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Going green in business: How to save money and the planet

23 October, 2009

As our awareness of our environmental impact grows, more and more businesses are looking to decrease their carbon footprints and lower their impact on the world around them.

While this is an admirable sentiment, there has to be a benefit for the business in doing so, otherwise there is no incentive for change. So how can a small company lower its carbon footprint while ensuring there is a business benefit in doing so?

Firstly, a small business needs look at its own areas of environmental impact. These are broadly the same for all businesses, large or small but are particularly controllable for smaller firms. They are also very predictable and blindingly obvious although few businesses seem to be addressing them effectively.

Heating and lighting.

Utility charges for businesses are often seen as necessary, but uncontrollable, costs. This doesn't have to be the case.

Yes, you will always incur costs for heating and lighting your premises, or paying your phone bills, but any business can control the costs with a few sensible measures.

If you have fluorescent lighting in the workplace, you will probably have heard it said that it's cheaper to leave a fluorescent light switched on all the time than it is to keep switching it on and off.

This is a myth. If you are not using a room, turn the lights off. Better still, for a small investment, you can install occupancy sensors in your workplace rooms that will put the lights off automatically when no one is around.

The savings available from this kind of common sense approach are not to be ignored for any business. Any decrease in your power usage is not only a reduction in your carbon footprint, but a reduction in your utilities costs.

Have your premises surveyed for heat loss and insulation. Many of the utility companies will do these checks for free or for only a nominal charge.

Talk to your utility company about what savings can be made to help you decide whether the investment on improved insulation is a short or long term investment.

In other words, how long it will take your business to save the money it has invested. Whether your buildings are heated using electricity or gas is irrelevant. A reduction in the cost of your general utilities is a reduction in your demand for power and therefore a reduction in your carbon footprint and your environmental impact.

As a larger investment with longer pay-back periods, many power-hungry businesses are now looking seriously at installing independent renewable power systems such as wind turbines or solar panels to provide power specifically for their needs.

Not only does this decrease environmental impact but it makes the business more self-sufficient and sustainable for the future: a win-win situation.

Travel and commuting

Every business has direct and indirect environmental impacts. While the heating and lighting of premises could be seen as a direct impact, travelling and commuting could be seen as an indirect impact.

By reducing the need to travel on business, the demand for emission-heavy transport is reduced while lowering the costbase of the business.

In the technology driven environment of today, the need to physically visit a person or place can be reduced through the use of facilities like conference calling, video conferencing or web chat.

Reducing travel directly related to doing business is a fairly obvious way of reducing your environmental impact and saving money at the same time, but what about the everyday commuting travel of staff?

Again, technology can help in this respect as secure IT dial-in facilities become more common and widespread access to broadband internet makes remote working more of a realistic proposition.

A great many companies are exploring the concept of teleworking, or working from home. Not only is the environmental impact of commuting reduced, but the company can make savings as a result of the person not needing to occupy business premises.

The paperless office

It is well known that the environmental impact of paper production is enormous, let alone the emissions associated with transporting it.

Anything that can be done to reduce paper usage significantly will help to reduce the demand for new paper and the associated deforestation traditionally associated with it.

If you just want to reduce the impact of buying and using paper for normal office tasks, try getting recycled paper. The standard of recycled paper is now much higher than in the past.

If, however, you really want to reduce costs, you should be looking at making your business as paperless as possible.

Investment is generally required to allow you to get paper documents you receive from elsewhere into your IT and storage systems, but these costs can be very quickly recouped through paper and stationery savings.

Time and effort will also have to be spent examining processes to ensure they do not drive the use of paper, making it more difficult to change.

If, like most modern businesses, you rely heavily on e-mail and network storage drives, you will probably find you are already closer to achieving a paperless system than you think.

The biggest hurdle will be the change in culture required to persuade people that reading on screen is just as effective as reading a hard copy document and storing a file online is just the same as storing it in a binder on the shelf.

As you dig further into how to reduce your company's impact on the environment, you will see that carbon footprint reduction, more often than not, goes hand in hand with common sense business savings that most firms should be pursuing as a matter of course.

Reducing emissions and demand for environmentally damaging goods and services is common sense not just for companies with high profile green credentials but for every business looking to be both successful and socially responsible.


What company practices have you recently changed to make your business greener? Share your ideas using the comments form below: