5 Baby Steps Towards a Zero-Waste Business

Don't let the term zero-waste intimidate you. With a few baby steps, you can grow a greener business.
Freelance Writer and editor, Self-employed
June 05, 2012

The term "zero-waste business" is being bandied about lately as a way to describe an ecologically virtuous company, but it may turn off some business owners who fear it sounds like an unrealistic ideal.

“Zero-waste is a deceiving term and people use it indiscriminately,” says Leif Steiner, founder of Moxie Sozo, an advertising-and-design firm in Boulder, Colorado. “It’s more accurate to say that you are reusing everything you can. Because, inevitably, some trash … can’t be broken down."

If Steiner’s company isn’t zero-waste, it’s pretty close. The firm, founded in 1999, participates in five core ways to help the environment.

1. Carbon Offsets

Steiner and his team are carbon-neutral. Even though the team travels extensively for business, it purchases carbon offsets through Native Energy, a Vermont provider of energy credits. “We’ve been carbon-neutral since 2005,” he says.

2. Used-Paper Notebooks

“The most waste we generate is in the form of printer paper,” Steiner says. “So, we take printouts and bind them into one-sided notebooks. Once the notebooks are filled, we recycle them, but not until then.”

3. Compartmentalized Recycling

Single-bin recycling isn’t enough for the Moxie Sozo team. Instead, the company separates products into multiple containers to optimize future recycling opportunities.

“We put corrugated cardboard boxes in different bins than laser paper,” he says. “With proper recycling, paper can be recycled many times and we don’t want to pollute the recycling stream.”

4. Reuse of Packaging Material

Boxes from clients and prospects arrive nearly every day at the Moxie Sozo offices. Instead of throwing them away, the team reuses each box and its packaging contents—even the Styrofoam peanuts.

5. Minimal Shipping

Each time a box is shipped, it impacts the environment negatively. Packing uses materials, moving boxes takes labor and the transportation process uses carbon. Steiner says his staff uses digital tools to cut down on shipping-related pollution.

“It was much different 10 years ago. We were shipping three or four packages a day,” he says. “Now we upload everything online and ship about one package a week.”

One way to cut down on shipping is to use a web-based file-sharing tool such as Dropbox to transport information virtually to clients and prospects.

Why Go Green?

Why is it so important to Steiner and his company to be green?

“I just think everyone can do something and we want to do our part,” he says. “Plus, every time I get tired of recycling, I think back to my trip to Peru.” Steiner and a few of his colleagues were riding in a truck along a road in the middle of the Andes, when they came upon a village. A woman stepped into the middle of the road to stop the vehicle.

“She saw water bottles in the back of our truck and asked us if she could take them,” Steiner remembers. “We gave them to her and then saw her put them into a pile for recycling. Here was an 87-year-old woman in the Andes and she was recycling. I looked at her and realized that if she cares about the environment, I can, too.”

Advice For Business Owners

Try not to become discouraged in your efforts to improve your environmental impact (video).

“A lot of people are worried about going down a rabbit hole with just too many things to do,” Steiner says. “I don’t think people need to be zero-waste or … buy a Prius. They can just do one little thing. Like buy a bike or purchase renewable energy as part of a heating bill. It’s easier than you suspect.”

Environmentally conscious behavior does require an investment, but Steiner says it’s worth every penny.

“Being green has paid huge dividends from a financial standpoint,” he says. “We’ve been able to pick up multiple clients because of our dedication to the environment. Clients want to be associated with companies that are conscious about their effect on the planet.”

For more information on purchasing renewable energy, visit the EPA’s Green Power Partnership.

How is your business taking steps to cut down on waste? 

Photo credit: iStockPhoto/Thinkstock

Freelance Writer and editor, Self-employed