Greening Your Small Business

Filed under Going Green. Fact checked on May 24, 2012.

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Going green can be good for the environment and good for your bottom line. Small businesses can be part of the green movement through cost-effective measures.

Adopting environmentally sound business practices can do more than help preserve and improve the environment. If you examine the steps that you can take to make your business green, you might find that there are opportunities to save money, as well as derive the satisfaction of knowing that you're helping to resolve a global problem.

The idea of making a business green is not without controversy. Some argue that the concerns over global warming are exaggerated and that efforts to change behavior to reduce human impact on the Earth's environment are unnecessary. Debate rages in the scientific community, as well, over the idea that humans are causing environmental degradation and that something needs to be done to reduce the damage.

Whether it is belief in these warnings or just recognition of a business opportunity, companies in the U.S. and elsewhere have begun to embrace the green movement with increasing fervor.

Can You Make a Difference By Greening Your Business?

If significant improvements are to be made, logic suggests that those causing the most harm should be primarily targeted. Governments need to change policies, pollution-belching factories need to be modified, big businesses need to implement environmental-friendly practices, and individuals need to change behaviors.

On the list of prime causes of global environmental deterioration, small and home-based businesses would presumably rank somewhere near the bottom. Small and home-based businesses just aren't typically involved in the sorts of activities that have been primarily blamed for the environmental problems, although, of course, all humans contribute in their own small way. The question thus becomes, for small and home-based businesses owners, why should I go green? What's in it for me?

In answering that question, let's first dismiss the altruistic answer: because it's the right thing to do. No small business owner should ever be expected to adopt policies, green or otherwise, that provide a cost without any (or very little) benefit. The psychic pleasure that you might feel from doing your small part to save the planet will be little compensation if the changes you adopt and the resulting expenses that you incur cause your business to fail.

Small businesses, therefore, will be convinced to go green only if those changes make financial sense. As the larger business community's embrace of the green movement would suggest, going green can make financial sense.

What Exactly Does "Going Green" Mean?

When considering the costs and benefits of going green, perhaps the best place to start is with an understanding of what is meant generally by "going green." Environmentally friendly activities have been popular for many decades, to conserve energy, reduce pollution and save money.

The impetus for the recent green movement came from the theory that human-generated release of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere was contributing to a warming of the planet. These concerns caused some governments, businesses, and individuals to reexamine their own roles in the release of carbon dioxide and to attempt to reduce their output.

When we speak today of going green, we generally refer to something broader than global warming. We usually are referring to a heightened awareness of using the Earth's resources more efficiently. The term today includes efforts to conserve our natural resources, reduce our contributions to landfills, and reduce pollution generally.

Tip

Going green can be summarized by the mantra "reduce, reuse, recycle"--which means reduce waste, reuse what you can, and recycle what you can't.

The Green Movement and Small Business

Small businesses have been slow to embrace the green movement, for one very good reason: in the beginning, adopting green technologies was an expensive prospect, with very little benefit other than the satisfaction of feeling that you were doing your part to help. That psychic satisfaction has value, of course, but rarely did it outweigh the significant costs typically associated with going green.

Example

In late 2008, The New York Times ran a story about a guy who installed two small wind turbines on his roof to supply some of his power needs. The turbines cost $10,000 each, and the owner admitted that he wouldn't recoup his costs for many years, if ever, but that he didn't care. Few small business owners are willing to spend significant sums of money without any prospect of recovering the costs.

In addition, you could argue that using the term "going green" to describe these initiatives has served as an impediment to their adoption because of the political antagonisms that have existed between environmentalists and the business community. It is, in a sense, a public relations problem. Perhaps the business community would have been more likely to adopt green technologies had the movement been known as "becoming more energy-efficient" rather than "going green."

In any event, the times, as they say, are a-changing. As environmental concerns have increased and as the costs of green technologies have come down, more and more businesses owners--both large and small--have begun adopting green technologies. All the signs point to those numbers continuing to go up in the coming years.

Green Choices for Small Businesses

The concept of going green encompasses a wide range of alternatives. It can range from the full-on mountain man approach, where the goal is to generate your own wind or solar power in order to get off the electrical grid entirely, to much simpler approaches such as buying recycled copier paper.

For most small businesses, going green probably means taking small steps initially, which can be supplemented once the first steps prove their economic value.

The speed at which small businesses adopt green practices is driven in large part by economic factors. For example, if energy costs continue to rise, small businesses may be more motivated to look to green options. If green technologies continue to drop in price, small businesses may be more willing to consider them. If green choices become more widely adopted by the business community, those businesses more averse to risk may be more likely to embrace them. And, of course, weak overall economic conditions tend to motivate all business owners to look for cost-cutting measures, some of which may involve green choices.

Going green means, in essence, doing a better of job of conserving energy, conserving water resources, and recycling waste.

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