61 Ways to Go Green without Going Broke
A checklist of affordable ways to make your business environmentally sustainable
Everyone wants a greener company. If your firm uses minimal resources and produces little to no waste or pollution, you can lower your costs, make your employees proud, and attract environmentally minded customers and investors.
But going green often requires another kind of green: Dollars. Eco-friendly acts like bringing an entire office building up to LEED standards aren’t cheap.
Fortunately, plenty of other ways to go green don’t cost much. Still others cost about the same as non-green ways of doing business.
The key principles are rethink, refuse, reduce, reuse, repair, repurpose, regift, and recycle.
Train yourself to look for eco-friendly products and practices.
Don’t use any resources you don’t have to.
When you have to use resources, use as little as possible.
Prefer products that you can use over and over to products that you use only once and throw away.
When something breaks, fix it instead of tossing it and getting a new one.
If you can’t use an item for its original purpose, find a new use for it.
If an item works but you don’t need it, donate it to a person or group so they won’t consume resources by buying something new.
When an item becomes completely useless, compost it or send it to a recycling center.
The checklist of tips below applies these principles.
AUDIT AND PLAN
|✓||Find the places where your company can improve its environmental impact.|
|✓||Ask your power provider for an energy audit.|
Some utility companies offer free or low-cost audits. Once you know how much you’re using and where you’re using it, you can target ways to reduce your use.
|✓||Set specific goals.|
Like any other business strategy, a strategy for going green needs measurable objectives – for instance, reducing your energy use by five percent per year for the next five years or checking the environmental credentials of all of your vendors and suppliers within six months.
|✓||Bring your people into your environmental planning.|
Urge your employees to join you in making your company greener. Encourage them to offer their own ideas and take their own actions to use less and waste less.
|✓||Educate and train.|
“Lunch and learn” sessions and other meetings, especially if they include speakers from environmental groups and government agencies, can show employees how to work greener.
|✓||Create challenges and competitions.|
Establish monthly contests to see which employees or teams can make the fewest paper copies, produce the least waste, and so on. A small incentive, like a gift card or an afternoon off, can produce big results.
Hang stickers and posters that tell employees to recycle paper, minimize water use, switch off lights when a room is empty, and take other environmental actions.
|✓||Create a green team.|
Formalize the process of bringing the staff into your plans by creating a committee to take the lead. The green team can set up education sessions, design signage, devise challenges and competitions, and so on.
|✓||Advocate cleaner commuting.|
Promote carpooling, bicycling, and public transit among employees. If possible, create preferential parking spots for carpools and bikes.
|✓||Allow remote work.|
Even better than a clean commute is no commute at all, because it means that your employees won’t pollute the air in their cars and your office won’t have to provide desks and other resources for them.
|✓||Decrease your screen brightness.|
Less brightness means less power consumption.
|✓||Use Earth-friendly web hosting.|
|✓||Search the web via browsers dedicated to environmentalism.|
|✓||Use laptops rather than desktop computers.|
Laptops use much less power.
|✓||Use video conferencing rather than in-person meetings.|
|✓||When you buy a computer, make sure that it has a standby mode.|
Standby, sometimes called sleep or hibernation, reduces the power that a computer consumes when no one’s using it.
|✓||When you buy any electronics, look for the ENERGY STAR label.|
The Environmental Protection Agency authorizes the ENERGY STAR logo for energy-efficient machines.
|✓||Buy from eco-friendly companies.|
Firms such as Cisco and HP receive high green ratings from the Wall Street Journal, Barron’s, Newsweek, and other authorities – and their prices are often competitive. For instance, HP’s Spectre 360 13 laptop costs about the same as the Microsoft Surface Pro 7 and Dell XPS 13.
REDUCE PAPER USE
|✓||Transform paper mail to digital mail.|
A service like Exela’s Digital Mailroom can receive your mail, digitize it, and upload it so you can manage and share it online rather than making and shipping paper copies.
|✓||Go completely paperless if possible.|
|✓||Buy only recycled paper.|
Making new paper can destroy forests and requires huge amounts of water. If you must use paper, use recycled.
Use fewer sheets of paper by printing on both sides.
|✓||Turn printed paper into scratch paper.|
If you make or receive paper documents with print on only one side, use the other side for informal notes.
