This article has been excerpted from 101 Ways to Turn Your Business Green by Rich Mintzer, available from EntrepreneurPress.

The key to going greener is thinking greener, and today many people are already in the environmentally responsible mind-set. It may be easier than you think to get everyone in your company onboard. Just as every diet needs to begin with a healthy meal plan, your plan to go green should also start off with a few of these basics:

#3Start With an Energy Audit
One of the first steps toward becoming greener is to determine exactly how much energy you are using now and at what cost. You can start with a simple energy audit. To begin, you will want to review your own energy expenditure and measure it on an ongoing basis by reading your energy bills and meters. Then, as your business grows and expands, you will be able to account for the additional energy consumption and measure the increase by additional units of production or by additional hours. This way you can see if you are maintaining a stable amount of energy use in conjunction with your growth. Of course, you will also want to compare your energy use with the needs of similar businesses. This will take some research, but will provide a benchmark, so you will know what a business of your size (and type) should be using in your geographic location.

An energy audit will result in a report that lists your energy expenses and charts those numbers over time.

The next step is to reconcile your theoretical energy consumption with that shown on your actual energy bills. After analyzing your specific needs and use of lighting, heating, air conditioning, machinery and office equipment (including computers) to determine energy efficiency, you can seek lower-cost solutions, as well as change bad habits and adopt new company-wide business policies to decrease your energy output.

Since audits are not uniformly available, Energy Star offers a software program, Portfolio Manager, to help you do your own assessment. For more on Portfolio Manager, you can go to energystar.gov. You can also call 1-888-STAR-YES (1-888-782-7937) for more information during regular business hours.

#12Switch to Energy-Efficient Lighting
While changing light bulbs alone won't qualify you as being a green business, it is certainly a step in the right direction and an easy and cost-effective one to take. It's also one of the many small steps that if practiced universally could make a significant difference.

There are two types of light bulbs that are more energy-efficient than traditional incandescent bulbs: light-emitting diodes (LEDs) and compact fluorescent lamps (CFLs). While these bulbs may cost a little more than the traditional bulbs, both will prove cost-effective down the road, because they will last much longer and use significantly less electricity. An LED bulb has a lifespan of 60,000 hours, while a CFL bulb provides 10,000 hours of light--both significantly more than the 1,500 hours of service provided by most incandescent bulbs.

#30Use Indoor Plants as Natural Air Filters
These eco-friendly assistants to your green campaign can improve air quality by removing many indoor pollutants, including those from varnish and other laminate finishes, carpet particles and fibers, formaldehyde, and toxins from chemical cleaners and even from high-tech gadgets. In short, it's out with the bad air and in with the good if you utilize plants as natural air filters.

Since not everyone is a whiz with plants, nor will all plants thrive in your office lighting, you'll need to look for plants that require low maintenance and will do well with artificial (low) lighting. From the entrepreneurial standpoint, the key is making a commitment to allowing plants into the office and letting those who have some expertise in the area take the lead in purchasing and caring for these green friends.

Some of the better plant choices for indoor use as office air cleaners include:

  • Areca Palm
  • Boston Fern
  • Cast Iron Plant
  • Dracena
  • English Ivy
  • Golden Pothos
  • Hoya
  • Peace Lily
  • Philodendron
  • Snake Plants
  • Spider Plants
  • Weeping Fig

The number of plants to buy will be in part based on the décor of your office and the size of your space. According to researchers, you should have at least one potted plant for every 100 square feet of floor space. Therefore, if your office space is 30 by 50 feet, or 1,500 square feet, you should have at least 15 plants.

#38Consider Reusable Bags Over Plastic or Paper
Of course, the argument is made that paper bags can be recycled. The argument for plastic bags is that they too can be recycled or reused as lunch bags, for garbage, etc. While there are plenty of arguments for either side being more environmentally friendly, the truth is that discarded bags, paper or plastic, are never a boon for ecology. The processes of making both paper and plastic bags are detrimental to the environment.

So, what can you do? As a retailer, you can help change the habits of your customers. For starters, you can utilize plastic bags that are compostable or paper bags that are made largely from postconsumer paper. However, you can go one step farther and promote reusable cloth or canvas bags for carry-out items. If you can afford to give them away, do it. If not, sell them at a nominal cost. Customers can then bring them back each time they shop at your store, and as a bonus receive a coupon, discount or some other incentive to make reusing bags an ongoing part of their shopping ritual.

You can (and should) promote your business on the bag with the message that this is a reusable bag. You can even check out reusablebags.com to get an idea of what you can offer your customers.

Yes, there will be an initial cost, but, in the long run, once you have armed your customers with bags, you will spend far less buying paper or plastic bags in bulk.

Another option, if you own a retail store in a mall, is to team up with other store owners and buy bags together with the names of several stores or the name of the mall, therefore making it the bag for shopping at a variety of stores.

The point is, as a retail store owner, one of the most obvious ways to go green is to significantly decrease the use of disposable bags. Any environmentally friendly business owner should try to instill in his or her employees the understanding that disposable bags are unnecessary. Give out reusable bags for bringing lunch, going on lunchtime shopping trips or other uses.

#64Encourage Alternative Forms of Commuting
Although it is encouraged by many local municipalities with carpool lanes, carpooling remains one underutilized form of saving energy. Vanpooling with a designated (hired) driver is another alternative that is growing slightly in popularity. Large companies may subsidize the entire cost, while small businesses may have riders pay a minimal fee that amounts to less than paying for gas to commute to and from work on a daily basis.

One step that a growing number of businesses are taking is rewarding employees who use alternate forms of transportation. For example, Advanced Micro Devices (AMD) in Austin, Texas, issues bus passes to all employees who use mass transit and rewards employees who carpool or vanpool with gift cards to local businesses.

Safeco Insurance offers subsidies and incentives to employees who use any of the 80 active vanpools it has set up throughout the country. New Belgium Brewery encourages biking to and from work by giving each employee who has been with the company for a year a bicycle. Nice.

Many small businesses are helping their employees set up carpools and vanpools and even encouraging bike riding with incentives such as free lunches, flex schedules, once-a-week telecommuting options, gift cards and other perks. While it's not practical for all companies, some businesses provide an incentive to walk or bike to work by setting up showers, lockers and private changing areas. To encourage biking and walking, businesses have also helped set up buddy systems, where they help arrange for two or more people living in the same area to travel together.

If you'd like an easy-to-manage means of arranging your carpooling that rewards those who embrace alternative transportation, you might contact RideSpring. Since the toughest part of starting and maintaining a carpool program is actually organizing it, RideSpring takes the onus off the business by providing software to handle the task. It also has a means of tracking the energy savings of your alternative commuters.

You can also look into Zipcar or Flexcar as a means of having cars on hand for employees who need them. Both of these are innovative ways of having a car available when necessary, and yes, they are low-emission, fuel-efficient vehicles.

Rich Mintzer is the author of 101 Ways to Turn Your Business Green, available from Entrepreneurpress.com and for sale at Amazon, Barnes and Noble and Borders. He is an expert in making complicated topics reader-friendly, including business, technology and environmental concerns. He has written more than 45 nonfiction books on a wide range of topics. He has also spent 20 years as a magazine journalist and the past several years writing and producing web content.