Photography: J.N. Stuart
When Al Gore gets to wave an Oscar for a film about drowning polar bears, and Richard Branson announces that he’s committing all of the proceeds from Virgin Atlantic to the search for alternative fuels (a commitment said to be worth around $3 billion over ten years), you know going green is a serious business. And as it turns out, it’s good for business too. Although some of the steps that an entrepreneur can make to green their company costs money, most save cash.
What would once have looked like parsimonious penny-pinching now makes a company look with-it and generous to the planet. Here are 38 ways to give your business a touch of green.
1. Skip the Business Travel
When the leaders of America’s motor industry flew in their private jets to Washington to beg for a handout, the waste and luxury didn’t do their claims of penury much good. Perhaps if they had bought HP’s Halo video-conferencing system, they might have had a better press. But they wouldn’t have needed to splash out even that far. ACT Conferencing enables green, virtual, long-distance meetings (you can even calculate the amount of carbon dioxide you’ll be saving) and Webex lets former business travelers pack an entire conference into their mobile phones. So much for air miles.
2. Commute with Muscle Power
You might be able to skip the trip to Shanghai with a virtual conference but you still have to get to the office in the morning. Instead of sitting in traffic though, give your legs a workout. Buy a bike and take the trails or plug in your iPod and walk. It might take you a little longer but it will be better for your health – and the planet’s.
3. Take Public Transport
Unless, of course, by the time you get there it will be time to come home. If walking or cycling are out of the question then take another look at public transport. Compared to private vehicles, public transport is said to produce 95 percent less carbon monoxide and almost 50 percent less carbon dioxide for every passenger mile traveled. And if the weirdo sits next to you, you can just change seats.
4. Make the Company Fleet Hybrid
Despite the benefits of cycling, walking and bussing though, people still tend to prefer traveling in their own cars. Better still, they prefer traveling in their company cars. If you get to make the purchasing decisions about the corporate fleet then at least go for hybrid. Your employees will still get to drive around but the fuel costs will be far lower, and when the car carries your logo, everyone will know you care.
5. Work from Home
In fact, the only thing better than driving a company hybrid car to work is not going to work at all. Work from home – or allow your employees to do so – and you’ll win all round. Your employees will love the fact that they don’t have to commute, you’ll get to win better loyalty with improved conditions and you’ll still be saving the planet. If you worry it might not work for your business, try it once a week and check the difference in productivity. Even just one day a week will cut the car pollutants by 20 percent and make your workers feel they have a longer weekend.
6. Use Recycled Paper
The easiest step to greening your office is to make sure that the paper you use is recycled. That’s simple enough when you’re only talking about printer paper but most offices – even home offices – use paper in all sorts of different ways. Business cards can be made of recycled materials, as can disposable towels, toilet paper and canteen napkins.
There’s a good chance you’re doing this anyway, especially if local laws require you to do so. But make it easy for any employees to recycle -and for you not to cheat – by placing different bins in the office. And include one for batteries too. Because they’re only thrown out occasionally, they often get forgotten. When you’ve got lots of people working in one space though, you might find the bin fills up very quickly, preventing the odd AA from slipping into the garbage.
8. Raise the A/C
Every degree that you raise your air conditioning level leads to savings of between 3-5 percent in energy costs. You’ll barely notice a couple of degrees more but saving 10 percent of your air conditioning bill will make a difference to your business’s expenditures, and the planet too.
9. Cut the Packaging
Pick up an individually-wrapped apple in a grocery store and there’s little you can do but gnash your teeth in rage. Unless you create products too. In that case, keep the packaging to the minimum needed to attract eyes, and give the wrapper a second use. The box for this bird table, for example, doubles as a cardboard mobile.
10. Check the Home Office Insulation
Garages are made for parking cars not for use as offices – and unlike home office workers, cars don’t needed to be kept warm with heaters in the winter. That means they’re not always properly insulated and sealed. The amount you’ll save by insulating properly will depend on the size of the space and how you do it. Here’s one equation that might help you to figure it out.
11. Get an Energy Audit
An energy auditor will review your home or office, looking for leaks and spotting opportunities for greater efficiency. You can bring in a pro or you can even do it yourself. The government will help.
