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Get Thoroughly Green

Take a look at your company's eco-friendliness from start to finish.

Like many growing companies, Fowler Printing and Graphics is going green. The Randolph, Massachusetts, company recycles 3 tons of paper a week, buys renewable energy credits for wind power, and uses eco-friendly inks and cleaning compounds on its printing presses.

But Fowler's efforts don't stop there. Nearly half of its print jobs are now on recycled paper, and Fowler's 24 employees can buy green stocks for their 401(k)s. The company is seeking Sustainable Green Printer, or SGP, status, a set of environmental standards for the printing industry. For owner Steve Brennan, the goal is to make his $4 million company as green as possible, from products to processes.

He's not alone: American Apparel, Clif Bar and Levi's are also assessing the environmental impact of their production cycles, which include sourcing, manufacturing, packaging, shipping and how customers dispose of products. Arguably no company, however, could have the influence of Wal-Mart, whose Sustainability 360 initiative aims to have the retailer run on renewable energy, carry only sustainable products and create zero waste. Wal-Mart "will drive this [trend] into the small-business sector," says Hunter Lovins, founder and president of Natural Capitalism Solutions, which offers sustainability consulting. "Very shortly, you will not be competitive if you don't green your entire production cycle."

A July 2007 Goldman Sachs report concluded that companies leading the way in environmental, social and governance policies average 25 percent better stock performance. Lovins points to Wal-Mart, which had "about a 30 percent dissolution in share value until they started going green, at which point it turned around," she says. "It's not an accident."

Small companies have an advantage in taking their production cycles green, says Jennifer Woofter, president of Strategic Sustainability Consulting, a firm that helps companies create green strategies. "It is always easier and more cost effective to think about green at the beginning, rather than come up with a traditional product and traditional business model and then try to overlay green," she says.

Woofter suggests mapping your entire production cycle and looking for alternatives, from biodegradable packing peanuts to a take-back recycling program. She advises her clients to ship one big container once a week instead of a few smaller containers three times a week. "I would much rather see attention paid to that than wondering whether 10 percent of the fleet you're using is biofueled," Woofter says.

Brennan and his team searched the internet for green steps they could take and asked employees for ideas. Then they broke the company's strategy into three areas--end products, processes and the office support system. Recycling was an obvious and easy place to start. "One improvement leads to another," Brennan says. "Identify your goal, which could be as simple as cutting your [trash] volume by 50 percent. Then work to accomplish that goal."

Continued dependence on fossil fuels will be a barrier to total sustainability, and small companies are relying on their suppliers to offer green solutions. But Brennan thinks going 100 percent green is the right move, even if the company hasn't yet achieved all of its environmental goals. "We're still here when thousands of print shops are closing every year," Brennan says. "I think it does, and will, help our sales."

Chris Penttila is a freelance journalist in the Chapel Hill, North Carolina, area.

Chris Penttila is a Washington, DC-based freelance journalist who covers workplace issues on her blog, Workplacediva.blogspot.com.

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This article was originally published in the October 2008 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Get Thoroughly Green.

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