Going Green

Learn more about environmentally friendly business practices.

Conserving Energy By Greening Your Business

Reducing your energy consumption is frequently the most practical way to start greening your business because technological advances, such as more energy efficient light bulbs, offer an opportunity to immediately realize cost savings by conserving electricity. Simple changes in managing energy use, both in the workplace and when traveling, can result in immediate financial and environmental benefits.

Probably the easiest, quickest, and most practical tactic for going green is to look at your energy consumption as a source for potential savings. Most small businesses consume more energy than necessary. Reducing your energy bill is not only a form of going green, but it makes good financial sense.

U.S. businesses consume energy in a variety of forms: petroleum (including gasoline, heating oil, propane, and jet fuel), natural gas, electricity, coal, renewable fuels (including solar, wind, and ethanol), and nuclear. For most small businesses, electricity is typically the energy most commonly consumed.

Energy costs are expected to rise significantly in the coming years. At the same time, new and innovative means for using energy more efficiently are being developed. Commercial non-renewable energy expenditures in the U.S. are expected to be about $175.5 billion in 2008, a significant increase over the $159.3 billion spent in 2005, according to the Energy Information Administration. Industrial energy expenditures accounted for another $222.8 billion, up from just over $203 billion in 2005. The EIA predicts that commercial and industrial expenditures will peak in 2009, then begin coming down as renewable sources become more popular. Those numbers could, of course, be affected by worldwide economic conditions.

Simple Steps To Take To Conserve Energy

The two simplest pieces of advice for conserving energy are to turn off the lights and to turn off your computer (or computers) at night. It sounds simple, but many small business owners fail to do even those simple tasks.


According to a study commissioned by Sun Microsystems, Inc., only 42 percent of workers turn off the lights and only 34 percent turn off their computers when the work is done. If they did, according to Go Green, Live Rich: 50 Simple Ways to Save the Earth and Get Rich Trying by David Bach and Hilary Rosner, $43 billion in energy costs would be saved and CO2 emissions would be reduced by 32 million tons!

As a result, adopting those two simple steps can result in cost savings and can constitute the beginning of a green policy, and without ever having to hug a single tree. For the small business owner interested in building on those simple first steps, consider adopting the following additional steps involving electrical use:

  • Replace your incandescent light bulbs with compact fluorescent light bulbs. A 25-watt compact fluorescent bulb produces about as much light as a 100-watt conventional bulb but uses only one-quarter of the electricity. This means that the average 25-watt compact fluorescent bulb will save the equivalent of 100 pounds of carbon dioxide per year, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. Once quite expensive, prices for compact fluorescent bulbs have gotten so low that some compact fluorescents pay for themselves in energy savings the first month.
  • Turn off your lights, not just at the end of every day, but also at any time during the day when you aren't using them for 15 minutes or more.
  • Set your computer to go to sleep automatically during breaks.
  • If you charge electronic devices (cell phones, MP3 players, electronic book readers, etc.), unplug the adapters when you're not charging the device.
  • In a home office, you can run all your electronic products through a power strip and then turn off the power strip when you're not using the products.

Another good piece of advice applies equally to home and to office: set your thermostat lower by a few degrees in the winter and higher by a few degrees in the summer. Even small changes can make a difference. For example, for every 1 degree Fahrenheit reduction you make in the winter, you can save 3 percent in total energy use.


In addition, consider purchasing an adjustable thermostat, if you don't already have one, so that you can program your thermostat to reduce energy output overnight. A good thermostat, with multiple set-points for both heating and cooling, can be had for less than $30.

Also, take advantage of as much natural light for warmth in the winter by keeping your blinds open. Conversely, keep the blinds shut during especially warm days in the summer to reduce the load on your cooling system. Simple advice, yes, but it will help you reduce your energy costs.

Operating an Office or Building

Compared to most big companies, and especially to industrial concerns, most small businesses consume relatively little energy. As a result, there aren't many big impact steps that the average small business can take to dramatically reduce costs.

An exception exists, however, for the small business that owns its own building or office. If you own your own building, there are more dramatic steps that you can do to reduce your energy costs.

Before we get to the specifics, let's dispel a myth. In the "old" days--which as fast as green technology is developing and is being embraced can refer to only a few years ago--the term "green building" conjured up the image of some odd-looking structure that a monomaniacal environmentalist had developed at great financial cost. But it shouldn't any longer. Today, green technology has advanced so far, and the costs have come down so much, that major U.S. companies have taken steps to green their buildings because it makes financial sense to do so.

What Is a Green Building?

A green building is one that is constructed in such a way that it reduces energy use and waste. It has less of an environmental impact than traditional buildings, often by using renewable resources. Thus, for example, a green building might use solar panels for generating electricity or it might include a mechanism for capturing and reusing rainwater. In addition, the materials used in constructing the building are often environmentally friendly, such as recycled or renewable materials.

A green building, however, is not simply a mishmash of eco-friendly technologies. The construction of a green building is an effort to harmonize the building with its environment, at least to a greater extent than has been previously considered.

The Benefits of Joining the ENERGY STAR Program

In looking at what can be done for your building, perhaps the best place to begin is with the Environmental Protection Agency's ENERGY STAR program. Under the ENERGY STAR program, buildings are rated on their energy performance on a scale of 1-100. Buildings that rate at least a 75 achieve the ENERGY STAR designation. The EPA promotes the ENERGY STAR designation as "the national mark of excellence in energy performance."

