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Greening Your Business: A Primer for Smaller Companies

Content provided by GreenBiz.com
This GreenBiz Essential offers tips and resources for small and mid-sized companies, though many larger firms likely will benefit, too. The links in this document are culled from the more than 2,000 resources found on GreenBiz.com.

Contents:
  1. Taking the First Step
  2. Laying the Groundwork
  3. Reducing Waste
  4. Energy Efficiency
  5. Water Efficiency
  6. Toxics and Hazardous Substances
  7. Travel
  8. Product Life-Cycle
  9. Building Design and Construction
  10. Reinforcing Success

1. Taking the First Step

You're running a small- or mid-sized business, and you want to do it right. That means bringing your environmental performance in line for a healthier bottom line. But how to start working sustainably? Or, having started, how to follow through?

Here are a few fundamentals:

  • Comply with state, local, and federal environmental, health, and safety regulations. This gives your beyond-compliance efforts a solid foundation. You may gain additional benefits: Some governmental programs offer reduced oversight and paperwork of companies that are in full compliance.

  • Understand how your business affects the environment, from the things you buy to your relationships with customers and suppliers, to the full life-cycle of your products and services. At each step of the way, there are opportunities to make choices that can help you align environmental responsibility with business success.

  • Begin to make changes where they can be done profitably — or at least in a way that will not decrease profits and productivity for more than a short period. It's important to keep in mind that it isn’t possible to do everything right; gradual, incremental progress is a worthy goal.

There are dozens of ways companies of all sizes can reduce their environmental footprints, save money, earn consumer trust and stakeholder confidence, comply with government regulations, be ready to snag new market opportunities, and boost efficiency and productivity. Here are some suggestions on getting started, with links to additional resources.

2. Laying the Groundwork


Make sure you’re obeying the law. Staying on top of federal and state environmental, health, and safety requirements is an essential first step toward greening your business. In many cases, this means obtaining applicable operating permits, providing safety training to employees, testing and repairing equipment regularly, and taking the necessary steps to protect the environment and employees from toxic emissions. Understand federal and local agency rules that affect your business. To prepare for inspections or audits, keep detailed records of the measures your business has taken to ensure compliance. Many programs provide free compliance assistance to small businesses.

For more information:
Measure and track your waste. Watch what your company consumes — energy, supplies, raw materials — and what it wastes — packaging, raw materials, energy, emissions. Try to measure and quantify this waste: How much do you spend to purchase, handle, store, and dispose of the wasted material? Your audit may be as simple as counting or weighing the trash bags your company disposes of on a weekly or monthly basis, or checking energy utility bills. Or it may involve bringing in professionals to assess your company and recommend ways to reduce energy, redesign products or distribution systems, and other efforts to reduce waste and save money.

For more information:
Write an environmental vision statement. It’s easier to get behind a vision when all your players know what the company stands for. This foundation will show customers, stakeholders, and your community that your business is invested in the environment. With your team, set an environmental vision statement and goals that all your employees understand, and your managers will uphold. At minimum, such statements commonly affirm a company’s intentions to respect the environment in the design, production, and distribution of its products and services; commit the company to being in full compliance with all laws, and to go beyond compliance whenever possible; and make your environmental policies transparent.

Need a model environmental mission statement? These companies did it right:
Rally the troops. Employee participation is essential to a successful environmental initiative. Bring together a team of employees to promote environmentalism in the workplace. These troops can head up the recycled-product purchasing effort, educate co-workers on environmental issues, and track environmental accounting for their department. Consider creating incentives such as rewards and recognition for employees who drive your company’s environmental efforts. Name a periodic "green champion" in order to single out employees’ environmental actions.

For more information:
Examples of companies with green teams:

3.  Reducing Waste

Reduce office waste. Use fewer products and use fewer raw materials in the front office and administrative operations. Start with cutting back on paper: Establish a company-wide policy of photocopying on both sides of the paper, using the blank side of printed material for creating draft documents, and e-mailing reports instead of making printed copies. Use outdated forms and letterheads for in-house memos; post general memos in central locations; and encourage saving documents on disk rather than paper. You’ll save money immediately.

For more information:


Create a reuse and recycling culture. Set up a workplace recycling system for paper, plastics, aluminum, and glass. Remember that wasted materials are wasted money. Innovate: Examine manufacturing processes for opportunities to increase materials-use efficiency; rethink product packaging; consider composting food waste; and research recycling programs for unwanted electronic equipment. Encourage employees to reduce, reuse, and recycle.

