29 Cost-Saving Sustainability Ideas for Businesses

Going green doesn't have to cost you

Two women putting in an eco-friendly light bulb
••• Phil Boorman, Getty Images

Cost reduction has always been a priority for business operators, but in recent times, sustainability has also become an urgent concern. There's a common misconception that these two goals are opposed, though. The truth is, many moves to green your business can also save money.

Whether you operate a small business or work for a large corporation, finding measures that reduce costs and increase sustainability should be a big part of your business plan. Here are 29 ways to go green while also saving money.

Energy Cost-Saving Sustainability Ideas

1. Know the biggest energy costs: The U.S. Department of Energy has identified lighting, space heating, and cooling as the three most energy-consuming operations in an office. Whatever type of facility you operate, identify which equipment and operations are using the most energy. Then determine the most effective ways to cut that energy use without a negative impact on your business.

2. Understand energy bills: Don’t just blindly pay the energy bill that comes your way at the start of every month. Try to understand the invoice completely and consult your energy supplier for ways to reduce costs.

3. Implement a switch-off campaign: If you have a significant energy bill, implement a switch-off campaign. These campaigns raise awareness among employees and workers about the role they can play in reducing energy consumption. Start by designating a specific period—probably a week or month—for the campaign to run. Provide instructions to employees about switching off lights and energy-consuming appliances before leaving the workplace or when rooms are otherwise not in use. Use the intensive campaign to jump-start a new energy-saving culture.

4. Label switches: Labeling switches is a good way to ensure the employees don’t switch on unnecessary lights and appliances or turn off ones that should be left on.

5. Charge appliances overnight: If your utility provider offers a time-of-use plan, the costs of energy at night are cheaper than during the day. With this in mind, if your office or factory uses heating units and other appliances that need to be charged, charge those overnight. Consider other options to lessen energy use during peak hours and move that usage to off-peak hours, where possible.

6. Install only energy-efficient light bulbs: Instead of installing low-cost, energy-devouring bulbs, consider investing in CFL, LED light bulbs, and halogens for significant long-term energy savings. CFL and other energy-efficient bulbs use up to 75% less energy.

7. Run an energy audit: Many energy suppliers offer free energy audit programs for their customers. Consider making a call to your provider to request one. You can hire a separate energy audit company as well. Take the time to carefully analyze the results. Look for quick wins that won't require significant investment, and make plans to budget for more expensive solutions.

8. Be aware of over-lighting: Make sure your employees know the perfect level of lighting in a room. Just as insufficient light in a room can hamper the productivity of your employees, over-lighting can cause the employees headaches, eye strain, and glare. Eliminate unnecessary lights throughout the workplace.

9. Make use of natural light: If your office has an adequate supply of natural light, make use of it where possible by keeping blinds and curtains open. Installing light dimmers is a good way to compensate for varying levels of natural light in a room.

10. Consider installing solar panels: Solar energy is a renewable, clean, and free source of energy that you can use in your office. It requires a substantial amount of initial investment but cuts energy costs in the long run. While low-maintenance solar panels won't be the best fit for every business, they are well worth investigating.

11. Install occupancy-sensor lighting: Consider installing motion- or occupancy-sensor lighting in conference rooms, bathrooms, storage cupboards, the warehouse, the plant or other areas that are not used continually.

12. Keep windows and doors closed when running any HVAC: This is common sense. But sometimes people can get careless and keep doors or windows open, causing the heating or cooling equipment to consume more energy than necessary. Also, check doors and windows for leaks.

13. Avoid cooling or heating unused areas: Sometimes heating or cooling appliances are installed in a way that they heat or cool unused areas such as corridors and storerooms. Shut vents to unused areas, and condition only the areas that need it.

14. Use hibernation mode: When you are away from your desk, make use of the hibernation feature to ensure your computer consumes less energy. Printers, air conditioners, microwaves, and other appliances also have energy-saving features. Educate your employees about those features and encourage them to use them.

15. Unplug appliances after turning them off: Many appliances continue to consume energy even after they are switched off. So, consider unplugging the appliances before leaving the office. Similarly, unplug battery chargers when batteries are fully charged.

16. Replace desktops with laptops: Laptops consume considerably less energy than desktops. If a lot of desktop computers are used in your office, consider replacing them with laptops in your next computer upgrade.

Green Waste Management Ideas

17. Use both sides of paper: Use both sides of papers when printing, photocopying and faxing. You can cut your paper usage, costs, and waste nearly in half this way.

18. Make use of reusable packaging: Packaging materials account for a significant portion of the waste we generate. Avoid using single-use paper or plastic cups bu substituting your office glasses or mugs. For office moves, take advantage of reusable moving crates. And in production and distribution, reusable transport packaging systems can offer whopping cost savings and sustainability benefits to supply chain stakeholders.

19. Use email or other communication software: When sharing information among employees, consider using emails or other digital communication instead of printed documents. Another simple change that can reduce waste is to proofread documents on the computer screen instead of printing them out.

20. Print only what is necessary: Many documents have little or no future purpose and should not be printed. As such, print only what is absolutely necessary. Decrease printing by making use of different online document sharing applications such as Dropbox or Google Docs. While a completely paperless office might not be practical for many businesses, you can probably digitize a lot of your document sharing.

21. Remove personal bins: Invest in quality bins and waste containers that last a long time. Reduce the number of bins in the office by placing a few centrally located bins and removing personal bins under each employee’s desk.

Water Consumption Minimization Ideas

22. Purchase water-efficient equipment: Some types of equipment consume a considerable amount of water. Often, more water-efficient models are available. The next time you upgrade any water-consuming equipment, consider water-efficient models that have a smaller water footprint.

23. Go low-flow: Make sure the showers, taps, and faucets are outfitted with low-flow technology wherever possible.

24. Install motion-sensor taps: Employees and workers can unintentionally leave taps running. Installing motion-sensor taps can solve this problem and reduce overall water consumption.

25. Put water hippos in the toilet cisterns: using water hippos in the toilet cisterns is a good idea to reduce flush volume and reduce water consumption.

Miscellaneous

26. Allow employees to work remotely: Allowing employees to work from home and away from the office can save costs in many ways. All you need to ensure is that they get the job done on time. You can also experiment with allowing staff to work longer hours in fewer days at the office.

27. Choose videoconferencing: Arranging meetings in your office incurs costs. Similarly, if you and your team travel to another place, it takes time and money. So, whenever possible, consider arranging videoconferences instead of having in-person meetings.

28. Buy used furniture: When decorating your office, consider buying quality used furniture. It enables you to save big without impeding the overall operations of your business. Commercial auctions can provide near-new office furniture at a substantial discount. Look for other recycled or used items as well.

29. Recycle and reuse: Identify recycling and reusing options in your company. Commit to a recycling program, develop a plan, assemble a team, and launch the program. Many items such as paper, file folders, cardboard, ink and toner cartridges, computers, and computer accessories can effectively be recycled.

Nothing can be achieved overnight. Commitment is the first step in converting your business into a green and sustainable one. Some cost-saving sustainability ideas mentioned above may require an initial investment but will yield a positive result in the long term. Try implementing the ideas one by one, not all at once. Who knows? One day you may be able to achieve zero waste in your business.

Make your commitment today to reducing energy, water, and waste management costs. Cutting costs can deliver sustainability wins for your company while also helping create a competitive advantage in the marketplace.