business planning

What is a green business? Plus, 10 ways your small business can add up big savings

It’s impossible to miss all of the recent talk about climate change and the mounting consequences of pollution.

However, the idea of creating a sustainable small business —let alone saving the environment—one recycled can at a time seems simplistic. Is it possible for your business to reduce its carbon footprint and make a positive impact without completely overhauling how you operate? More to the point, can you go green without adding to your costs?

The answer is yes—if you adopt and actively promote these 10 policies.

Of course, first, we have to answer the bigger question …

What is a green business?

Green businesses—or, green companies—embrace sustainable operations, production, and sourcing. The goal of green business is to eliminate any negative impact on the environment, at both a local and global scale.

Most often, eco-friendly products create the foundation. That means the supply chain is a crucial component: ingredients and materials are safe, nontoxic, and ethically sourced. For instance, many green companies choose fair-trade products that aren’t produced using child labor.

Likewise, green businesses offer goods and services that make it easier for their customers to live an eco-friendly life. Recycled products, sustainable facilities, and educational programs are common examples, but green companies span almost every industry.

Corporate social responsibility is another cornerstone, where the focus extends beyond products to support the health, development, and well-being of people: namely, employees, customers, their communities.

Not only does a green business make the world a better place, but they serve and target an ever-increasing segment of customers dedicated to ethical consumerism. This overlap makes going green not only good for the environment but also good for business.

Unfortunately, all that can feel like a tall order—especially if you run your own small business and haven’t built it on green foundations.

So, what can you start doing today?

10 ways small businesses can go green for big changes, big savings

1. Power down your equipment every night

It’s easy to let our computers go to sleep every night and not turn them off completely instead. It’s actually a myth that booting up a computer takes more energy than leaving it on all day.

The best way to save electricity is to power it down and flip off your power strip every night before leaving the office. It also saves your organization money: PCs that are perpetually are using electricity drives up utility bills.

If it’s hard to remember to turn your computer off, adjust the settings on your machine related to “sleep” and “hibernate” modes. These will allow you to set the monitor to go dark after a set period of time, even if you forgot to manually take care of it.

2. Ditch the paper, go digital

Forgo media subscriptions that keep your business up to date—like The New York Times or The Wall Street Journal—doesn’t make sense. What does make sense are digital versions instead.

Likewise, if you belong to professional organizations, ask if you can be removed from print mailings and make your logins available to staff so they can take advantage of them too.

Take these tips a step further by migrating to a paperless office.

Online invoices and emailed bills have two benefits; first, you cut down on the amount of paper you use; and second, faster delivery means faster payments. In fact, you can start making online invoices with this free invoice generator.

3. Join ‘the cloud’ for less waste, better teamwork

If you haven’t yet investigated the productivity benefits of cloud solutions, now is a perfect time.

Google Drive is an easy one to implement that allows the sharing of documents, spreadsheets, and presentations. The in-document annotation features make it easy for colleagues to add notes and suggest changes while avoiding the waste of paper and ink that a printer generates.

You can do the same thing with your accounting as well with the added benefit of better data security compared to physical options.

4. For recycling, go beyond the can

Speaking of printing, recycled paper and toner definitely aren’t new ideas.

But what you might not know is that an unbelievable 60% to 80% of all used toner cartridges still go directly into trash cans. They end up in landfills where it takes them 1,000 years to decompose.

Recycling your toner cartridges is not only good for the environment, but it can also earn you money. Many toner suppliers offer discounts or cash-back promotions for buying recycled cartridges and bringing back used ones. Even the big box stores offer these discounts.

5. Eliminate disposable plates, cups, and silverware

Invest in an inexpensive set of dishes, silverware, and coffee mugs to encourage reuse of breakfast and lunch materials instead of generating more garbage.

You can also ask your employees to donate any unused dishes to the company kitchen.

While energy-saving appliances are a huge cost saver to small businesses and commercial builders alike, common sense solutions—like policies to only run a dishwasher when it’s full—are a simpler starter point. If you lease your office space, perhaps ask the management company if an older model dishwasher or refrigerator could be replaced for a “green” model.

6. Step into the light with energy efficiency

Replace all of your light bulbs with energy-efficient ones. Though CFL and LED lights both cost more initially than standard incandescent bulbs, they last longer, use less energy and save you money over time.

Likewise, look for the Energy Star symbol when purchasing computers, monitors, phones, and audio or video equipment. For a full list of green equipment, go to EnergyStar.

If you own your business space and have the know-how, you can receive a tax deduction for the installation of solar panels. There are standards that must be met, however, so be sure to do your homework before beginning work or making an investment in materials.

7. Give everybody a little green (plant)

For your next office appreciation gift, give everyone a small plant for their cubicle, windowsill or desk. NASA concluded as far back as 1989 that indoor office plants can improve air quality.

More recently, the effects of office plants have been studied on office productivity and morale and all of the data is positive. The best part is, there are many different plants that can thrive in low-light environments and many that don’t require frequent watering either.

All the benefits of greenery and no green thumb required.

8. Encourage telecommuting at least once a week

You know a great way to avoid using electricity, water, and air conditioning? Keep the office locked up and allow your employees to work from home.

This can also keep down costs and reduce your employees’ carbon footprints too. Less gas usage and now car exhaust puffing its way into the atmosphere. Plus, the costs for office supplies and other in-office perks, like coffee service, will go down.

Best of all, employee productivity has been proven to increase in telecommuting situations. Employees working from home get more done, period.

9. Brand your bags for repeat usage and customers

Has your city initiated a ban on plastic bags for retailers yet?

If not yet, it almost certainly will. Already over 100 cities and counties across the U.S. have a plastic bag ban or fee for brown bags policy in place. Hawaii just became the first state to ban plastic bags altogether.

Offering reusable bags in your business encourages customers to return and also gives your business some free advertising.

10. Ask for an energy audit

Finally, don’t forget to ask for an energy audit from your power supplier.

An audit can help you identify ways to save energy and money, such as updating equipment, shifting energy use to off-peak hours, or leveraging renewable energy sources.

After getting recommendations, find out if there are any incentives or rebates available for the changes your business makes. This goes right back to where we started: good for business and good for the world.

Going green doesn’t need to be difficult

Once you’ve begun to see the benefits of these minor improvements, help others within your business community to follow your lead.

If you feel like one small business doesn’t make a difference, imagine the kind of impact two, or three, or an entire town’s worth of businesses going green could make.

Set the example. It has to start somewhere, so why not with you?

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