Interested in greening your business? Today is Earth Day 2013, so what better time to consider ways in which your business can play its part in saving the planet and reaping the cost benefits of operating more sustainably.
But where do you start and what sustainability measures are right for your company? With more and more consumers choosing to “buy green” and many of them willing to pay higher prices for it, environmentally friendly business practices are here to stay. For the savvy business owner, the trick is knowing which green initiatives will pay off for your business and which may not be worth the time or expense.
For answers, I turned to Michelle Goodman’s excellent article in Entrepreneur magazine from the fall of 2012, How to Determine which Eco-Friendly Changes your Business Should Make, and to tried and tested tips and information from the Environmental Protection Agency and Department of Energy’s joint venture – Energy Star.
Here’s what they suggest:
Start with the Obvious – Use Less of Everything and Track Savings
Using less of everything – water, electricity, fuel, paper, printer ink – makes common sense. Similarly, ask yourself some basic questions: Can I recycle? What about introducing a lights out policy in meeting rooms that aren’t in use and in the building at night? Does it make sense to let my employees telecommute?
As you look for areas where you can make savings and be greener, try it out for a month and compare your business expenses to previous months. If you can demonstrate clear dollar savings, then getting the entire company behind you is going to be a lot easier. You can also use the savings you’ve made to fund bigger sustainability improvements.
If you run a service business such as a hotel, implement a towel re-use policy or a key-card activated energy-saving system that powers down the room when a guest exits. These can reap huge savings.
Look for areas that make sense to your business. For example, can you dispose of less by buying re-usable versions of the same product? Goodman cites a California hair salon that switched from using disposable latex gloves worn by stylists to color hair – which set them back nearly $3,000 a year – to investing in heavy-duty reusable gloves at a cost of a couple of hundred dollars.
Check out these “Sure Energy Savers” tips from Energy Star for ways to realize quick savings now.
Invest Now to Save in the Long Term
If you lease a facility, then it may not make sense to spend money greening your building’s infrastructure, aside from easy-to-implement fixes like using energy efficient light bulbs or equipment. However, if you intend to be in the space for several years, then it’s worth crunching the numbers to see if It’s worth making longer-term green fixes such as upgrading your AC system. If you are going to be in a facility for five years and it will take two years to pay back, why not do it?
Even modest changes can make a big difference and be paid off quickly. Fixes such as improving insulation and capitalizing on natural light by using frosted windows instead of blinds has the potential to reduce your electric bill by up to 80 percent – a massive saving for small businesses.
Of course this all depends on your location and other variables, but quick fixes such as these do have the potential to generate 15-20 percent in savings, green marketing consultant Shel Horowitz tells Entrepreneur magazine.
Get Help Ascertaining the Savings of Pricier Sustainability Upgrades
You don’t have to go it alone; there are many organizations that can help you determine which sustainability measure will help you reap the best return on your investment.
- The Energy Star for Small Business website offers free information and technical support for small businesses, including a How To Guide for Analyzing and Upgrading your Facility, tips on preparing an energy strategy and more.
- Call your utility provider. They can provide free surveys and help you determine what you can do differently.
- Find out if financial incentives are available from your local or state government for installing energy efficient HVA systems, windows, appliances and lighting. Check out Energy.gov for links to tax credits, rebates and savings available by state.
- Third party green certification organizations, like The Green Business Bureau and the Green Business Network, provide onsite and online assistance, marketing support tools, and certification confirming the credibility and authenticity of your green initiatives.
The Bottom Line
While green measures and investments can have both short- and long-term financial payoffs, the benefits aren’t just in dollars saved. If your company places a high value on green practices, the feeling that “we are all doing good” can really set you apart both to your employees, your customers and community as a whole.
- SBA Green Business Guide – Includes essential information for greening and marketing your “green” business, including considerations such as green certification and eco-labeling, environmental grants and loans, and more.