12. Know your Carbon Footprint
An energy audit will show you how you can improve. Calculating your carbon footprint though will tell you why you should improve. You’ll have to do a bit of number-crunching but there are plenty of calculators available to help you. Just try not to be too shocked at the result.
13. Go Solar
One of the best ways to save energy is to use the free, renewable kind. While plenty of homes in sunny places now use solar panels to heat the water, it’s also possible to charge your mobile device just by opening up the solar sheets. Unless you do a lot of phone-talking, you won’t save a huge amount but every little counts.
14. Grab Some Wind Power
Your neighbors might not like it, but who’s asking them? Putting a windmill on your property could reduce your energy bills by as much as 80 percent. Unfortunately, this isn’t a matter of adding a little plastic fan to your garden. Working windmills are big. But if your business is out in the wilds and you have the space, you might almost be able to get off the grid.
15. Stock a Green Canteen
The fridges in workplace canteens often contain something green but usually it’s just the mayonnaise left by the long-gone graphic designer. The food you supply your staff though can be good for your workers and good for the environment too. Next time you fill up the cookie jar or buy a bag of coffee save the world by heading for the organic nibbles and the sustainable beans.
16. Create an Office Garden
And what could make for a greener kitchen than tea leaves picked straight from the office garden or tomatoes plucked from shrubbery. Forget about planting a ficus or watering the spider plant. Load up on plants you can eat. You can’t more local or organic than the products of your windowbox.
17. Wait for the Dishwasher to Fill
Buying a better grade of snack will cost you money – although your workers will thank you for it – but improving your efficiency will save you money. Whether you have a dishwasher in the office kitchen or use the one sitting in the home office, don’t run it half-empty. Waiting until you’ve got enough dirty plates to fill it completely will save you water and electricity.
18. Boil only the Water you Need
And that’s true too of your kettle. You might need steady injections of caffeine to stop you falling asleep at the keyboard but if you boil enough water for four cups every time you need one then halving the amount will give you – and your energy costs – an important discount. You also won’t have to wait as long for your beverage.
19. Replace your Boiler
Boilers are said to account for about 60 percent of domestic CO2 carbon emissions. While replacing your old boiler will cost you some up-front cash, you should be able to recoup the money within three to five years. With the right heating controls, you could cut your energy bills by as much as 40 percent – and you still won’t have to wash in cold water.
20. Check the Energy Star Ratings
If you’re considering buying a new fridge (or any other appliance) either for your office or your home, you might be thinking about size, reliability and appearance. But look too at its energy star ratings. They’ll tell you how much energy the item sucks in – and how much you can save by buying an uglier – but more efficient – model.
21. Green your Cleaning
Cleaning fluids combine all sorts of dangerous chemicals which are hazardous to the environment – especially water systems – and sometimes to the people using them. There are planet-friendly cleaning fluids available and owners of home offices can even make their own (vinegar seems to make most things shine.) For large offices though, the government has kindly provided a Green Cleaning Pollution Prevention Calculator that should make your janitor happy.
22. Use Biodegradable Garbage Bags
And if you’re going to be tossing out the old cleaning materials then make sure you use a biodegradable garbage bag. These break down in a matter of months (so don’t leave them in the bin too long), freeing up space in the landfill and preventing the planet becoming clogged with long sheets of black plastic.
23. Sponsor a Non-Profit
Most of the ways to green your business involve changing a few habits or swapping some appliances for more efficient versions. But sponsoring the activities of an environmental group allows you to help preserve the ecosystem and win some valuable publicity too.
24. Make Coupon Deals with Vegetarian Restaurants
Many businesses choose to make life a little more comfortable for their employees by negotiating discount rates from local restaurants. But animal farming, with its use of feedlots and chemicals, and its production of boatloads of manure and cow flatulence, is more damaging to the climate than the entire transport industry combined. Going veggie will improve your health, reduce animal suffering and it will be good for the planet too. And making coupon deals with local vegetarian restaurants will give your workers a reason to cut the meat consumption as well.
25. Make your Gifts Organic
Giving gifts to clients, suppliers, employees and even outsourced staff is a good way to cement loyalty and give your business a firmer base. Presents show that you care and that you appreciate the recipient. A gift of something green and organic, such as a fruit basket will make your holiday list doubly generous.
