Small businesses can adopt a variety of sustainability practices that also help keep a business profitable. This article summarizes 10 sustainability practices that a wide range of small businesses can apply. The slogan “Reduce, Reuse, Recycle” is a great rule of thumb for the small business owner, and is reflected in most of these tips. The best sustainability practices vary somewhat with the type of business, but most any business can implement several of the tips in this article. The web site Ecopreneurist shares several of these tips and others relevant to small offices.
Cut Waste by Going Paperless
Printing and publishing consume a small but significant amount of wood, for paper, and energy for the printers. Many documents can be read, shared, and edited online. Invoices can be submitted online. Bookkeeping can be paperless too. Reducing paper use can even extend to the break room, where employees can be required to bring their own reusable mugs, or the coffee cups can be made from recycled paper. Use fillable PDF documents and electronic forms instead of using paper. Invite customers to accept electronic statements or invoices instead of printing those items.
Network with Like-Minded Companies
Ecopreneurist reminds us that “green” companies should pay attention to their supply chain. As a business owner or manager, you should work with companies that are taking steps to reduce their environmental impact or support their communities or protect human rights. Those aspects of sustainability should weigh into decisions about who provides the office coffee or whose cars the company rents, just to name a few. If you look, you might find a cleaning company that uses natural cleaning products for example. Other companies that have social and environmental goals might make good partners for fundraising efforts, community events, or new business deals.
Use Green Office Space
Most small business owners rent space, so they can’t control how the office building was built. They can, however, look for a space that is LEED certified. These buildings are far more energy-efficient than traditional commercial spaces. If you are paying the electric bill, paying a small premium to rent in a LEED office space is probably a smart business move. If nothing suitable is in the area, there are plenty of other ways to reduce your company’s environmental impact by selecting the right office space. If possible, situate your new business near bus or train stops, as being close to mass transit is far more energy efficient.
Build Green Where Possible
Businesses that can build their own space or buy and rehab a work space can reduce their impact on the environment in many ways. Building something that meets LEED certification standards will save water and electricity, which saves you money. Working out of a “green” space can have a modest benefit for your advertising; many consumers look for businesses that seem serious about reducing their impact on the environment. If you renovate a space, select greener products like low VOC paints, bamboo flooring, and carpet made from recycled fiber. There are design firms who help companies do “green” and healthy remodels of commercial spaces as well. Do a Google search to see if one serves your area.
Buy Green Energy
At least half the small business owners in the country live in areas where they have the option to buy energy from renewable sources, like wind farms in Indiana and solar panel farms in California. Check with your energy utility to see if they offer a “green” power option. Advertise the fact that your business runs on renewable energy too. You can also help the development of renewable energy sources like wind and solar by purchasing carbon offsets or by purchasing Renewable Energy Credits (RECs) directly.
Make Recycling Part of Normal Operations
Collect and recycle printer cartridges. If you must print things, save them and recycle the paper. Recycle broken electronic equipment and donate old, working computers. Those steps are practical and relatively simple in most urban areas. Even in rural America, many communities have recycling facilities. Old printer and toner cartridges can even be mailed out of state for reuse or recycling. If the company uses lots of small batteries, recycle them as well.
Buy Used and Refurbished Items
If you need a new piece of furniture, save a little money and reduce your impact on the environment by purchasing a used bookcase or desk instead of a new one. Look for a factory refurbished printer-copier-scanner or laptop. Check Craigslist or a local thrift store for office chairs, desks, printer stands, and other pieces of office furniture. Check online and in stores for reconditioned laptops and printers. If you are refurbishing a workspace, you can probably find used flooring materials, windows, doors, and fixtures. Habitat for Humanity operates a series of ReStore building supply stores in many cities.
Use Green-Certified Office Products
Manufacturers of office supplies have introduced a vast number of “green” products that use recycled paper, sustainably-harvested wood, natural ingredients, and so on. Buying these products, where possible, reduces the environmental impact of your business operations. As with buying green energy, using recycled or sustainable and natural products can be good for marketing. Promote your use of greener office products. Buy products from employee-owned companies or from local businesses. Those two acts contribute to social and ecological sustainability.
Encourage Green Behavior by Customers and Employees
If you own a store, encourage customers to bring reusable cloth bags, and sell them in the store. Give customers the option to receive electronic copies of brochures, statements, catalogs, or whatever material you distribute. Promote that electronic option as much as possible. At the office, allow employees to telecommute and hold meetings via Skype or another video conferencing service. So many people travel to work and meetings alone, in a car, that doing remote work and virtual meetings can reduce a company’s environmental impact without much inconvenience.
Buy Carbon Offsets
If your business is about travel, like a charter bus company, or if employees travel extensively for business, buy carbon credits to offset the greenhouse gas emissions. Several companies sell carbon credits and use the money to invest in climate change mitigation efforts like tree planting. Carbon offsets can also finance “green energy” projects like wind farms and efforts to capture gases emitted from landfills. Terrapass is one company that sells carbon offsets and invests the money in “green” development projects around the United States.