Going green is bringing small businesses major cost savings on monthly utilities and other expenses, and it’s easier than ever to get started. Even small initiatives can have big returns for the business and the environment.1 A 2014 study by the McKinsey Institute found that, though the dollars-and-cents ROI of going green might be difficult to quantify because cost-savings are spread out across departments, the real benefit lies in how acting to conserve resources changes both your public image and internal culture. About 44% of surveyed business owners said within the first year, they were already reaping the benefits of environmentally conscious actions.2
The even better news is, you can start small; you don’t have to have a state-of-the-art eco-friendly office to make a difference for both the environment and your bottom line. Whether you’re a longtime eco-warrior or just looking to conserve a budget, consider implementing these ten practices to go green and save green as a small business.
1. Start Recycling
In the average office workplace, 80 to 90% of waste, from paper to plastic, is recyclable.3 Beginning an office recycling program not only means you’ll be dramatically reducing the carbon footprint of your business, but in twenty-five states, you’ll also be able to save money through tax incentives, credits, or both.4 But, even if your state doesn’t offer benefits for recycling, some recycling facilities will pay for certain grades of office paper. Plus, recycling often leads to reduced spend on waste disposal.5
2. Throw Out the Keurig
In 2014, Keurig Green Mountain produced and distributed over 9.8 billion K-Cups, enough non-recyclable pods to circle the earth 10.5 times.6 Although there are sustainable alternatives to the Keurig brand K-Cup, any Keurig machine made after 2009 isn’t compatible with competitor K-Cups. If your office uses a Keurig, choosing a more sustainable option is a great first step to cutting down on waste and cost.
3. Eliminate Bottled Water
Bottled water is 30,250% more expensive than tap water.7 If your office eliminates bottled water, you’ll be saving a lot of money. Simply recycling the bottles isn’t enough. In fact, there were over 50 billion plastic water bottles made last year, but only 23% of those were recycled.8 There are plenty of more sustainable ways to source pure water for the office, like water coolers or filtered dispensers.
Companies that demonstrate environmental stewardship or create green products increase their market share and build brand loyalty in younger consumers.
Telecommuting is an employee favorite, but it can also have a strong impact on the environment and your business expenses. If the 50% of the American workforce who can work from home did so only part-time, it’s estimated that 54 million metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions would be reduced a year; and, we’d save 640 million barrels of oil.9 That’s enough to fuel the whole country for a month.10
Telecommuting won’t work for certain businesses, either because the industry is highly regulated, or because the work requires in person service. When it is an option, telecommuting can also help businesses save as much as $1,800 per employee each year through reduced impact of unexpected absences.11 About 78% of employees call in sick because of stress or personal issues that they might be able to resolve more handily if they had more flexibility in their schedule and location.
5. Green Lighting
Compact fluorescent lamps (CFL) were designed to replace traditional incandescent bulbs—they use less energy and last longer, leading to cost savings for those who use them. However, they do contain mercury, which makes disposing of them more complicated than just throwing them in the trash. Light-emitting diode (LED) bulbs, another green lighting option, are non-toxic and last three times as long as CFLs, but they require a bigger up-front investment from the property owner.12 Consult with experts like green contractors, lighting companies, and your utility provider to get perspective on a strategy.
HVAC systems consume around 40% of a typical building’s electricity, though technology is making them more efficient. Businesses can save as much as 20% on cooling costs by replacing an air conditioner as new as 10 years old.13 Aside from those savings, you can also earn as much as $1,000 in Federal tax incentives for installing green HVAC hardware, including:
- Advanced main air circulating fans
- Air source heat pumps
- Central air conditioning (CAC)
- Gas, propane, or oil hot water boilers
- Natural gas, propane or oil furnaces14
Your state may also offer initiatives, so ask an expert to make sure you’re getting the biggest returns. If you’re looking for a more immediate strategy to save on energy costs, auto-programming thermostats to give the system a break when no one is around can help, especially over the weekends.
7. Go Paperless
With the advent of the cloud, going paperless is more possible than ever. Even if a business only moves a small portion of its paper usage into the cloud, it is still substantially cutting waste and cost. Paper takes up 26 million tons of landfill space every year in America. When the average office employee is using over 10,000 sheets of paper a year, changing your practices around paper consumption can make a big difference.15
8. Green Office Furniture
Everyone has heard about green office supplies like recycled paper products or hand powered paper shredders, but did you know one of the biggest pollutants in your office is probably the furniture? For example, a mass-produced desk chair is likely made of mixed materials that can’t be recycled when it’s time to replace the chair. Plus, materials like plywood, polyurethane, paint, and varnish can contain harmful chemicals like formaldehyde that present a hazard to human health.16 Choosing furniture made from sustainably sourced lumber and non-toxic materials means your employees aren’t exposed to those chemicals while they’re at work all day. Companies like RSI Systems Furniture and Evolve, among others, provide a variety of eco-friendly and stylish options. Making sustainable choices leads to fewer health risks for employees, and reduced spend on absences or health care for you.
9. Disposal of Electronics
Less than 30% of electronics are recycled properly, typically because electronics contain materials that need to be handled professionally, meaning they shouldn’t just be put in the trash. Yet often, they are.17 Recycling electronics is especially important not only because they can pollute groundwater when buried in landfills or the air when burned,18 but also because of the resources used to make them. Recycling one million cellphones generates 50 pounds of gold and 550 pounds of silver.19 That might sound like a lot of phones, but roughly 40 million tons of electronics are produced each year, and only 13% of them are recycled.20
If something like a computer or printer has reached the end of its lifecycle, instead of leaving these for the trash, see if there’s an electronics recycling center near you. If not, some companies like Panasonic, Samsung, and Staples offer programs that could provide an alternative way to dispose of the electronics responsibly.21
10. Plant a Tree
There’s a host of reasons why planting a tree is a great idea beyond improving your company image: they produce oxygen, they reduce air pollutants, and according to a study at the University of California, they might even reduce crime. Horticulturalist Ted Stamen found that planted urban areas had a 90% less chance of being tagged with graffiti.22 Planting a tree is a step beautifying your space and contributing to the well-being of your neighborhood.
These 10 tips are only the beginning of the innovations, services, and technologies available to help small businesses reduce their waste, conserve resources, save money, or try to help the environment. Many of these goals can even be achieved at the same time with the right strategies. Green initiatives save your small business money on utilities, earn you rebates and tax incentives, and improve your company culture. Plus, the community and ecosystem benefit too.