For those who thought being green—that is, living and working in a way that promotes a better environment—was a mere marketing ploy, think again. Earlier this month, New York City's ban on styrofoam products went into effect, making it the latest initiative in the United States to target materials that can't be recycled (after citywide bans in places like San Francisco, Hawaii became the first state to ban plastic bags).
Many small-business owners see the writing on the wall as more bans make the headlines. "The rules don't affect us directly, but I do think there's a wave of companies trying to get ahead of the game, so to speak," says Mark Aselstine, owner of Uncorked Ventures, a wine club subscription service. While some may think of the negative effect these laws could have on their operations and bottom line, others see even more incentive to become a green business.
It's Easy Being Green
"Being eco-conscious is a good business practice and also makes us feel proud of the business we have—and our customers feel they’re part of a bigger picture by supporting our sustainable practices," says Barry Slotnick, president of Varisport Inc., which sells his line of fitness equipment, UltraSlide Slideboards. "Green business practices go beyond individual businesses and create an opportunity to make a larger impact on the industry and the world."
The idea that "going green" means being in the red is dated. The costs of becoming more efficient or using recyclable materials is usually negligible—and can lead to more business. "Contrary to our original belief, our bottom line has not been negatively impacted by costs," says Mel Lleras, owner of HoneyLove Architecture & Gardening. "In fact, we've found an increase in revenue stream because the people in our area are looking for companies that are more environmentally responsible."
Shel Horowitz, a green business profitability expert, agrees. "Going green can often be much cheaper," Horowitz points out. "Green companies are preferred by many customers, thus, more sales [and] green products and services can be sold at higher prices without price resistance. Green companies reduce their legal exposure to pollution suits and also are better positioned for the future as certain raw materials get scarcer and harder to work with."
Making Green Happen
With those benefits, it makes sense why going green has become an attractive option for business owners who want to do their part for the environment. Here are four things to keep in mind as you consider becoming a green business.
Follow those age-old energy efficiency rules. Using LED bulbs and EnergyStar printers, unplugging computers and other equipment after hours, plugging up HVAC leaks ... we've all heard these pieces of advice a hundred times. Now is the time to start using them, if you really want your business to go green.
Be prepared to do a little digging. In some cases, the alternatives are a lot harder to find than the industry mainstays. Stick with it, though, and you can find some affordable and cost-effective options. "We spent well over a year contacting manufacturers and testing alternative paints, stains, adhesives, caulks, sealers, etc.," Lleras says. "It has definitely been worth it. We found that since these alternative materials were safer for both people and the environment, we could spend less on other costs such as protective gear, which [lasts] longer since they are not being exposed to such harsh chemicals, and training—because the material is safer, there is less hazardous material to be educated on. We even found that the durability of these alternative materials was equivalent to their conventional counterparts."
Work with people who are already in the game. One shouldn't have to reinvent the wheel when it comes to sustainability. Connect with businesses that have already shown a commitment to—and an ability to execute on—being environmental friendly. These vendors can become your partners in going green. Do your research and find companies like Renew Packaging Solutions, which recycles cardboard boxes and resells them at a discount that also saves 16 trees in the process, or Coldsweep, a company that cleans equipment and surfaces using dry ice made from recycled carbon dioxide, to help you do business in a cost-effective and eco-friendly way.
Find alternatives to the biggest source of waste for your business. "We chose packaging that is corrugated, recycled cardboard instead of the industry standard styrofoam for our wine club shipments, largely because of the environmental impact," Aselstine says. "They're only a few cents more expensive."
There are also a number of e-solutions available for cutting back on paper waste, a big culprit in business waste. "U.S. companies spend $120 billion on printed forms annually, and while the U.S. is 5 percent of the world's population, it consumes more than 30 percent of the world's paper," says Steve Metzman, CEO and founder of iBusiness Technologies, which helps companies streamline its operations and go paperless through mobile technology.
The benefits of going green seem to outweigh any perceived downsides. For Lleras, the number of installation projects his company sees a month has increased since it has become more environmentally friendly and sustainability minded.
"In the past six weeks, we've received on average one inquiry every week for a sizable project and are closing over 80 percent inquiries at this point. Why? Because we are attracting [sustainability] minded folks who really have already made the decision of whether or not they would like to work with us," Lleras says. "They simply are validating our integrity and genuineness in environmental related causes."
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