Going Green: Small Steps Can Lead to Big Changes
“Going green” as a small business can involve projects that require a major capital investment, such as installing solar panels or a new roof. However, although large-scale undertakings will undoubtedly make your enterprise more sustainable, smaller-scale measures can bring you an equally attractive return on your investment.
Here are a few ways that your small business can make lower-cost changes that may benefit your bottom line.
If you own your building, green roofs are an effective means of insulating a building and generating publicity, but they can be expensive. Expect to pay $8 to $20 per square foot, plus ongoing maintenance fees. (Special design and implementation considerations are also necessary to maintain the integrity of the roof.) Simpler weatherization steps can provide a quick, inexpensive way to make major gains in your site’s energy efficiency at a strong rate of return on investment.
For starters, sealing the air leaks around windows and doors and upgrading the insulation in exterior walls can reduce your utility bills by up to 10 percent. Good energy-management techniques, such as doing routine HVAC maintenance and using smart thermostats (set them to reduce office heating or cooling outside of working hours), can also provide strong returns at minimal cost.
On-site renewable energy, particularly via photovoltaic solar panels, is gaining in popularity, but its cost of implementation is often a barrier for small businesses. This is especially true with the decline of cash incentives to help offset the costs of equipment and installation. (Local regulations and utility requirements can also make implementation a challenge.) The good news: Your small business can still use renewable electricity without having to purchase, install, and maintain equipment; simply choose a green utility provider.
Most regions of the U.S. have utility providers with entirely green portfolios (or with green power options). Search for the renewable power alternatives in your area on the Department of Energy’s Green Power Network database. The added cost of going green may be a few extra cents per kilowatt-hour of energy used, but you’ll be able to market your green energy use without undertaking the major project of on-site renewable energy generation. You’ll also be investing in a stronger market for renewable energy.
Carbon Footprint Reduction
Many large corporations, such as Dell and News Corp., have achieved carbon neutrality, fully mitigating their contributions to greenhouse gases. For any company, reaching this goal can involve making significant changes to product development, to supply-chain and distribution processes, and to other well-established activities. For small businesses with limited resources and staff, a net-zero emissions goal can seem overwhelming, especially if it requires shifting all aspects of their operations at once.
The solution: Set smaller, concrete goals for your company, such as reducing paper waste or changing all incandescent light bulbs to CFL or LED ones. Tackling the easy-to-resolve issues can increase your familiarity with sustainability approaches, help to establish employee buy-in, and make larger changes seem less daunting in the future. Modest changes can play an important role in meeting your green goals or adhering to your sustainability vision, and you should take on challenges in a way that meets your needs and resources.
Yes, making a major investment in sustainability can demonstrate industry leadership and garner attention for your business. However, your business doesn’t need a large capital project to begin “going green.” Small steps can make a big difference — and bring you an equally strong return on investment.