Businesses that join the green movement can reposition and refit to attract new customers, save money - and help the planet.
A combination of rising energy prices, increasingly stringent eco-regulations and greater consumer awareness is encouraging business owners to address their impact on the environment. In a survey by the National Small Business Association, 77 percent of proprietors said that rising energy prices have had a negative effect on profit margins. But it needn’t be this way: tackling energy efficiency can save money and make money too. Because a growing number of conscientious consumers are choosing to use companies that comply with eco-friendly practices, a business that positions itself as green – whether by embracing green policies or offering green products – is a business in touch with the modern marketplace.
Most business owners, though willing to adapt, are only aware of the most basic green practices. Saving energy by reducing light, heat and power used, and saving money by printing fewer documents are all commonplace. But there are plenty of other ways you can reduce your energy and other material costs, such as by reviewing your transportation, warehousing and distribution policies. Could you upgrade your business vehicle to a gasoline-electric hybrid or one that runs on a non-petroleum fuel such as ethanol?
“Greening” your organization doesn’t have to be expensive. There are numerous tax rebates, subsidies and other financial incentives available to improve energy efficiency. You can start by contacting your electricity company and asking for an energy audit – some 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. Clean-energy programs offer tax rebates for installing solar panels used to provide heat and hot water. Visit the DSIRE (Database of State Incentives for Renewables and Efficiency) website to learn more about incentives that apply to your local area. Energy Star, the government’s program for energy efficiency, has a dedicated section for small business owners looking for impartial advice on making their companies more energy-efficient.
Both product- and service-based companies can modify their output to offer more sustainable alternatives for green customers. Many skincare companies are increasingly making a virtue out of the fact that their products are environmentally friendly and made from natural ingredients. Alaffia is a cosmetics brand based in Olympia, Washington, that employs a fair-trade system to manufacture shea butter products in Togo, West Africa. It donates 10 percent of its sales revenue to community enhancement projects in Togo and Washington State. The company’s growing client list suggests that customers will choose the green option if it is presented to them in the right way.
Deciding to offer green products and services does not necessarily require you to draft a new business plan – often a revisiting of existing structures or supplies can stimulate new revenue streams in this emerging marketplace. Recognizing that an increasing number of homeowners want to build with energy-efficient and sustainable materials, Brooklyn’s Bettancourt Green Building Supplies for example, now sources suitable alternatives to satisfy its green customers, alongside its more traditional products.
Once you have the necessary green credentials, make sure you get noticed by potential eco-minded customers. Work to have your business, service or product certified by Green Seal or another nationally recognized program, and list it in one of the many green directories, such as Greenopia’s Green Living guide. You should also keep your customers up to date with your green efforts. In Boston, a green car service called PlanetTran runs a fleet of hybrid vehicles. Each month, it provides clients with a detailed breakdown analyzing gas savings and the attendant reduction in carbon emissions afforded by greener motoring. Extra services such as this are a great way to continually remind customers about the benefits of choosing a green supplier. They can also be a unique selling point: for example, the Green Microgym in Portland, Oregon, is the country’s first fitness center to generate its own electricity using a combination of solar and human power. Retrofitted workout equipment captures the energy produced when the machines are in use, so that gym-goers are able to see the fruits of their labor at work throughout the building. Energy-wise, the Green Microgym is planning full-time self-sufficiency in the near future.
Go Green Now
Changes in green practices are likely to have a big impact on small businesses, especially considering the legislatively mandated changes that will soon be required, and the fines incurred if businesses fail to comply. Making adjustments to meet green guidelines now will give the savvy entrepreneur a head start on legislation that will only become increasingly stringent and expensive to implement. Going green today also provides another potential route of communication with your customer. Addressing these issues can save you money, boost your ethical credentials and, of course, potentially help save the planet. Not a bad return on your green investment.