Why join ENERGY STAR? The EPA's position is that small business owners who join the program and who partner with EPA to develop an ENERGY STAR building will reduce their energy consumption, save energy costs, create a healthier working environment, and pay for the changes in relatively short order. The EPA's goal is to reduce energy consumption by commercial and industrial businesses by at least 10 percent, which, according to the EPA, would save $20 billion a year in energy costs. It's also a noteworthy target because energy use by commercial and industrial businesses accounts for 50 percent of the U.S.'s annual greenhouse gas emissions. For more specifics on the program and additional information, see the ENERGY STAR website.

Reduce Transportation-Related Energy In Business

Modern transportation is a huge contributor to carbon dioxide emissions, which in turn is a significant component of global warming theory. Highway vehicles alone account for 26 percent of U.S. CO2 emissions, according to the EPA. Airplanes are also big contributors, spewing significant amounts of CO2 into the atmosphere.

Obviously, vehicles of all types are critical components of modern business and aren't going away any time soon. The challenge, therefore, is to figure out how to best manage your inevitable use of these vehicles.

For example, if your business involves the use of delivery trucks for local business and depends on commercial carriers for distance outside your geographic region, consider all your options. With respect to local deliveries, you can choose an efficient, low-emissions vehicle, perhaps even a hybrid.

Fuel cell technology is advancing so fast that you may have several alternative fuel choices by the next time you need to replace your vehicle. While the initial cost might be higher, you'll be saving on operating costs and helping the environment at the same time. With rising fuel costs, the recovery period of the greater purchase expense can be very short.

If your business routinely ships goods across the country, factor emissions in when choosing how to ship. Obviously, deliveries have to be made when promised, but there may be times when ground transport is satisfactory to meet your needs, so air freight isn't required. Not only will this help the environment, it may save you some shipping costs.

Conserving Energy When Commuting and Traveling For Business

Modern technology does offer some choice. For example, rather than fly to a client's or customer's place of business, you could have a virtual meeting, using your computer, your phone, and teleconferencing software. If you have employees, you could encourage that they telecommute full-time or part-time to reduce transportation costs.

Should you fly or drive? If you travel frequently, it may be time to rethink your travel needs if you want to consider the green implications. Probably the most often asked question is whether it's better, from a green perspective, to fly or drive. The answer is: it depends.

Generally speaking, airplanes generate less carbon dioxide per passenger than cars. According to the Wall Street Journal, the average domestic flight emits 0.59 pound of carbon dioxide per passenger flying one mile. The average passenger vehicle emits 0.93 pound per mile. Thus, for example, a small business owner who flies 500 miles generates 295 pounds of carbon dioxide, whereas a small business owner who drives 500 miles generates 465 pounds of carbon dioxide, based on a vehicle that gets the industry average of 23.9 miles per gallon.

Based on that comparison, you might conclude that flying is better than driving, but there are other factors to consider. For one, airplanes just get you from airport to airport. Some form of ground transportation is involved in getting you to the airport and from the airport to your final destination. Second, the emissions were expressed per passenger. The car statistic, on the other hand, assumes one passenger. The per person average emission goes down for every additional passenger riding in the car. The airplane statistic, on the other hand, uses the industry average for flights. Thus, total airplane emissions are divided by the average number of passengers on a flight.

As a result, whether it is better to fly or drive depends upon how far you have to go, how many people are in the car, and how much ground transportation is involved if you fly. And, then, of course, you have to consider the price of gasoline and the cost of airline tickets.

Conserving Water Resources

When green programs are discussed, most of us think in terms of global warming and what we might emit into the air. But going green embraces the broader goal of preservation of all of our resources, of which water is one of the most important. It's one of the most important because the availability of clean drinking water, which we tend to take for granted, is becoming alarmingly endangered.


Between 1950 and 2000, although the U.S. population nearly doubled, public water demand more than tripled, according to government statistics. As both the U.S. population and the demand for clean drinking water grows, the availability decreases. At least 36 states are anticipating some form of water shortage by 2013, according to a U.S. government survey.

Steps You Can Take To Conserve Water

Some sort of collective effort obviously needs to be undertaken. Whether having small businesses owners save a gallon here or a gallon there will have any real impact on water conservation remains to be seen. In the meantime, we'll just have to console ourselves with the thought that every little bit helps. The suggestions commonly offered today for how you might do a better job of water conservation range from the practical to the borderline ridiculous. Consider the following list and pick and choose those items that make sense to you and your circumstances:

  • Maintain your plumbing and fix all leaks, including dripping faucets. The Red Cross says that a faucet that drips one drop per second wastes 2,700 gallons per year. Those drips add up in a hurry.
  • When older equipment that uses water needs replacing, replace it with energy-efficient appliances. Consider those products labeled by the EPA as WaterSense products. WaterSense is to water products what ENERGY STAR is to electrical products. For more, see the EPA's WaterSense website.
  • Insulate your pipes to avoid heat loss.
  • Try not to use clean drinking water for non-drinking purposes, such as watering plants. Consider taking steps, for example, to recapture water from hand washing to water plants or to use water from sources such as unfinished cups to water plants.
  • Clean windows only on an as-needed basis (now there's one we can all get on board with).
  • Consider getting a waste audit, which would tell you more specifically where your water is being wasted. For an online do-it-yourself tool, see this online waste audit tool. For assistance with a waste audit involving water use, contact your state environmental protection office.
  • Consider purchasing a low-volume toilet. In the alternative, install a toilet displacement device, which reduces the water needed for each flush.
  • Avoid unnecessary flushes. Dispose of insects, tissues, and similar waste in the trash rather than in the toilet.

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