For more information:
Green your purchasing. Specify your commitment to seek out environmentally preferable products. Identify opportunities to purchase recycled, refurbished, or reconditioned products where they compete favorably in price, performance, and quality with new ones. Whenever possible, use specific criteria — for example, paper purchases must contain at least 50% post-consumer recycled material. Work with your regular suppliers to identify their willingness to comply with your policy. Seek out alternative suppliers and let employees and suppliers know you expect materials and products to meet environmental standards.

For more information:
Rent or lease equipment instead of buying. Consider leasing copiers, computers, and other equipment from manufacturers that will take back and properly recycle their goods at their "end of life." Make it easy on yourself — let the lessor repair and properly dispose of the equipment. You also could buy equipment used and refurbished. Consider renting equipment that is used only occasionally. Alternatively, consider sharing seldom-used machines or equipment with other businesses in your area.

For more information:

 

4. Energy Efficieny

Conduct an energy audit. An audit can be free or relatively inexpensive, but can yield considerable energy and financial savings. Contact your energy utility or an energy services company to arrange an energy audit. They're usually offered for free. Consider using energy service companies, which can arrange to make upgrades at no net cost to your company; they earn their money on utility rebates and in sharing a portion of your monthly energy savings.

For more information:


Lower your energy needs. Encourage employees and maintenance crews to turn off lights, computers, and other devices when they are not in use, especially after hours and on weekends. Consider installing timers to cut the power after hours.

For more information:
Equip with efficiency. Buy energy-efficient equipment. According to the Energy Cost Savings Council, the average building owner can cut energy costs up to 60% by replacing outdated, inefficient electrical equipment with new, high-tech electro-technologies, a potential savings of $1 per square foot.

Use energy-efficient lighting. There are thousands of lighting products available, many of which offer significant energy savings and improved lighting. Examples include occupancy sensors for frequently vacant rooms; ballast upgrades and reflectors for fluorescent fixtures; compact fluorescent lights in place of incandescent bulbs; timers to turn off lighting; and energy-efficient exit signs. Many of these can pay for themselves in as little as a few months.

For more information:
Be smart with heating and cooling. Is your building properly insulated? Are the windows double-paned? Are there air leaks? By maintaining your heating and cooling systems, you can reduce your heating and cooling bills. A poorly maintained heating, ventilation, and air-conditioning system uses more energy and wastes money. Systems that are checked annually and kept in good condition use less energy and last longer.

For more information:
Keep equipment running smoothly. Your equipment comes with maintenance schedules; follow them rigorously. You’ll keep your company’s equipment running smoothly and at rated energy efficiency. This means replacing filters, cleaning compressor coils, tuning up burners, lubricating pumps and motors, and keeping your motor fleet tuned and ready for work. As standard operations, recycle your waste oil and solvents, and use biodegradable lubricants and hydraulic fluids. Your equipment will run more efficiently and reliably, and you’ll save time, energy, and money.

For more information:
Green your energy sources. Contact local power providers to see if they offer electricity from renewable-energy sources such as solar and wind power.

For more information:

5. Water Efficiency

Reduce and conserve water. Locate and fix water leaks routinely. Conduct a water audit to find faucets and toilets that leak and have them fixed as soon as possible. Promote water-efficient landscaping, called xeriscaping. Other outdoor water-saving practices include mulching, timed irrigation, and nighttime irrigation.

Install water-efficient fixtures. Consider low-flow aerators for faucets, and "dams" or other devices for toilets. On toilets that use a spring-loaded lever instead of a handle, install water-saving diaphragms. When building or remodeling, seek out low-flow appliances and devices.

Reuse water. Collect rain water for irrigating and other non-potable uses. Reuse water in manufacturing and rinsing procedures: recirculate cooling water; eliminate plenum flushes; convert from continuous flow to intermittent flow; improve control of the use of deionized water.

For more Information on all water-efficiency topics:

6. Toxic and Hazardous Substances

Find alternatives to toxics. Even an office operation can use toxic substances in the form of computer or copier toner, cleaning supplies, glues, batteries, and other supplies. Evaluate all parts of your company, from the front office to the loading dock to the factory floor, to identify opportunities to reduce the use of toxic substances. Talk with suppliers about alternatives to solvents, paints, cleaners, and other products that may contain toxic substances.

