Starting a green business (or making an existing one greener) can often seem like a daunting task. As I start my own business, I am compiling a mental checklist of all small, simple things I can do in my day-to-day operations to lighten my footprint on the planet and reduce global warming. By building environmentally conscious practices into my work flow from the start, I hope to start off on the right foot and keep taking steps toward sustainability.
There’s always more you can do, but the most important thing is to do something! Baby steps in the right direction are certainly better than going backwards or not moving at all. Thankfully, many sustainable business practices are not only eco-friendly, but they’re friendly on the company budget as well. So even if the benefits to the planet are hard to see, benefits to your bottom line may be more visible.
Since I’m a habitual list-maker, here’s a handy list of ten simple things you can do to make your business a bit more sustainable every day.
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1. Printing Less Stuff = Using Less Paper
Paper makes up about 35% of our waste stream – even though it’s one of the easiest materials to re-use and recycle! You can help reduce this waste by using as little paper as possible, and being smart about the paper you do use. First of all, you don’t need to print every e-mail. Just organize your inbox to make e-mails easier to find and reference. You can encourage others not to print your e-mails as well. Make back-up copies of important files and e-mails and keep them on an external drive, instead of storing boxes of paper files. When you do need to print important documents, make sure you use a sustainable paper, and set your printer or copier to print on both sides of the page.
2. Go Digital with Your Documents
A great way to reduce paper use and get contracts and documents signed more quickly is to use electronic signatures. Adobe Acrobat Professional allows you to sign PDF files digitally, as well as create PDF documents with signature fields for clients to sign. Or you could use software such as DocuSign or e-signature to securely sign documents and get signatures from clients and vendors. I send proposals, contracts, and invoices entirely through e-mail as PDF attachments. Clients can then e-sign the documents and send them back, and we both have a signed copy without having to print anything. I also use PayPal to send invoices, which gives me the ability to accept credit cards and receive instant payment.
3. Pull that Plug
You aren’t working all hours of the night (at least I hope not), so why does your computer need to be on? Turn off everything you possibly can before you leave the office each day. I plug my computer, printer, external hard drive, and other office gadgets into one power strip, so I can just turn it off to make sure none of my appliances are secretly pilfering energy. I also program my computer to turn off automatically at a certain time each night, just in case I forget. You can also set your monitor to turn off after a few minutes of inactivity. And never leave things like cell phone chargers plugged in when you’re not using them. They still draw energy, regardless of whether there’s anything plugged into them. Speaking of energy efficiency, make sure you stock your office with energy-saving appliances and compact florescent light bulbs.
4. Get Waste Wise
Recycling is never a chore when it’s easier than throwing something away. Place paper recycling bins in convenient locations all over the office, like right next to copiers and mail boxes. Keep clearly labeled bins in several central locations such as break rooms. Everywhere there is a trash can, there should be a recycling bin. If you have a cafeteria or break room in your office, consider adding a compost bin. An employee or neighbor with a garden wouldn’t mind the free plant food, and worm bins are compact with very little odor.
5. Work With Like-Minded Companies
Chances are, there are businesses in your area that are also going green or certified green. Network with them and use their services when you need them. Part of being a green business is making sure that you do your best to ensure that your supply chain is green, too. Seek out green vendors for your business needs, whether it be printing business cards, hosting your web site, or cleaning your office building.
6. One Word: Freecycle!
Need some shelves for your office and don’t have a budget for new furnishings? You never know what you might find on freecycle. One person’s junk is definitely another’s treasure. If you have a large company, you could even organize an office-wide barter party, where everyone brings items they don’t use any more to swap for things they might need from others. When you upgrade your office equipment after years of use, pass it on if it’s still useful. List it on freecycle or donate it to a charity that may need it.
7. Institute a Company Recycling Program for Electronics
In addition to recycling the usual paper, cans, and bottles in the office, don’t forget about the e-waste that is so essential to businesses and so toxic to the environment. When old electronic equipment finally bites the dust, don’t just toss it, but make it company policy to recycle everything you can. Recycling for Charities makes recycling e-waste like cell phones, cameras, and palm pilots a breeze – and you can choose which charity gets the proceeds from your recycled electronics! Many computer manufacturers offer take-back programs for old computers, so make use of them.
8. Slow the Flow of Junk Mail
Junk mail may be one of the most wasteful things known to man. When the plague of unwanted mailings seems to never end, there is something you can do about it. There are free services out there that will remove you from mailing lists, and you can also remove your name from the Direct Marketing Association’s member prospect list.
9. Build Your Office Green from the Floor Up
If you’re lucky enough to be able to afford an office remodel, go green from the floor to the skylights. Use eco-friendly flooring options made from renewable or recycled materials. Use sustainable fabrics made from hemp or bamboo for window coverings, or get them second hand. Lengths of bamboo make great curtain rods, too. Get lots of green building ideas at Green Building Elements.
10. Educate Yourself
There is always more you can do to make your business more sustainable. And the only way to make progress is to know where you’re headed. Keep up with environmental news and green business trends to identify areas you can improve on. Make your own checklist of green business practices to implement and set deadlines for crossing them off your list. Share green news and tips with your co-workers, employees, and clients. Making yourself an “expert” on sustainability will not only build your green brand, but it will earn respect from potential clients, customers, and your peers. Of course I’m biased, but I can’t think of a better resource than Ecopreneurist for green business tips, so check back often to learn how to keep your business on the path to sustainability.
This article is the eighth in a series called Green Dreams following my journey starting a green design business. You can learn along with me: read the series introduction, see some green business resources, get inspired, learn how to write a business plan, find out how to name your business, learn why sustainability should be a part of your planning from the beginning, and avoid commuting by working from home. Stay tuned for more on starting a green business!
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