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What is a green business? 13 ways to go green and save

Creating a sustainable small business takes effort, planning, and dedication—but the payoff can be massive for your business, the planet, and future generations. Looking to the future through green-colored lenses, SMBs understand how essential practicing sustainability can be. According to a recent survey commissioned by QuickBooks, 72 percent of small businesses believe sustainability is very or extremely important for the economy.

But is it possible for your business to reduce its carbon footprint and make a positive impact without completely overhauling your budget and how you operate? Yes, there are many different ways to achieve this. Our guide to going green in business can help you learn how to become more sustainable—and save a few bucks along the way.

What is a green business?

Green businesses—or green companies—embrace sustainable operations, production, and sourcing. You can officially certify your business as green by meeting certain sustainability criteria. 

The goal of a green or eco-friendly business is to reduce or eliminate any negative impact they have on the environment, both locally and globally. A green business often exhibits core traits like:

  • Offering nontoxic, eco-friendly products in sustainable, recyclable, or reusable packaging
  • Sourcing materials and ingredients from companies dedicated to ethical, fair-trade, and sustainable practices
  • Prioritizing the health, well-being, and treatment of their workers and employees
  • Reducing their carbon footprint 
  • Using efficient, clean, or renewable energy sources
  • Eliminating water, air, or soil pollution and waste
  • Offering goods and services that make it easier for their customers to live an eco-friendly lifestyle
  • Investing in carbon offset programs
  • Contributing to and supporting the local community through social and environmental causes that increase sustainability

Achieving these goals to become a green business doesn’t have to break the bank. Becoming a green small business offers some financial benefits to help you maintain a profit while helping the world. 

13 ways small businesses can save big while going green

Want some green business ideas? Follow these tips to help you make the world—and your bank account—greener:

  1. Power down your equipment every night.
  2. Go paperless.
  3. Join the cloud.
  4. Recycle ink cartridges.
  5. Eliminate disposable plates, cups, and silverware.
  6. Engage in efficient energy solutions.
  7. Add plants to your office space.
  8. Allow remote options.
  9. Promote green culture.
  10. Ask for an energy audit.
  11. Partner with sustainable sources.
  12. Practice the 5 R’s.
  13. Utilize tax breaks.
  14. Reduce travel through videoconferencing.

Our in-depth tips below will show some estimated savings. The savings potential for each tip ranges from modest ($) to significant ($$$), depending on factors like industry, effort, investment, and strategy.

1. Power down your equipment every night

Average savings: $

Contrary to the popular myth, booting up a computer uses less energy than leaving it on. Powering down your equipment and turning off your power strip every night before leaving the office reduces energy consumption. Though saving only a few watts per night sounds small, the savings can add up, especially for bigger businesses with a lot of equipment. 

If it’s hard to remember to turn your computer off, adjust the settings related to “sleep” and “hibernate” modes. These will allow you to set the monitor to go dark after a set period of time, in case you forget to do it manually.

2. Pass on printing and go paperless

Average savings: $$

Paper and cardboard account for 26 percent of landfill waste. Going digital and migrating to a paperless office reduces your carbon footprint, saves paper, and eliminates your contribution to deforestation. 

There are two benefits to switching to online invoicing software and emailed bills: First, you cut down on the amount of paper you use, and second, faster delivery means faster payments. You can start making online invoices with this free invoice generator

Sometimes printing can’t be avoided. In those cases, choose sustainable options. For example, print eco-friendly business cards on recycled paper. 

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

Average savings: $

If you haven’t looked into the productivity benefits of cloud solutions, now is a perfect time. Google Drive is easy to implement, allowing you to share documents, spreadsheets, and presentations. The in-document annotation features make it easy for colleagues to collaborate, 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, plus there’s an added benefit of better data security and easier accessibility, compared to physical options.

4. Recycle ink cartridges

Average savings: $

Recycling ink cartridge stat.

An unbelievable amount—60% to 80%—of all used toner cartridges get thrown out and end up in landfills where it takes them 1,000 years to decompose.

Recycling your toner cartridges eliminates unnecessary waste and can also earn you money. Many toner suppliers offer discounts or cash-back promotions for buying recycled cartridges and returning used ones. Even the big box stores offer these discounts.

5. Eliminate disposable plates, cups, and silverware

Average savings: $

Strive to be a zero-waste business by revamping your break room. You can start by investing in reusable materials like dishes, silverware, and coffee mugs to eliminate wasteful, single-use items. You can even ask your employees to donate 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 they could replace an older model dishwasher or refrigerator for a “green” model.

