A famous frog once sang, "It's not easy being green;" but today’s small businesses have many resources available to them on how to have a green business. You do not need to be large corporation to integrate green business practices. In fact, green strategies can attract consumers to your goods and services, save your business money and spiff up your company’s image while improving the quality of the environment for all of us.
Both the Small Business Administration and the Environmental Protection Agency provide a great deal of helpful information on green ideas for small and medium-sized businesses. It may seem simplistic, but being green may start first with taking small resource-saving steps and then sticking with them on a regular basis. Here are several practical suggestions to help you begin to have a green business.
1. Undertake an energy audit of your business
Small businesses use about half the energy resources in the country. Many businesses may not be aware of how much money they are losing through energy inefficiencies. An energy audit may reveal ways in which your business is paying for wasted water, electric, and heating and cooling system resources.
To start off energy companies will often provide free checklists for energy self-assessments. For commercial audits, no and low-cost audits are often available. In addition, if you work from home, many local energy companies will provide a free home energy audit. Check with your local power company to begin evaluating your energy needs and uses.
2. Institute a company-wide conservation program
So many items we dispose of today can be recycled or reused rather than shipped off to a local landfill. Your program could be a combination of resource conservation, recycling, and donation.
Examine how your company uses paper, ink cartridges, metals, plastics, electronic equipment, and other company assets and determine how to trim or make more effective uses and reuses of these items. Instead of printing off digital messages, why not store them electronically or print them out on both sides of a sheet of paper? Explore greener supply and packaging options with your vendors. Consider recycling or donating older, serviceable equipment to nonprofits and educational programs rather than simply disposing of these items. "Crowdsource" your conservation policies by asking your employees, customers, and suppliers for their ideas on ways to preserve resources.
3. Turn it down or shut it off
About a quarter of your office’s electrical costs are spent on lighting, so turn off lights when leaving a room. Look to see when natural lighting or dimmer lighting may be preferable to standard lighting. Consider replacing traditional incandescent light bulbs with compact fluorescent ones. Install light timers or motion sensors to suit your fluctuating needs.
You might also be surprised to learn that about seventy-five percent of the electricity used to power your office equipment is eaten up when these machines are off. Try to use Energy Star® rated office equipment that can save energy by putting your machines in “sleep mode” when they are not in use during the day. Shut off office equipment, including computers and power strips, at the end of the day, to stop the overnight drain on electrical resources.
4. Avoid wasting water down the drain
Many business leaders consider water scarcity to be a major obstacle for future business continuity and growth world-wide. Water use has increased two times faster than population growth. With recent heat waves and droughts across the U.S., your business can help conserve limited water resources while saving money in several ways.
Fix leaky faucets as slow dripping ones can waste up to 34 gallons per year while fast ones can waste over 170 gallons in a year. Install faucet aerators to reduce your water consumption. Turn the temperature of your water heater down to the lowest level necessary to meet your business needs. In addition, that running toilet is more than a nuisance; it is a pricey water guzzler. Repair a running toilet and think about investing in low water volume toilets for more water savings.
5. Conserve heating and cooling system resources
Similar to lighting and water, heating and cooling systems can result in expensive, recurring operational costs. The use of programmable thermostats will modulate your energy uses to suit your business needs.
Clean or replace HVAC filters routinely so your systems are running more efficiently. Inspect and repair weather-stripping around windows, doors, and electrical outlets to avoid heat and cool air loss. Shades, blinds, and other window coverings may help keep your business cooler in the summer and warmer in the winter. Think about using fans rather than air conditioning at certain times of the year.
These measures may seem insignificant, but these inefficiencies add up over time, costing you money and harming our environment. The EPA also provides helpful information to businesses on indoor air quality issues.
6. Properly maintain, repair and/or replace business equipment
It is important to adequately maintain and repair business machinery. Running equipment that has not undergone routine maintenance or is in need of repair damages the machinery, wastes energy resources and may endanger your health and safety. In some circumstances, it may make sense to replace older assets with newer energy efficient equipment which can save your business money in the long term while preserving energy resources.
If you are thinking about upgrading your business machinery, the Small Business Administration provides a portal with links to governmental agencies that may be able to provide your business with tax incentives and environmental loans and grants. Your state government may offer similar options so it is worth investigating any local programs aiding your transition to more energy-efficient options.
7. Reduce commuting and business-related travel
Transportation of people and goods accounts for approximately 28.5 percent of all energy resources consumed in the country. Over 80 percent of fuel resources are consumed through travel on local roads and highways. Air travel and other forms of transportation only account for about 19.5 percent of our transportation energy resources. Aside from using energy resources, jet fuel and car gasoline pollute the air with similar CO2 emissions—nearly 20 lbs. per gallon of fuel.
Businesses can help shrink energy consumption, lower travel expenses, and improve air quality through reductions in commuting and business-related travel. Certain jobs may be effectively handled through full- or part-time telecommuting with employees working from home rather than driving to work. Employers might also offer incentives to employees who utilize public transportation or form carpools for their daily commute. Long-distance air and car travel and their attendant expenses could be decreased through the use of teleconferencing options.
8. Comply with Existing Environmental Laws and Regulations
Clearly, compliance with existing environmental laws and regulations is required for any business, and more so for a business that wishes to tout its green credentials in the marketplace. Every industry may have different legal obligations to address on a local, state, and federal basis. To learn more about federal environmental regulations that impact your business, visit the Environmental Protection Agency’s Small Business Environmental Home Page.
You may also want to contact your local or state environmental agency for further assistance. In addition, business owners might find it helpful to consult with their peers in industry organizations about best environmental practices in their respective fields.
To learn more about energy saving options, programs to help you finance equipment upgrades, and other green tips for small to medium-sized business, the Small Business Administration offers numerous fact sheets, reports and links on improving energy efficiency.