Great Ways to Green Your Business
Consumers are becoming increasingly educated about the environmental impact of human activity. A global survey in 2014 indicated that 55% of consumers are willing to pay higher prices for goods and services from companies that have environmentally-friendly business practices. A similar study in 2013 by Cone Communications stated "71% of Americans consider the environment when they shop, up from 66% in 2008".
By incorporating eco-friendly practices into your business you are helping the bottom line as well as the environment. Keep in mind that your efforts to "green" your business practices must be genuine if you advertise them as such. Consumers have a tendency to punish businesses if they feel they have been misled by false claims of sustainability (known as greenwashing").
Learn how to "green" your business and win customers with these tips.
Leave the Car at Home
Despite the fact that cars and trucks account for approximately 20 percent of all U.S. emissions North Americans seem loathe to part with their daily automobile commute. A recent report by Brian McKenzie of the U.S. Census Bureau found that that 86 percent of U.S. workers still commute to work in a vehicle and over 75 percent drive alone.
Leaving the car at home and walking or cycling to work is great exercise as well as good for the environment. If you are not used to either activity start slow. Make a commitment to doing so a few days a week, or if the distances are too large, consider walking part way.
Taking transit is also healthier for you (think of the walking to/from bus stops and/or subway stations) and the environment, as well as less expensive than taking a car to work.
As a business owner looking for a new business location, consider a site that has convenient access to bike lanes or transit and encourage employees to walk, bike, take transit, or carpool to work. Provide bike lockups and subsidized transit passes. Have "Leave the Car at Home" days and celebrate helping the environment.
Even better than commuting, running your business from your own home office is a great way to "go green". With the proliferation of mobile devices and online video conferencing it is no longer necessary for many business meetings to be face-to-face, so why not do your part to reduce traffic and cut greenhouse gas emissions? And with a properly-equipped home office there is no reason you can't meet clients in your home.
Speaking from years of experience commuting to office buildings to spend the day in a giant cubicle farm, when given the opportunity I jumped at the chance to work from home.
In addition to the environmental benefits, operating a home business has a number of tax benefits.
Break the Addiction to Convenience
While many of us like to think that we are good at recycling and composting the fact is that according to NationMaster statistics North Americans continue to produce more garbage than anyone else.
Helping the environment by reducing waste means overcoming our addiction to throwaway and single-use products. A good example is the single-cup pod coffee makers now seen in many offices. A large tin of regular coffee can make over a hundred cups for a fraction of the price of a non-recyclable single-serving coffee pod and the empty coffee can can be recycled.
Aside from providing recycling bins, examine your office environment and consider all the ways you can reduce waste:
- Encourage employees to bring their own cups and refillable water bottles (instead of using paper cups and buying plastic bottles of water)
- If you have an office kitchen for employees use bulk containers for condiments rather than single-use throwaway servings.
- Compost your kitchen waste and have it picked up by municipal recycling or local growers
- Convert to warm-air hand dryers in kitchens and washrooms
- Make your office "paperless"
One of the best ways to make your business more environmentally-friendly is to practice green procurement. This involves sourcing goods and services that are produced and supplied in a sustainable fashion. Sourcing from local suppliers rather than those produced from afar is a good way to start; see The 100 Mile Diet for Small Businesses.
Review your procurement policies, and make sure purchased goods:
- Are manufactured in a sustainable fashion
- Do not contain toxic materials or ozone-depleting substances
- Can be recycled and/or are produced from recycled materials
- Are made from renewable materials (such as bamboo, etc.)
- Do not make use of excessive packaging
- Are designed to be repairable and not "throwaway"
Help the Environment and the Less Fortunate
One of the most shocking things I notice about home and business construction renovations is the amount of usable material that goes into landfills. This is glorified on home and garden television series that show contractors demolishing perfectly reusable kitchen cabinets, tubs, toilets etc. with sledgehammers.
