It seems everywhere you look, businesses are going green. Large companies like IBM, Xerox and Intel have embraced green manufacturing processes, championed energy conservation and become big buyers of renewable energy, such as wind or solar.
Goldman Sachs has pledged not to finance or invest in industrial development in certain environmentally sensitive areas. Bank of America will be taking up residence in an innovative “green” skyscraper near Bryant Park in Manhattan. Wal-Mart has pledged to sell 100 million compact fluorescent lightbulbs in 2007 and has a five-year plan to reduce packaging. The list could go on and on. Even the government has gotten into the act: In April, New York — both state and city — announced aggressive long-term plans to reduce energy use and global warming.
There are real, measurable advantages for these companies. The programs they’ve committed to help them reduce operating costs and cut their chances of being sued or fined for violating environmental regulations. Going green also helps companies build goodwill with customers, workers, shareholders and the general public.
But there’s no reason that big business should have all the fun and reap all the rewards of going green. Small businesses have the same interest in cutting costs, boosting their environmental compliance and enhancing their reputation.
There’s a growing and widespread awareness of the magnitude of the environmental challenges that we face locally, regionally, nationally and globally. The threat of escalating energy costs, water restrictions, raw material shortages, polluted air and water, species extinction and global warming looms larger than ever. So there’s another reason for small businesses to green their operations: Not only does it make good business sense, it’s quite simply the right thing to do.
How Do You Get Started?
You may have decided you want to take steps to green your business but aren’t quite sure how to get started. It’s not just a matter of purchasing recycled paper and turning the lights off at the end of the day (although you should certainly be doing that). There are probably hundreds of steps that most small businesses could take to green their operations. However, implementing all those steps would probably not be practicable, affordable or effective for your business. So what do you need to do to develop a green program that is consistent with your objectives and your business needs?
You should start by doing some of the same type of methodical planning you would do when implementing any new strategic initiative in your business. Take a good look at why you want to do this, what your performance objectives are and what the scope of your “green” program should be. You want a consistent, attainable program that you know will really make a difference. After all, it would be a waste of time and money to implement programs that don’t accomplish your objectives or that you can’t follow through with.
Why Are You Greening Your Business?
The first step in the process is understanding why you want to green your business. Going green means many things to different individuals as well as to different business enterprises. Perhaps you want to reduce energy use or support the use of alternative energy sources, reduce greenhouse gas emissions and global warming or do what you can to minimize the environmental impact in your own region. Perhaps your motivating factors are primarily business-based, including cutting operating costs, enhancing employee health and productivity, enhancing your business reputation or reducing the risk of running afoul of environmental regulations.
Take a look at the list of green objectives in the table below and consider which areas you want to have an impact on.
What Are Your Green Performance Objectives?
The next step in the process is to assess how aggressively you want to green your business. Do you want to focus on one specific environmental impact, such as water pollution or global warming? Do you want to aggressively conserve energy or minimize your overall environmental impact? Do you want to increase your company’s market share by addressing issues that potential customers will find attractive and marketing your business as “green”?
You may want to start slow and build a more comprehensive program over time. Or perhaps you wish to address as many environmental issues as quickly as time and resources permit. Your answers to questions like these will help you to assess how green you want your business to be and what steps you should take to achieve your anticipated level of environmental performance. Keep in mind that it’s OK to start with just a few objectives and see where they take you.
What’s the Anticipated Scope of Your Green Program?