make it easier to switch to more energy efficient systems, there are several federal tax break incentives as well as state and local initiatives that small business owners can take advantage of,” Judith Aquino points out. New policies are frequently being passed that support or reward greener business models. “In the state of Nevada, for instance, businesses constructing new buildings that earn at least a Silver certification under the LEED Green Building Rating System are eligible for anywhere from a 25 percent to a 35 percent reduction of property taxes payable each year for up to ten years,” writes Thursday Bram.
Improving your infrastructure to make your operations more sustainable can also qualify you for a tax credit. “By adding energy efficient appliances or improving the building's structure, there are a number of different deductions and credits available. More information can be found on the IRS website.”
Tax incentives differ state by state, but just visit the Database of State Incentives for Renewables & Efficiency for a list of opportunities in your area. Support can also be found in the private sector. As Mike Periu highlights, Bank of America is offering $50 million dollars in low-cost, long-term loans to finance the retrofitting older commercial and residential buildings to improve energy efficiency. Take advantage while you can.
Finally, remember to take advantage of the local resources available to you. “If you can find a similar supplier that's miles closer to the office, you won't only be helping the local economy, but you will also reduce the ecologic impact of that trip on the environment,” says Patricia Laya. “Also, when possible, choose teleconferences over business travel, and offer benefits to carpoolers.”