Friday, March 13, 2015

Primer on Sustainability in Small Businesses

There are a number of things that small businesses can do to be more environmentally sustainable.  This both lowers costs and enhances the reputation of your enterprise. A growing number of companies are reducing the environmental impact of their businesses, so engaging sustainability is also about remaining competitive. Increasing consumer interest in sustainability makes it ever more important for small businesses to be able to meet burgeoning demand now and in the future.

Initiatives can include very simple things like turning down the thermostat, turning off lights, paperless billing, double double-sided printing and recycling. They can also include more substantial efforts like retrofitting lighting systems with LEDs, installing solar panels and product redesigns that reduce energy and resource requirements.

Here are a list of sixteen relatively easy and affordable things that small businesses can do to be more environmentally sustainable:

Assessment and benchmarking

Whether you are a 2-person company or have a staff of 50, the first step is to identify areas that most need improvement. To do this perform a self-assessment, with a focus on energy, efficiency, resources and waste. When conducting your assessment look at every detail including printing, shipping and even office lunches. As part of your sustainability assessment establish benchmarks. Having a base from which to measure success will help you to measure the impact of your initiatives. To create this benchmark, go through your daily activities from start to finish. Go through your day and write down everything that you do. Generate a list and identify areas that generate maximum impact.

Planning

Integrate your assessment into a cogent sustainability plan that focuses on areas of improvement. Use your plan to integrate the changes you can make in your company to maintain and increase your environmental sustainability. This plan should outline your company’s environmental philosophies as well as your mission statement.

Energy usage

Increase awareness of energy usage. Help make employees aware of energy usage and make them more conscientious about saving energy. Develop programs that raise employees’ consciousness of behaviors that contribute to high energy usage and that reward them for lowering costs by turning off lights and equipment when they are not in use, particularly overnight and on weekends. Additionally, keep thermostats on low settings in the winter and turn down the air conditioning in the summer. Keep doors and windows closed to prevent heat or air conditioning loss when heating or cooling.

Research local energy efficiency programs

Some states and municipalities have have energy-efficiency programs that offer discounts and assistance to businesses trying to make the switch to energy-efficient appliances or other energy saving improvements. These could include programmable thermostats, furnace replacements, boiler optimization controls and others. In addition, such programs caninclude a free energy assessment to offer you advice about which specific steps will be most effective for your business.

Lighting

Take advantage of natural light as much as possible. Replace incandescent lights with LEDs. These lights last far longer than traditional light-bulbs and also use significantly less energy. Although there is additional upfront costs, the investment pays for itself within a few years. 

Maintenance

Routine maintenance can save energy. For example, clean all filters in the heating or air conditioning systems regularly, as well as in any exhaust fans. Check periodically on any automatic settings in lighting systems or the thermostat to ensure that they are at the most energy-efficient levels. Remove any unneeded light bulbs or replace them with more energy-efficient models where possible.

Water Consumption

Install low-flow plumbing fixtures. One very simple and inexpensive change is to change the aerators on your faucets. By putting in new low-flow aerators that reducing the flow of water from the faucets in your bathroom sinks and any other areas in the office that use water, you can reduce your bill every month and also stop waste. Buying new aerators is relatively inexpensive – just make sure to get the right fit from your local hardware store. Look for the EPA’s WaterSense Label when selecting a faucet, urinal or toilet. These labels show that the fixtures are “water-efficient,” meaning that they use a significantly lower flow of water than comparable models. This could save businesses the cost of thousands of gallons of water a year.

Fix Leaks

Another way of potentially saving money is to look for leaks in your faucets, pipes, or hot water heaters. Water leaks can cost you money every month and also mean wasting water that isn’t really needed. Many leaks can be fixed yourself with some rudimentary supplies.

Go paperless

Reduce the amount of paper you use in your office to the bear minimum.  If an item can be saved on the hard drive of your computer, it doesn’t need to be printed. Process bills electronically and so online banking.

Employee buy-in

Encourage employee engagement by disseminating information, soliciting feedback and running contests for adherence. One of the best ways to get your staff to go green is by having the leadership model by example. When hiring, engage committed staff by looking for employees that are committed to a green philosophy. When working with your staff hold monthly meeting with staff to discuss their goals and get feedback.

Leadership

Once you have identified the environmental cause that your business will support, be a leader in that movement. Create initiatives that will build awareness as well as potential solutions. Donate your time and support your employees in doing the same. If you are able to, share your profits with environmentally-related causes. Actively lead by example.

Highlight achievements

Make sure you actively communicate your green efforts and accomplishments both internally and externally. There are a number of private companies that will assess and accredit truly sustainable companies.

Avoid greenwash

The environmentally friendly attributes of your efforts must be authentic. Whatever you do avoid being dishonest. When a customer's trust is betrayed it is hard to recapture. Lead by example and practice what you preach.

Support and collaborate

There are large numbers businesses that share your philosphy. Seek them out, partner with them, ask their advice and support their endeavors. No need to reinvent the wheel. You can achieve much more when working with a company whose experiences you can use. .

Inspire

Inspire existing and potential clients to be more environmentally sustainable. This is also a good way to introduce the benefits of working with your company. Stay positive and keep improving your business model.

Ongoing learning

Being sustainable is an ongoing process of improvement. Make sure you are up to date on your options by continually increasing your awareness of sustainability trends. Keep on top of the latest developments and best practices in corporate sustainability. When you find out something new, share your research with your customers. Doing so will not only build a trusting relationship between you both, but will provide you with the ongoing incentive to be on top of the latest developments.

Related
Small Business Owners Support Action on Climate and Energy
Why Small Businesses are Engaging Sustainability
Why Small Businesses are Well Suited to Sustainability
Why Small Businesses are Not Engaging Sustainability
Now is the Time for Environmental Sustainability
What Businesses Can Do to be More Environmentally Sustainable
Small Businesses Need to Engage the Green Economy

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