26. Collect Rainwater
You might not want to drink it – although depending on the materials used to capture it, you could – but collecting rainwater isn’t as hard as it sounds. It would certainly help lower your utility bills and in areas like California with serious water problems, home and office water capture could go a long way to solving the problem. And if you’re like Tank Town, a manufacturer of rainwater collection equipment, you could even improve on Pepsi and Coca Cola, and sell it pure.
27. Drink Tap Water
But don’t sell it, because whether you choose to drink the stuff that falls out of the sky or not, it is worth ditching the bottled water. The liquid that comes out of the tap is usually perfectly drinkable, even if it’s often tastier with a filter. Dropping the bottle will save on plastics and transportation.
28. Ditch the Halogens
Halogen lamps might be low-voltage and easy to control with dimmer switches, but they’re not very efficient, producing more heat than traditional incandescents. Measured in lumens, a measurement of light produced per watt, halogens only produce 15 lumens per watt, just five more than incandescent bulbs. Compact fluorescent bulbs create 50 to 60 lumens, and fluorescent tubes 100 lumens.
29. Power Down
According to one estimate, the typical American home contains around 20 electrical ‘vampires’ – appliances that remain on standby even when they’ve been turned off. Those appliances, including computers and television screens, together cost the household around $200 a year. You might not want to unplug your fridge every night but you can ditch the screensaver and save power by powering down completely at the end of the day.
30. Refurbish Rather than Renew
Recycling your garbage might be an old and easy standard, but how about your office furniture? Or someone else’s? Just because a desk chair has lost a wheel or torn the upholstery doesn’t mean it can’t be fixed. Either take it to be repaired or save some cash – and some resources – by buying used.
31. Buy Quality
If you are going to buy new though, buy the best you can afford. That’s always sound economic advice anyway but it’s also good ecological advice. The better the item, the longer it’s likely to last and the less often you’ll have to throw things away.
32. Buy Local
Ideally, the best computer or office desk will be made at a workshop within walking distance of your office and be entirely constructed of recycled parts. In practice, that’s not going to be too likely, leaving you to weigh up the benefits of paying for long-lasting quality against the advantages of lower transportation costs. Buy a good computer monitor, but shop for the canteen veggies in the farmer’s market.
33. Quiz your Suppliers
When it comes to greening your own business, you get to make all the decisions. But what about your suppliers? As a customer, you have some influence over their actions too. Ask about their energy efficiency and in particular about the greenness of the products you buy from them. Use your authority to help them create a green business too.
34. Go Digital
The paperless office was first mentioned in a BusinessWeek article back in 1975. We’re still not there. Companies still insist on sending and receiving faxes, printing contracts and producing paper goods, even though much of it is unnecessary. Faxes today can be both sent and received online, signatures added electronically, and much of the documents passed around today could easily by distributed by PDF and read on screens and mobile devices. Print your receipts but the look to keep everything else digital.
35. Ditch the Junk Mail
And that includes your direct mail leaflets too. They might bring in a lead for every couple of hundred pieces delivered but there are so much easier ways of finding new clients than stuffing everyone’s mailbox. And no, that doesn’t mean spam. Even AdWords is more cost-effective than direct mail – and it doesn’t cost trees.
36. Print on Both Sides
If you are going to print though, then at least do it smart. Use both sides of the paper. Most decent printers these days allow for double-sided printing, and the savings – fifty percent of your paper bill – make the search for the next page worthwhile. Just be sure to include page numbers to make the paging easy to follow.
37. Block the Toilet
Not completely, of course, but just a little. Dropping a plastic container filled with stones into the toilet reservoir can reduce the amount of water used with each flush by as much as four liters. That’s a huge saving, especially in an office filled with regular coffee drinkers.
38. Buy Carbon Offsets
There are some things you’ve just got to do though. Even with a windmill, solar panels, digital products and a half-blocked toilet, you’re still going to be producing waste, burning fuel and degrading the planet a little. But you can make up for it by buying offsets to your carbon footprint. The Carbon Fund has programs for individuals and businesses.