Green business initiatives are buzzworthy for good reason: They are a boon to the environment as well as a company's balance sheet. A greener workplace reduces impact on the planet while being a healthier and more productive place to work. And according to Matt Becker, the head of BDO's Green Energy Tax Practice, "Green incentives were the most significant group of tax credits and deductions for businesses this past year." Companies that took steps to go green were eligible for up to four different sources of savings, says Becker, with tax incentives being offered from federal, state and local governments, "plus the added bonus of utility savings."
But contrary to what many cash-strapped small-business owners may think, Marcos Cordero, CEO of the Green Business Bureau, which offers green business certification, says sustainability management doesn't have to cost a lot. "Many things require simply changing behavior that results in excessive waste. Start small and building sustainability will pay for itself," says Cordero.
Whether you run a homebased business or an off-site enterprise, here are several simple and affordable things you can do to run an eco-friendly business that will green your bottom line.
Cordero says many office-based businesses spend too much on paper and toners. If you must print, he suggests trying nonbranded toners. "Private-label and re-manufactured toners are often 70 percent cheaper and work just as well," says Cordero, a savings of hundreds or thousands of dollars, with no upfront costs.
Rachel Beckhardt Hinchliffe, project manager for Corporate Partnerships at the Environmental Defense Fund, advises setting a policy to make all copies double-sided, and work with suppliers to switch all office paper to chlorine-free, 30-100 percent post-consumer recycled. The EDF has a paper cost calculator on its website to quantify the benefits of better paper choices.
An even better bet is to go paperless. "One of the easiest ways for a small business to go green is to turn off the paper they receive from their financial institutions and shift to electronic methods of payment with customers, suppliers and billers," suggests Richard Weeks, senior vice president with Wells Fargo Business Internet Services. Weeks says in addition to saving trees, going paperless also improves security. "Most small-business fraud is still perpetrated using paper. A check or statement in the mail, or a discarded invoice, provides an opportunity for someone to collect your account information."
Massimo LoBuglio, owner of the Little Cupcake Bakeshop, a carbon-neutral bakery in Brooklyn, N.Y., says using porcelain mugs saves approximately 125 cups, lids and sleeves per day. "The savings are incredible," says LoBuglio, who asserts that one simple measure added up to more than $9,000 per year.
Anca Novacovici, founder of Eco-Coach, an environmental sustainability advisory firm, points out that commercial waste, including office waste, amounts to 35 to 45 percent of the total municipal solid waste generated in the United States. She advocates reusing binders, envelopes, refill pens, tape dispensers, file indexes, and other office supplies whenever possible.
"Use incoming cardboard boxes and fiber-padded envelopes, as well as popcorn and shredded newspaper for outgoing mail and packages." Novacovici also suggests designating a reuse or exchange area. "Encourage your employees to check this center before ordering new supplies."
At the Little Cupcake Bakeshop, no initiative is too small to have a positive effect on profitability and the planet. LoBuglio says his favorite practice is having staff bring in unused envelopes from their personal junk mail. "We can save the money it costs to buy envelopes."
More than a decade ago, Frank G. Risalvato, certified personnel consultant with INTER-REGIONAL EXECUTIVE SEARCH, hired the firm's first "remote, virtual personnel recruiter." In just three months, Risalvato says that recruiter was the best and most productive employee. "So we rolled out a program to hire virtual employees across the Eastern seaboard." This, he says, eliminated cars, gas and wasted time on the highways.
No one can work in the dark, but task lighting doesn't have to take a big bite out of the bottom line. In fact, a switch to energy-efficient compact fluorescents (CFLs) and T8 or T5 linear fluorescents throughout the office can cut energy use by up to 75 percent, according to the Environmental Defense Fund's Beckhardt Hinchliffe.
She also urges business owners and employees to turn off all the computer equipment at night. Owners should install PC and monitor energy-management software to track the impact.
Gary Fromer, CEO of CPower, an energy management services firm, recommends getting an energy audit from a professional engineer, especially if the business is located in an older building. "Professional engineers who are familiar with lighting, heating and cooling systems can optimize their energy consumption while not compromising productivity," says Fromer. Once all systems are running efficiently, Fromer recommends getting paid for energy reduction. "Certain markets and geographies will pay energy users for smart energy management. Those payments can fund energy audits and equipment upgrades," notes Fromer.
Tell the World
Once sustainable measures are implemented, they can be used as leverage with current and potential clients. According to The Hartman Group's latest report on sustainability, more than 88 percent of consumers surveyed said they engage in what the researchers described as sustainable behavior.
Cordero says, "It shows a company is not only serious about doing the right thing for the environment, but also has the vision and innovation to realize that being green is the right thing for their business."