Story by Karyn Boenker
Going ‘green’ is a great idea for everyone, including businesses. Not only does ‘going green’ lessen the environmental impact of your business, it also benefits you and your employees in a myriad of ways by creating a healthier office.
Adopting a green label gives you a competitive edge, while sustainable choices and investments can limit risks. Creating a environmental standard for your green business gives employees a greater sense of meaning for their work. And, think of all the money that can be saved on energy efficiency measures!
Two years ago, I helped two American Red Cross Chapters in Santa Barbara County earn a green business certification. Below is a collection of lessons learned from that experience.
FULLY COMMIT TO BEING A GREEN BUSINESS
1) Practice what you preach: Write a green constitution that outlines the ways your business can commit to pro-environmental behavior. From printing double-sided with recycled paper to the cleaning products used in your office, you can enumerate the ways to lessen your impact. Find the World Wildlife Federation’s Guide to Buying Paper here.
2) Make sure the Greenies can find you: Get your name out there! You might not even know that you’re a green business, but if you’re selling local and organic goods you should consider adopting the label. You can gather all those online searches for “environmentally friendly gifts” that the big-brand stores cannot. Find a few green business directories here, here, and here (simple listings are free). Take advantage of commenting on news articles written about how to shop or live green in your city, so that you become known as a trusted source information.
Once you’ve decided to embrace the label, use it! Make a video about the project to post on Youtube. Put a decal in your window to attract walk-by clients. Place signs around the office to remind staff to take part in the project and be proud of the results.
3) Look into Green Business Certifications: Find out if there is a Green Business Program in your area. If not, you can use this guide from the program in Santa Barbara, California or explore the US Green Building Council website for ideas.
RENOVATE YOUR OFFICE
4) Purify the air: Support a local nursery or florist by purchasing indoor plants for your office. Some plants are better than others at cleaning the air, but local plant life is always preferred; it doesn’t have to travel as far to your desk and will survive easier in your climate. Best of all, there is evidence that indoor plants improve office morale and productivity! Even an additional of one plant has been found to reduce stress and negative feelings between 30-60%! Share the water and feeding schedule so that all employees can learn how to care for an indoor plant.
5) Build Green: Recycled and sustainably sourced products are often cheaper than brand new options. For flooring, consider cork, concrete, or bamboo. For paint, go with low- or no-volatile organic compounds (VOCs). Purchase double paned windows and consider allowing your employees to open windows instead of using central air (Habitat for Humanity ReStores often sell windows and doors for next to nothing). Natural lighting is also key. If you really want to commit, strive for a LEED certification.
Caution: Watch out for greenwashing campaigns. Often, products are labeled as sustainable, green, organic, or eco-friendly when they are not. A great example is with wood products certified by the Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI). This label has been criticized the world over for claiming sustainability while practicing irresponsible forestry. Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) products aren’t perfect, but they are better.
LEAD (OR LEED) BY EXAMPLE
6) Encourage your employees to be Green: Buy bikes for your staff to share (and have a shower on site so you don’t have any smelly backlash). Find out where the nearest bus routes, train stations, and zip car locations are and let your employees know. Hand out recycling containers that are larger than trash cans and provide a compost bin in the kitchen (but make sure you have informative posters for the new kids on the block).
7) Get involved in the local community:What environmental issues a problem in your city? Who are the politicians working on them? Attend public meetings and write your local leaders, volunteer at local events and cleanup events. Be a leader and an example, your business will benefit. Go door to door, meet your neighbors, bring them a houseplant. There is no easier route to being green than simply supporting your local business fellows.
8) Be open-minded: Lead by example, don’t shove a lifestyle down your costumers throat. Everyone is doing the best that they can and you should be encouraging any act of pro-environmental behavior.
9) Offer discounts for pro-environmental behavior: Give customers coupons if they bring in an energy bill that shows progressive savings (and this energy efficiency) at the start of summer and winter. College students and youngsters are some of the most environmental citizens our society has, so pass out flyers at local campuses and be a presence at job fairs.
10) Create an internship: Speaking of college students, they are often willing to work for free. Hire a bright, young face to help out in your office. They’ll directly engage in a green lifestyle and I bet they’ll bring it home to friends too! Change starts small.
11) Apply for grants: There are all kind of local, state, and federal grant programs meant to support small businesses and start-ups. Occasionally, you’ll even find direct funding for environmental businesses! Spend time looking around, but start here.
12) Start counting the savings: Some ‘green-ovations’ will have a cost upfront, but will pay off over time. Especially if you have increased your energy efficiency with solar, wind, geothermal, or other renewable investments. Green walls can also lower air conditioning costs as natural cooling stations. Keep an eye on energy savings and advertise the success to your team!
Now, go forth and follow that green brick road.
Photo: (Feature Image) Google’s living wall in their Sydney office. Photo by Danny Sullivan.