6. Engage in efficient energy solutions

Average savings: $$

Replace all of your light bulbs with energy-efficient lighting options. Though CFL and LED lights cost more initially than standard incandescent bulbs, they last longer, use less energy, and save you money in the long run.

Look for the Energy Star symbol when upgrading your computers, monitors, phones, and audio or video equipment.  If you own your business space and have the know-how, you can receive a tax deduction for installing solar panels. However, you must meet certain standards, so do your homework before beginning work or investing in materials.

7. Add plants to your office space

Average savings: $

Adding plants to your office space stat.

Adding office plants creates a welcoming environment that boosts morale, leads to productivity, and improves indoor air quality. Research shows that adding plants to your office increased employee satisfaction and led to a 15% boost in productivity. Several types of low-maintenance plants can thrive in office environments and many don’t require frequent watering like succulents, orchids, and spider plants.

8. Allow remote options

Average savings: $$$

Many companies have adopted hybrid or fully remote options so employees can work from anywhere. Employee productivity can increase in situations where telecommuting programs are in place. Employees working from home get more done, period.

Technology has also allowed businesses to bring together people from all over the world in one virtual room. Taking advantage of videoconferencing and remote work options cut unnecessary travel and commuting, reducing harmful exhaust puffing its way into the atmosphere. 

You can save money on brick-and-mortar office space and utilities with a fully remote workforce and eliminate travel expenses like transportation, hotel, and meal costs.

9. Promote green culture 

Average savings: $$

Promoting a culture rooted in sustainability and establishing yourself as a green business can create a loyal customer base that prioritizes those values in brands they buy from. Customer loyalty leads to repeat business, more sales, and recommendations to friends and family.

Internally, a green culture can attract employees who align with your values. When employees love the company they work for, they feel valued and have less incentive to look for outside roles. Keeping employees is more cost-effective than replacing them, not to mention your current staff working harder for a business they believe in.

10. Ask for an energy audit

Average savings: $$

Energy audit stat.

Conducting an energy audit through your power supplier can help you identify ways to save energy and money. Some ways to save include 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.  

You can also track sustainability improvements, like energy, water, and waste reductions. With QuickBooks, this is just as easy as tracking your sales and expenses.

11. Partner with sustainable sources

Average savings: $$$

Partnering with other green businesses creates a team working toward the same sustainable goals. You can combine efforts to maximize shipping space, reduce trips, and optimize routes to help your businesses profit while doing your part for a better planet. 

If you can, source from local, environmentally friendly businesses to create a shorter, sustainable supply chain, and reduce carbon and shipping costs.  

12. Practice the 5 Rs: Reduce, Reuse, Recycle, Refuse, and Rot

Average savings: $$

Finally, it’s smart for companies going green to create programs that promote the 5 Rs in your workplace. Be mindful of your consumption habits to reduce waste from disposable, unrecyclable plastics. Reuse or repurpose materials like cardboard, cans, or bottles. 

Refuse materials you know are harmful to the environment, like plastic straws and water bottles. Take advantage of programs from your city that help you find ways to start composting, aka rot. And, of course, practice recycling

13. Utilize tax breaks and financial incentives for green companies 

Average savings: $$

Financial incentives for green businesses.

Companies that make an effort to become green businesses can take advantage of financial incentives like tax breaks and subsidy benefits from the government. 

  • Tax deductions for installing energy-saving or energy-efficient items like HVACs, lighting, or hot water systems
  • Tax credits and grants for the use of alternative/renewable energy
  • Tax credits for the use of vehicles that meet certain fuel-efficiency standards
  • Tax credits for using electric motor vehicles
  • Tax credits for using agri-biodiesel or renewable diesel fuel
  • Bonus depreciation for recycling or reusing of equipment or machinery

The first steps of your sustainability journey

Consumers, especially younger generations, are placing more value on eco-friendly practices than ever before. In fact, a study by PDI Technologies showed that 80 percent of adults (from 18-34) are willing to pay more for sustainable brands over their less-eco-friendly companies.

Aligning with consumers on sustainability lets you work together as a community toward the same goals. Once you’ve begun to see the benefits of these eco-friendly improvements, you can start helping others to build a community of companies for sustainability.

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

Set the example. The path to building greener, sustainable businesses has to start somewhere—so why not with you?

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