A Small Business Guide to Sustainable Operations
Going green can be a daunting process for many small businesses. By creating a sustainability plan, your business can adopt changes over time and eventually see the results on the bottom line. Think of it like a strategic plan for sustainability. Getting everybody on board, assessing your current practices, making a target list for the future, and prioritizing your changes will ensure a successful plan. Many businesses already engage in some green practices whether it is recycling, reducing paper usage, or purchasing recycled products. These are great tactics and can jump start your efforts. By recognizing what you are already doing, you can see what still needs to be done. While making your sustainability assessment, it might be helpful to think in categories. Some suggestions are waste reduction, energy efficiency, and purchasing practices.
Waste reduction is probably the easiest area to implement:
- use scrap paper for drafts;
- double-sided printing, and only printing documents when necessary;
- recycle – make it easy for employees by providing proper bins and signage (learn about Honeywell UOP’s huge recycling initiative);
- opt for take-out that does not use styrofoam;
- replace disposable dishes and cups with resuable items;
- replace paper towels with hand dryers;
Energy efficiency may have to be phased in over time, but some practices can be adopted immediately:
- enable sleep modes and power saver features on computers and other equipment (Hand Arendall LLC received a PEP Member Environmental award for their IT-related equipment energy savings.);
- take advantage of natural lighting and rearrange workspaces to allow for better lighting;
upgrade to LED lights to save energy AND money (read about how Arkema did this);
- install occupancy sensors that automatically turn lights off in areas where they are not needed;
- use smart power strips that will turn off peripheral equipment;
- install low-flow toilets and faucets;
- properly maintain HVAC, electronics and any other equipment to extend the life and maintain peak efficiency (learn more about how Project Design Group, Inc. helped a company replace their boiler systems, reducing their carbon footprint)
Develop a policy to make conscious choices in purchasing products for your office:
- purchase supplies with high recycled content and supplies that can be recycled;
make purchases from companies with a good reputation on sustainability/social responsibility;
- use ‘green’ cleaning products as much as possible (Mrs. Meyers, Seventh Generation, Method are all reliable brands);
- seek non-toxic pest control/integrated pest management
- Founding PEP member, OEC, has achieved their goal to serve as an example for other small businesses to find ways to be a good business steward of our environment while enhancing the financial bottom line. Learn more about their initatives here.
Remember, a healthy, happy employee = productive and loyal = will comply with green intiatives:
- give employees time outside and near windows (fresh air and daylight);
offer employee health incentives (reimbursement for gym memberships, yoga classes, etc.);
- charitable donation matching;
- allow flexible schedules when practical;
- make social opportunities available for employees – lunches, outings, etc.
Inform and educate employees on all sustainability initiatives – why they are important and train them when appropriate.
Companies that have a successful sustainability plan often have created a ‘green team’ – a small group of employees that create and implement the plan and educate their colleagues about the practices and benefits and serve as cheerleaders for the plan.
When developing your plan, there may be items that need to be deferred. This is your wish list. Things like installing low-flow toilets and low-flow faucet aerators to reduce water usage may not be feasible right away. LED lighting can be expensive, but can be done in phases to keep the costs down. By looking ahead, the changes can be added to the budget and implemented as needed. Prioritizing these changes will ensure that your plan stays on track.
Nothing happens overnight, but with incremental changes your business can become more sustainable. Through employee buy-in, updated policies and procedures, and planned upgrades to your facility, a plan for going green can become a reality.