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Consumers are holding businesses accountable for how they treat the environment.  As a result, many companies are taking steps to be more environmentally friendly.  For example, even big box stores like Home Depot stopped selling old growth lumber in response to pressure from environmental groups.  Staples increased the amount of recycled content in the paper they sell.  Dell has started a PC recycling program.

An Eco-friendly office.  Photo by Bet Zimmerman

The author’s home office has an LCD computer monitor (which uses about 74% less electricity and space than a CRT, while reducing eye-strain and heat load), a Watt Stopper motion sensor that automatically turns off electrical devices when the room is unoccupied, and lamps with compact fluorescent light bulbs. Used printer cartridges and waste white paper are recycled.

Being environmentally sensitive is even more important for small businesses that are part of a local community. Concern about environmental quality has moved beyond fringe element folks to become a core value. Your customers, employees and neighbors are looking for environmentally solutions in the workplace and at home. Demand for environmental products is expected to rise.

Many businesses recognize that environmental responsibility can also reduce waste, maximize efficiency, and create a safer workplace.  In some cases, their actions may be primarily motivated by a desire to reduce the bottom line.  For example, the owner of a supermarket decided to try to cut energy costs.  He converted an open freezer to a closed frozen food case, replaced fluorescent lighting with metal halide lamp fixtures, tuned the heating and cooling system, insulated hot water tank and piping, and planted trees out in front.  Not only is the store now more attractive to customers, but he’s saving $12,000 a year – a 33% reduction in energy costs.

Here are some tips on how to go green:

  1. Understand how your business can impact the environment.  For example, you probably buy some chemicals, use water and energy, and create some waste.
  2. At a minimum, comply with all legal requirements – local, state and federal.  Many government agencies offer special assistance to small businesses trying to sort through the maze of complex regulations.
  3. Begin to make changes that can be done profitably.
  • Go paperless.  Communicate by e-mail, and send and receive faxes via your computer.
  • Buy green supplies. When you can’t go electronic, use paper that has at least 50% post-consumer recycled content.  If you purchase chemicals, get only what you need, and choose the least toxic alternative that meets your specifications. 
  • Recycle paper, cardboard etc., compost food. Buy used or refurbished equipment.  Buy or lease equipment, and let the supplier handle repairs and disposal.
  • Increase energy efficiency.  Turn off lights and computer equipment when not in use, put in sensors that turn off lights automatically (these usually pay for themselves in a few months), insulate.  When building or retrofitting, use “green-building” principles. Contact your power supplier to see if they offer energy audits.
  • If you produce a product, make it eco-friendly.  Avoid use of toxic chemicals, use recycled content, reuse surplus raw material, etc.
  • Reduce commuter impact. Many small business employees are local.  Encourage bike riding by providing a bike rack and locker.  Provide preferred parking for carpoolers or staff with hybrid vehicles. Consider allowing telecommuting, reduced work weeks or flexible schedules, all of which have been shown to improve employee productivity and retention.
  • When you give gifts or awards, make them eco-friendly, such as a bird feeder or recycling bin.
  • Look at the whole life cycle of your business. For example, when you print a brochure, choose a printing company that uses water-based press cleaners instead of chemical solvents, and soy or vegetable-based inks on recycled paper bleached without chlorine.
  • Communicate how your products/activities are earth-friendly.  Seek recognition for your successes. 

Besides the fact that it’s the right thing to do, sustainable operations are a business imperative. Protecting the environment can help you gain a competitive advantage, attract new customers, and enhance customer loyalty and employee morale.  In the process, it will improve your bottom line.  


Originally published in The Woodstock Villager on 12/08/2006.

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