How to Create an Eco-Conscious Plan for Your Business

by Margot Carmichael Lester, Staples® Contributing Writer

“With such limited resources, small businesses have to be innovative when it comes to cost savings and turning a profit,” explains Amanda Komar, Green Plus program manager for the Redwoods Group Foundation in Morrisville, NC. “Implementing eco-conscious practices helps you save money and make money, improves your brand, and sets you up not only to be environmentally sustainable, but financially sustainable, as well.”

That’s why it pays to create an eco-plan for your small enterprise. Here’s how.

Get Started

Map out the various environmental impacts of your business — garbage, recycling, water and electricity usage, carbon emissions, etc. — to understand the opportunities and challenges. Then investigate options for inclusion in your plan.

“Prioritize opportunities for improvement across each of the key impact areas and evaluate which costs and benefits would be associated with each,” says Jake Swenson, Staples director of sustainable products and services.

“Knowing that small business owners are incredibly busy trying to run and make their businesses successful, you could look to hire a summer intern from a local college majoring in environmental studies to help with this process, or ask an existing employee with interest in the topic to volunteer to take it on,” he adds

Establish baselines for use and cost so you can track the impact (or lack thereof) of your plan. That’s the most accurate way to assess the true ROI of your efforts.

Make Sustainability Happen

Here’s a rundown of six additional activities and initiatives to consider for your plan:

1.    Reduce waste. You’re probably already recycling, but you can do more. “Get rid of disposable cups in the breakroom,” suggests Shel Horowitz, a green business profitability expert and best-selling author in Hadley, MA. Provide branded mugs and water bottles, purchase items in your brand colors, or invite employees to bring their own. Another easy fix: Mandate two-sided printing and copying. Horowitz recommends resetting printer and copier defaults to duplex so users “have to consciously choose single-sided for the few times they need it.” PRO TIP: Trade in old, used or broken printers and devices, and recycle ink/printer cartridges at your local Staples to avoid sending them to the landfill.

2.    Discourage always-on. “The majority of energy used in an office is at night when no one is actually there,” Komar says. Reduce energy use by turning off computers, lights and other non-essential equipment at the end of the workday. “The percent you save varies depending on your type of business and the electronics you use regularly, but you can save up to 20 percent a year on energy costs just by turning off electronics and lights when they’re not in use.”

PRO TIP: Automated options like Staples Connect™ ensure things power down — even if staff forgets to do it — by using pre-set triggers and timers to flip the necessary switches.

3.    Move to LED lighting. “Since LEDs not only use a tiny fraction of the electricity of incandescents and last up to 15 times longer, they save money and reduce solid waste,” Horowitz explains. He says that businesses with 50 hard-to-reach lightbulbs can save an astonishing $4,425,000 over the life of the bulbs by installing LEDs. Check with your landlord or electrician before changing bulbs.

4.    Procure more sustainably. “Set up a green procurement policy to prompt your employees to purchase sustainable products for your office,” says Lisa Ingmarsson, Staples sustainability manager. Create a favorites list of approved eco-conscious products for your basic inventory and take advantage of easy reorder services — making sure to reduce incorrectly ordered items that are often tossed out instead of being returned.

5.    Ship more responsibly. Choose sustainable packing and shipping products and pack efficiently to reduce use and waste. And consider delivery services offering a carbon-neutral option. “This is high impact because of the reduction in resources required for delivery vehicles like automobiles and planes,” says Barry Slotnick, president of Varisport, Inc., the Northbrook, IL–based maker of UltraSlideÒ fitness products.

6.    Enable telecommuting. Varisport further reduces carbon emissions by encouraging employees to telecommute. “Unless they are needed in the office, consider allowing staff to telecommute to keep commuting costs and energy expenditure low,” Slotnick notes.

Create a Culture

“Plans should be considered living documents,” Swenson says. “Your plan should evolve and change as your business changes or grows, and as you discover more about the environmental choices and opportunities ahead of you.”

It’s also important to reinforce your sustainability message and engage employees in participation.

“Place signs around the office, especially in high-traffic areas like a breakroom or copy room, reminding employees of good practices — such as reminders to turn off computers and lights when not in use, and to recycle scrap paper,” Komar says. Share the results of such changed behaviors to encourage continued good behaviors, and identify areas that need additional improvement. “Constant reminders help change behavior, and also reinforce to employees that these green practices are part of company policy.”

Employee engagement is increased when you give an opportunity to share ideas.

“Your employees are the people who are actually seeing how green practices impact the business, and they can generate a lot of great and new ideas,” Komar says. “Keep a suggestion box available in high-traffic areas for employees to submit any ideas they have about sustainability in the workplace. Making employees feel like they are contributing will also make them feel that their investment in the company is worthwhile, and can improve loyalty and retention.”

Slotnick says that while some elements of your plan have high upfront costs or require new behaviors, “being eco-conscious is a good business practice. You can feel proud of the business you have, and your customers can feel like they’re a part of a bigger picture by supporting your sustainable practices. Green business practices go beyond your individual business and create an opportunity to make a larger impact on your industry and the world.”

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