This is a shame, as these items can be donated to charitable organizations such as Habitat for Humanity. Habitat takes everything from appliances to used lumber and sells it for reuse, annually keeping tens of thousands of tons of material out of landfills. The proceeds are used to fund the construction of low-income housing projects in your community.
Reduce Water Usage
Whether you believe in climate change or not there is no denying that the past few years have been some of the driest on record in western North America - just ask the folks in California, who have been enduring drought conditions since 2011. In response, many municipalities have enacted very stringent water rationing.
But whether your business is located in a drought-stricken area or not, reducing your water use is one obvious way to save money and help conserve a valuable resource.
Ways you can reduce water usage on your business premises include:
- Fixing dripping taps, plumbing leaks, and installing low-flow toilets and low-flow faucet aerators in your washrooms.
- If your business has landscaping, consider moving to a drought-tolerant landscape design. If it uses a sprinkling system converting to a drip system will dramatically reduce water usage. Make sure the sprinkling system is properly maintained and adjusted and has rain sensors (so it does not operating when it is raining).
- If the business has on-site laundry facilities make sure the washers are Energy Star rated and have a low water factor.
- Use a high-efficiency pressure washer for cleaning jobs rather than a hose connected to a tap - it will get the job done quicker and use much less water.
Reduce Your Building Energy Footprint
According to the Environmental and Energy Study Institute (EESI) buildings account for 39 percent of Carbon Dioxide emission in the U.S. (globally the figure is approximately 30 percent). One of the many recommendations from the 2015 Climate Change Conference (COP21) was to cut emissions from homes and buildings by 50 percent by 2030.
The drive to reduce building emissions has spawned a rapidly growing industry in high-efficiency building construction. Net-zero and Passive House construction methods use super-insulated, airtight shells, triple-pane windows, and geothermal systems to reduce energy usage by 80-90 percent over standard construction. Adding solar water heaters or solar power can reduce it even more.
If you are constructing your own business premises from scratch why not incorporate state-of-the-art energy-efficiency features? Or if you are renovating an existing building do as much as your budget allows. Make sure you investigate the various rebate and incentive programs that may be offered in your state or province for upgrading insulation, installing new energy efficient HVAC systems, solar panels etc.
According to the Electronics Take Back Coalition, over two million tons of E-waste is disposed of every year in the U.S., and only 27 percent is recycled. Non-recycled E-waste ends up in landfills, incinerated, or illegally exported to developing countries.
If your business is replacing electronic items such as computers, monitors, tablets, smartphones, etc. that are less than 5 years old, chances are they can be re-used by schools or charities in your area.
Alternatively, computer manufacturers such as Dell and HP have technology recycling programs that allow credit for trade-ins on used equipment and donation programs for charities. eBay for Charity allows listing of used items on eBay with the proceeds going to nonprofits or charities.
Make sure you remove all sensitive information from any devices before you recycle them!
Keeping your surplus electronic equipment out of the landfill is a great way to help the environment (and possibly benefit charity).
Switch to Cloud Computing
In addition to the many other benefits of Cloud Computing for small businesses, moving to the cloud can be good for the environment. Cloud-based applications like Google Apps, Apple iCloud, and Microsoft Office 365 allow employees to share and access information from anywhere, potentially reducing travel costs and the need for hard-copy printing of documents.
And because information is hosted in the cloud there is no need for your business to purchase and maintain expensive server equipment (which also uses more electricity). You may not even need desktop computers anymore - mobile devices can access your data in the cloud and may be able to take care of all your computing needs.
Join Other Businesses and Take Action on Sustainability
As a business owner, one of the best ways to take action on sustainability is to partner with like-minded businesses. Through facilitated group conversations, you can come up with a collective action plan to reduce your environmental impact.
Organized business groups can develop strategies for shifting to a circular economy, which is characterized by reduced consumption of natural resources, recycling, and promoting local sourcing of labor, products, and materials.
By partnering with other business owners, environmental groups, and local governments you can collectively reduce your environmental footprint, promote your business as sustainable, and bring in more customers.
Now there's a win-win situation!