By Dennis Hung
What does a business produce? The simple answer would be that every business produces a commodity of some kind, be it a product or a service. A more optimistic response might include the idea that a business should generate a profit. However, besides money and merchandise, there’s something else that every business produces: environmental damage.
In a 2010 study performed by the London-based firm Trucost, it was estimated that the 3,000 largest public companies in the world cause an annual estimated $2.2 trillion in environmental damage. And even though larger organizations may have a greater overall impact, smaller businesses can also cause significant damage when their leaders don’t take action to embrace a “green” corporate lifestyle.
But what can they do? It takes money to make the switch over to eco-friendly business, and given the current state of the world economy, many entrepreneurs and start-up businesses are barely managing to stay afloat as is. Well, there’s no need to give up hope; there are things that your business can do to help save the planet, without going bankrupt in the process. Here are a few tips on how you can go green, without having to spend all of your green.
1. Reduce paper use
Let’s just get something straight right off the bat: Paper is not an inherently environmentally-unfriendly substance. Paper is recyclable, clean, and most of it comes either from other recycled paper or from sustainable tree farms.
That having been said, every recycling program requires a significant amount of energy in order to convert used materials into usable material. As such, your company can help the environment by reducing its overall paper use where possible. One average, an office worker will use 10,000 sheets of copy paper every year, and the energy costs associated with using that paper often amount to more than the initial cost of the paper itself. Instead, rely on digital communication wherever possible, only using paper when absolutely necessary. You might even consider switching over to only accepting digital payments — such as credit card or bitcoin — in lieu of paper currency.
2. Save energy by switching bulbs
When the incandescent light bulb first made its debut in beginning of the 19th century, it forever changed the world. Of course, that was 200 years ago, and our technology has progressed since then.
Incandescent bulbs only use about 10 percent of their energy to produce visible light — the rest is bled off as unwanted heat, which makes them a costly, wasteful and inefficient design. Many businesses attempt to overcome this discrepancy by using florescent lighting, which is more efficient and lasts longer, but those who work under the green-tinted glare of a fluorescent tube often report health issues such as eyestrain and headaches, and the chemicals and gases used in fluorescents are often toxic, making environmentally-safe disposal difficult (and these issues apply to the smaller CFL bulbs as well). Instead, consider investing in LED lighting for your business. LEDs only use about a fifth of the energy of conventional bulbs, and can last upwards of 25 times as long.
3. Conserve water with low-flow fixtures
Depending on how old the toilets in your office are, you could be wasting upwards of seven gallons of water with every flush. Standard new models use substantially less (1.6 gallons per flush), but they still account for a substantial water use over time. You can save your company 20 to 60 percent on water utilities simply by investing in new low-flow fixtures. Also, make sure to have all of your plumbing fixtures checked for leaks and drips, as a drippy faucet or running toilet can end up costing you significantly over time.
4. Allow employees to telecommute
A vast majority, 86.1 percent, of Americans commute to work via personal automobile. At the same time, fossil fuel use accounts for 57 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions. Add these two facts together, and you have a smoking gun indicating that the average employee commute is doing serious damage to the planet. Now, consider for a moment just how many of your employees really need to come into work every day. We live in the age of communication, and a large percentage of the workforce could easily do their jobs from in front of their own home computer.
Nowadays employees can use cloud computing to access important files, oversee customer relationship management and contact management software systems, and even correspond with the rest of the company. This would reduce (or even eliminate) issues surrounding office energy, water, and paper use. It would also go a long way towards decreasing daily carbon emissions. Despite all of this, many employers still cling to the outdated practice of forcing their workers to come to the office every day. You can break the cycle and allow your employees to telecommute; it will save your office money, and will help the environment at the same time.
5. Promote green business practices to your colleagues
Once you’ve gotten your own organization as green as it can be, your next step is to promote green practices in the companies that you do business with. There’s no special formula here; just familiarize yourself with other companies, and only do business with those who are striving to meet green standards. As environmentally-unfriendly businesses start to see a drop in profits, they’ll have more incentive go green, and you’ll have made an even greater impact than you ever could alone.
Hey, your business can produce more than just profits, products, and environmental problems; with a bit of effort and a focus on the planet, you can turn your company into a well-oiled green machine, and if you end up saving a bit of money in the process, well, that doesn’t make it any less noble.
Dennis Hung is a freelance writer and business consultant. He’s spent the last ten years of his career focusing on writing about businesses and their best practices.