For more information:


Dispose of toxics properly. Create a plan to ensure that all employees safely dispose of toxic substances, including batteries, copier toner, paints, motor oil, dyes, and solvents. Check with your city or county office to find hazardous waste disposal facilities in your area.

For more information:
Green your printing. Whether you print in-house or contract with outside printers, look into environmentally friendly printing products and processes. Whenever possible, use recycled paper that is bleached without chlorine. Seek out printers that use water-based press cleaners and soy- or other vegetable-based inks. When designing printing projects, avoid elements that reduce recyclability, such as foil stamping, adhesives, and plastic bags.

For more information:

7. Travel

Encourage alternative transportation. Your people have to travel, but they don’t have to pollute. Support an employee vanpool or car pool program, and offer those who don’t drive incentives to take mass transit. Also, provide environmentally friendly options for those who drive, such as transit subsidies, preferred parking for carpoolers, and racks or lockers for bicyclists' gear.

For more information:
Green your fleet. Purchase or lease vehicles with the highest-possible fuel economy, or those that use alternative-fuel sources, such as electric, hybrid, or fuel-cell vehicles. Whatever vehicles you use, have them tuned regularly. Keep tire pressures at recommended levels in order to increase fuel efficiency. When having vehicles serviced, make sure mechanics dispose of used oil, brake fluid, and other substances properly.

For more information:
Make your meetings matter. Try to teleconference, rather than travel to a meeting; if you absolutely need the face time, stay in ecologically sensitive hotels. Another way to offset the eco-ills of business travel: invest in a program that will plant trees to absorb the carbon dioxide created by your trips. Host environmentally aware meetings and events. While you’re at it, reduce your travel and conference budget, and impress on clients and stakeholders your widespread commitment to sustainability.

For more information:
Reduce employees’ commutes. Give your employees the option of telecommuting, putting in a reduced workweek, or working variable hours. Studies show such programs improve employee productivity and retention. When appropriate, allow employees to work at home one day a week. Arrange for computer hookups, extra phone lines, or other low-cost technologies to allow employees to plug in to the main office from home.

For more information:

8.  Product Life Cycle

Understand your impact. Conducting a life-cycle assessment looks at the "cradle-to-grave" impacts of your products — from the raw materials to their manufacture, sale, use, and disposal. Life-cycle assessments can help you identify opportunities to improve efficiency, reduce waste, improve quality, save money, and provide products that are more environmentally appealing to customers.

For more information:


Design for the environment. Sustainable product design is simple. It means you’ve thought ahead: Your product can be disassembled and recycled easily — it has no toxics, uses few raw materials and packaging materials, has fewer components, and takes less energy, water, and resources to produce than traditional products. Goods designed for the environment also can be less expensive to manufacture, and will keep you ahead of regulations.

For more information:
Reuse manufacturing excesses. Find uses for manufacturing by-products, either in internal processes, or by selling the by-products to another industrial user.

For more information:

9. Building Design and Construction

Green your building. Environmentally conscious design and construction can reduce a building’s life-cycle costs — the total cost of building, owning, and maintaining the structure. Techniques begin with the building’s siting — its relationship to geological and other natural features — and can include all of the building’s materials and systems. There are thousands of environmentally preferable building items to choose from, ranging from structural products made from recycled materials to flooring made from nontoxic or renewable materials.

For more information:


10. Reinforcing Success

Seek recognition for your environmental efforts. Apply for corporate environmental awards to benchmark your successful sustainability efforts.

For more information:
Offset environmental impacts. Calculate your facility's carbon emissions and work to offset them through tree planting, forest protection efforts, and energy-efficiency projects.

For more information:
Take advantage of financial incentives. Investigate state and local initiatives that provide financial incentives for environmental efforts. Other programs might offer extensive hands-on assistance for corporate environmental efforts.

For more information:
Share your experience with other companies. By making your green vision a reality, you've likely become a useful resource on how to work cleaner, leaner, and more profitably. Put your knowledge and experience to work by developing or participating in a corporate environmental mentoring program. Mentoring will help reinvigorate your company’s environmental efforts, encourage the growth of new ideas, and provide opportunities for effective networking.

For more information:

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