“Going green” is a lot more than a buzz-worthy phrase. Whereas most people associate the phrase with a commitment to preserving the planet, they sometimes forget that going green is actually a practical measure that decreases costs because you simply use fewer resources. Your “carbon footprint,” or the measure of air pollution emitted by burning hydrocarbons, is a phrase coined to help quantify how much pollution is caused by a given activity. As a small business owner, you can reduce your carbon footprint (and save money in the process) by following these seven relatively easy tips.
1. Do a carbon assessment and track your carbon footprint
It’s important to be clear and consistent in your approach to “greening” your office and ultimately reducing your organization’s carbon footprint. To determine the most cost-effective measures, conduct an initial carbon assessment to calculate the amount of greenhouse gases your operations generate. You can start with a carbon calculator to figure out your company’s total carbon impact in metric tons; you can then pinpoint areas in which you could reduce consumption and waste.
Consider hiring service providers which aim to help small businesses measure, reduce and offset carbon emissions. Additionally, it may be worthwhile to figure out your water footprint, which is the volume of water used to create products and run a business. These steps will help you construct a comprehensive view of the environmental impact of your entire supply chain.
Keep track of your energy usage and waste production so you can see where your business is making the biggest impact on the environment. This will help you identify areas where you can make changes to reduce your carbon footprint further.
2. Cut down on printing and go paperless
According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, paper and paperboard products comprise the largest portion of cities’ solid waste. To minimize your company’s paper use and overall waste, get into the practice of reading and sending digital documents.
Encourage your employees to use digital documents and communication methods instead of printing out hard copies. This will reduce the amount of paper you use and the energy needed to produce it.
3. Start a recycling program
Jumpstart a recycling program in your workplace by contacting your property manager or waste hauler. They can help you verify the types of materials that can be collected and recycled. For instance, such organizations will collect and separate not only paper but also plastic, metal, glass and other types of recyclables.
But don’t stop at conventional items. Consider creating a company policy to participate in manufacturers’ take-back programs for old printers and computers, or donate old phones and cameras to local charities. If you’re unsure where to begin, try searching for good resources on search engines or social media that can steer you toward launching a successful collection program.
More importantly, inform and educate your employees on the benefits of the recycling program, as well as how the process will work moving forward. Enlist enthusiastic employees into voluntary task forces to build excitement and understanding around your sustainability policies and practices.
4. Switch from paper cups to ceramic mugs
Major brands like Starbucks acknowledge the significant environmental impact its paper cups create when thrown into waste bins and shuttled to landfills and plan to phase out paper cups. In fact, the issue was serious enough to press the company to launch a “personal tumbler” campaign that offered U.S. and Canadian customers reusable tumblers for just $1 apiece.
Even if you’re in an industry other than food services, you can run your own internal “tumbler” campaign to swap paper cups in your break room with ceramic and stainless-steel mugs. To minimize the potential pile-up of communal dishes, consider distributing company-branded mugs to each employee for their own personal use. The switch from paper cups to reusable ones will help decrease the amount of waste in trash and recycling bins, which helps to reduce rather than add to the environmental burden.
5. Implement energy-efficient practices
Before you leave the office, shut down any idle computers, printers and other inactive electronic devices. Any plugged-in devices will continue to draw energy and contribute to your carbon footprint (as well as your electricity bill).
Don’t forget to encourage colleagues to get into the habit of switching off lights and unused equipment upon leaving the office. Moreover, implementing and utilizing energy-saving modes on computers and monitors reduce electricity consumption and help lower utility costs.
Also, make sure your office equipment, lighting, and appliances are energy-efficient. This can include using LED light bulbs, investing in energy-efficient laptops and printers, and setting up power-saving modes on your devices.
Allow your employees to work from home when possible. This will reduce the amount of energy needed to heat and cool your office, as well as reduce the number of cars on the road. Also, encourage your employees to use public transportation or carpool to work. This will reduce the number of cars on the road and decrease your carbon footprint.
6. Give your office an eco-friendly makeover
If you’re on a budget, going green doesn’t have to mean purchasing expensive upgrades and extensive retrofitting. One of the simplest things you can do is swap out old incandescent light bulbs with more efficient LED bulbs. There are also consultant services that can help set up your entire office and its supplies with sustainable products.
If feasible, your business can go even further and use renewable energy to power its operations. Consider investing in solar panels or other renewable energy sources to power your office. This will reduce your reliance on fossil fuels and decrease your carbon footprint. Although the initial setup for renewable energy might be a bit expensive, its reduced impact on the environment and the cheap energy it provides is nearly invaluable.
Use eco-friendly products in your office, such as recycled paper, biodegradable cleaning products, and energy-efficient light bulbs. This will reduce the amount of waste you produce and decrease your carbon footprint. Purchasing green products can also positively influence the health and safety of you and your employees. For example, conventional cleaners and bathroom disinfectants often contain toxic chemicals that emit harmful fumes. To avoid chemical exposure to these toxins, replace your conventional cleaners with biodegradable or all-natural products. Such products are not only safer for indoor occupants, but they minimize contaminates that can end up in public water supplies.
7. Support other green companies
Let your money do the talking. Start purchasing paper, supplies and office equipment from other companies that support carbon-cutting initiatives. By seeking out like-minded organizations that are serious about being environmentally and socially conscious, you will be tripling your efforts. On top of being beneficial to the environment and boosting your network through local business connections, building partnerships with other green businesses is also a good PR move.
Do your own research by reading corporate sustainability reports or by referencing resources to compare the greenhouse gas emissions, water consumption and waste streams of organizations throughout the world. Do your part to save the environment, and make your efforts public to see rewards in the form of a relieved conscious, cheaper utility costs, favorable PR and more.