Minneapolis-based restaurateur, Kim Bartmann has made a living of being green. Not only does she serve sustainable cuisine at her establishments, she’s embraced green construction methods and low-waste efforts. She opened Minnesota’s first LEED-certified restaurant in 2006 and the city's second one in 2011. She has solar panels on one rooftop and encourages composting and zero-waste practices at another location. While Bartmann reaps personal rewards in doing green business, she also realizes monetary benefits, especially with lowered costs of utilities and daily operations.
Not every small business can embrace such a full-on effort when it comes to going green. If you have the means to hire auditors, replace inefficient equipment, change out windows and doors, replace insulation or add solar panels, then by all means, go for it. However, if you’re looking for lower-costing solutions that you can implement on your own, there’s plenty of those, too. According to an Office Depot survey released last year, 70 percent of small businesses plan to become more environmentally conscious in the coming years, particularly in the areas of water reduction, recycling and lighting options. Eco-friendly practices aren’t a passing fad, so here are a few ways to get on board.
Reduce, Reuse, Recycle
It seems obvious, but evaluating and controlling the waste your office produces can be the best method to get greener and save money. According to the Clean Air Council, the average office worker uses 10,000 sheets of copy paper each year, and recycling one ton of mixed paper saves the energy equivalent to 185 gallons of gas.
Encourage employees to to print documents double-sided, or better yet, to email more and print less. They can also reuse shipping materials like packing peanuts and cardboard boxes – or, invest in green packaging materials from the start. Small businesses can minimize mailing room waste with Pitney Bowes small business devices, and through their online shipping and postage system.
In addition, offer filtered water service to discourage employees from buying bottled water (in turn, provide glassware – no paper or Styrofoam cups). Look into local companies that can provide and recycle your ink cartridges. Recycle old computers, cell phones and other electronics, and assist employees in finding safe ways to discard these items.
Composting: Do You Have What It Takes?
It sounds pretty tree-hugger-ish and it may not work for every office environment, but composting is an additional way to reduce waste. The Environmental Protection Agency estimates that approximately 25 percent of the trash we discard can be composted (think items like food scraps, paper towels, coffee grounds and tea bags). These items create dangerous methane gas when in landfills, but by composting these products into nutrient-rich soil, your office can help replenish eroding soil supplies across the country.
First, educate your employees on the benefits of composting and what items can be composted. Hang a colorful sign over the compost bin demonstrating what can be deposited. Contact your local recycling company to find out if they also offer compost pick up. Even better, if you own the land around your office building, use the compost in your own landscaping efforts. You can even let fellow gardeners take some home.
Also from the tree-hugger files: Consider joining companies like Dell and Alura Business Solutions in a plant-a-tree program. These programs help offset the emissions associated with the use of their computers, and can significantly help the planet.
Encourage everyone in the office to turn off their equipment when they leave for the day. Replace incandescent light bulbs with energy-efficient ones, or install motion-censored lights in high-traffic areas like bathrooms, conference rooms and kitchens.
Consider bumping the temperature up a couple degrees in the summer and down in the winter. This may cause employees to complain, but see if the practice of daylighting helps: Block out the warm sun in the summer months and letting the light shine in during winter. Not only is daylighting free, but it can change the temperature indoors in an all-natural way.
These energy-saving techniques can mean big savings. California-based World of Carpets replaced low-efficient lighting and educated employees to turn off the lights when not in use and to use electric fans to keep air-conditioning costs down. These simple strategies helped the company save $5,500 a year at its 35,000-square-foot facility.
Fix leaky faucets and go with low-flow toilets, and schedule yearly check-ups on your HVAC systems to make sure they’re running efficiently. Have someone check the caulking around doors and windows and regularly service refrigerators and dishwashers. When the owners of California Family Fitness Centers replaced the systems in just one center with high-efficiency lighting, heating and cooling, they saved $22,000 a year.
Can you offer telecommuting plans or four-day work weeks? Fewer people on the road helps the environment and, your employees will probably appreciate the perk. Use incentives to encourage public transportation use, carpooling, biking or walking to work. Evaluate if any of your face-to-face meetings can be done virtually instead – not only will you save on transportation costs, but virtual meetings can help in the time management arena as well.