Going Green: It's Good for Business

Mar 26, 2019, 00:00 AM by Chris Banks
Small businesses are ideally suited to be sustainable leaders in their communities. Learn how integrating an environment focus into your operations can improve profits, enhance employee morale and engagement, and even attract and retain customers.

Many multi-national corporations are known and respected for their environmental performance. But the benefits of being green aren't limited to enterprise-level organizations. In fact, small businesses are ideally suited to be sustainability leaders in their communities and reap the rewards of reducing their operation's environmental impact.

What Do Customers Want?

Global measurement and data analytics firm Nielsen reports that the majority of Americans say it is extremely or very important to them that companies implement programs to improve the environment. The sentiment is particularly strong among millennials ages 23 to 38, who are poised to represent 30 percent of total retail sales with an annual spending power of $1.4 trillion by 2020.

According to a Nielsen executive, "Sustainability is a way to show consumers that you listen to them [and] care for their needs. With the right messaging, sustainability can represent premium indicators such as quality, superior function, uniqueness, and are often tied to the 'go-local' movement."

Don't Let Your Environmental Initiatives Go Unnoticed

Be sure to promote them to customers. For example, if you're a retailer, consider "walking your talk" by providing reusable shopping bags. They encourage customers to return and can give you free advertising. Foodservice operators can promote their use of recycled/recyclable paper and packaging products like napkins, carry-out containers and cups by printing environmental messages on them. And professional services firms can promote their green business practices in regular correspondence and bills. However, be wary of "greenwashing" your business. Two-thirds of Americans say they research a company's environmental claims to be sure they're authentic.

What Do Employees Need?

Three-quarters of employees say their job is more fulfilling when they are provided opportunities to make a positive impact on social and environmental issues, and 70 percent would be more loyal to a company that helps them contribute to an important issue.

Promote Your Environmental Policies to Prospective Hires

Fifty-one percent of people say they won't work for a company that doesn't have a strong social and environmental commitment.

Get Employees Involved in Your Green Initiatives

Ask them for their support and ideas. Consider establishing a "green team" to establish attainable goals and help drive changes. Communicate with them up-front about the need for action and the difference they can make. Then follow up by measuring the benefits of your green initiatives and communicating back about your successes. Remember that even small actions – like turning off lights when a room is not in use – can make a real difference for the environment and your company culture.

What Are the Potential Savings?

Small businesses spend more than $60 billion a year on energy, and the average commercial building wastes 30 percent of the energy it consumes. According to the U.S. Department of Energy, lighting, space heating and cooling are the three most energy-consuming operations in an office, giving businesses plenty of opportunities to save while helping the environment by reducing energy consumption.

Look for Green Incentives

While retrofitting your business operations to be more sustainable may require an up-front investment, you may be able to minimize your costs through state, local, and federal government tax credits or deductions or through incentive programs offered by environmental groups, business organizations and your local utility. The U.S. Small Business Administration provides a list of state, local and regional programs that help businesses by providing grants and loans for energy-efficient upgrades.

What Can Your Business Do Today?

No matter what the shape and size of your business, there are several ways you can be more environmentally sustainable...starting today! Here are just a few ideas:

  • Reduce Energy Use...
    by conducting an energy audit with your local utility. These services are often free and can identify energy-intensive appliances and building systems that can be upgraded or tuned up. For example, your utility company may recommend switching to energy-efficient fixtures with LED bulbs, which use up to 90% less energy than traditional bulbs. Other ways to save on electricity include motion-sensor lighting systems, programmable thermostats, powering down appliances when not in use, and natural lighting strategies. Look for energy-efficient appliances rated by ENERGY STAR; small businesses can typically save as much money and prevent as much pollution, per square foot, as large organizations.

  • Reduce Waste...
    by going paperless. Storing documents in the cloud instead of paper files not only cuts down on paper waste going to landfill, it also reduces spending on copy paper. If you must print, do it double-sided, and use scrap paper to take notes and messages. Request paperless bills, correspondence and subscriptions. Additional waste-reduction tactics include:
    • Eliminating bottled water for employees and switching to a water cooler or water filter to purify tap water, which will help to eliminate the 2 million tons of trash associated with disposable plastic water bottles.
    • Purchasing eco-friendly office furniture that's second-hand or made of recycled materials.
    • Using recycled packaging material and inviting customers to return their packaging for a discount on future purchases.
  • Reduce Greenhouse Gas Emissions and Improve Air Quality...
    by allowing employees to telecommute when possible. According to agile workplace experts Global Workplace Analytics, 80 percent of employees consider telecommuting a job perk and 36 percent would choose telecommuting over a pay raise. Seventy percent say they look on their company more favorably if they help them reduce carbon emissions. Telecommuting also has been shown to increase employee productivity and reduce overall energy consumption, because office equipment energy consumption is twice that of home office energy consumption. You can further cut greenhouse gas emissions by conducting video conferences instead of traveling to meetings.

An environmentally sustainable future requires the attention of everyone, however, 63% of Americans are hopeful that businesses will take the lead. Embrace environmental sustainability this Earth Day and every day to protect the triple bottom line: people, planet and profits.

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