GET GREEN OFFICE SUPPLIES
|✓||Use eco-friendly office equipment.|
|✓||Use cloth towels instead of paper.|
You can reuse cloth towels but not paper towels. You can’t even recycle paper towels if they mop up unrecyclable materials.
|✓||Choose reusable pens.|
Refilling a pen is better for the environment than tossing it away and getting another.
|✓||Plug into smart power strips.|
For less than $30, you can get a power strip that will sense when devices plugged into it aren’t in use – and turn them off automatically.
|✓||Get rechargeable batteries instead of single-use batteries.|
The more batteries you throw away, the more toxic chemicals you release into the wild. You won’t throw rechargeable batteries away as often.
|✓||Use a dry-erase whiteboard rather than a giant easel pad.|
You can use each sheet of an easel pad only once, but you can reuse a whiteboard endlessly. And a whiteboard can cost about the same as a pack of easel pads.
|✓||Buy used furniture.|
Manufacturing new chairs and tables consumes a lot of resources. Furniture made years ago doesn’t use any of today’s natural world, and it usually costs less than new pieces.
|✓||Bring in plants.|
Plants produce fresh oxygen and can absorb airborne toxins, improving air quality.
|✓||Get environmentally safe cleaning supplies.|
Vinegar is a great all-purpose natural cleaner. You can also get eco-friendly cleaners from Grove Collaborative, Common Good, Blueland, Seventh Generation, Cleancult, ECOS, Branch Basics, and Dropps. Even the 135-year-old Bon Ami powder cleanser is clean and green.
CUT BACK ON ENERGY AND LIGHTING
|✓||Turn off your computer when you’re not using it.|
Whether you’re going to lunch, heading to a meeting, or leaving work for the day, shutting down your computer will lower your power usage.
|✓||Unplug electronics at night.|
Many machines consume energy even after you switch them off. To make sure that they don’t keep sucking up power, unplug them when the workday ends.
|✓||Adjust your thermostat.|
The Department of Energy recommends setting the thermostat no higher than 68°F in the winter and no lower than 78° in the summer. You can turn it off entirely when the office is empty.
|✓||Use light colors on office walls.|
White and pastel walls reflect light and heat. As a result, they help you reduce the amount of energy you need to heat and light your office.
|✓||Switch to LED bulbs.|
LED (light-emitting diode) bulbs use much less power than incandescent bulbs and last far longer.
|✓||Don’t switch to CFL bulbs.|
You may be tempted to use CFL (compact fluorescent light) bulbs, since they use less power than incandescents and cost less than LEDs. But they contain mercury, which is toxic. The bulbs are safe enough when intact, but the mercury can escape if bulbs break.
|✓||Use natural light whenever possible.|
Open the blinds and use sunlight instead of light bulbs (unless the glare makes it hard to see or the weather is so hot that it would force you to use more air conditioning).
|✓||Turn off your lights.|
Whenever you’re the last person to leave a room, hit the switch on your way out.
TURN YOUR KITCHEN GREEN
|✓||Use ceramic cups or glass tumblers instead of single-use cups.|
Stop drinking out of plastic, Styrofoam, and paper. Plastic and Styrofoam aren’t biodegradable, and paper contributes to the destruction of forests. Instead, provide reusable cups, glasses, or bottles, or ask your employees to bring their own.
|✓||Get reusable dishes and bowls instead of paper or plastic ones.|
Stock your kitchen or lunchroom with glass and ceramic crockery that you can reuse indefinitely.
|✓||Acquire metal utensils instead of plastic knives, forks, and spoons.|
Reusable metal cutlery lasts for years and is nearly unbreakable.
|✓||Drink tap water, not bottled water.|
Making plastic bottles uses up fossil fuels; disposing of them creates ugly landfills and pollutes the ocean. (Some plastics are recyclable, but they don’t always get recycled.) Tap water is usually as clean as bottled water, especially if you put a filter on your tap.
|✓||Eliminate plastic one-cup coffee pods.|
The plastic in the pods creates waste, much of which isn’t recyclable. Instead, use a traditional coffee maker with washable or recyclable filters.
|✓||Use reusable drinking straws and coffee stirrers.|
Plastic straws and stirrers waste natural resources.
|✓||Avoid individually packaged food.|
The bags and wrappers become wasteful trash. Instead of single-use packets of sugar or ketchup, get large boxes or bottles.
|✓||Go vegetarian when possible.|
Fruit and vegetable farming uses up fewer resources than beef or poultry ranching.
CONTROL THE CONSUMPTION OF WATER
|✓||Turn off water taps completely.|
It’s a no-cost way to prevent drips that add up to huge water waste.
|✓||Check your plumbing.|
Look for leaky pipes and faucets. A leak of one drop per second wastes more than 2,000 gallons per year.
|✓||Install low-flow aerators.|
A low-flow aerator fits on the end of a tap and slows the gush of water. At less than $15 apiece (often much less), an aerator can save hundreds of gallons of water per year.
|✓||When you have to buy a new toilet or other fixture, get the low-flow version.|
You don’t need the power of Niagara Falls to sweep away your waste. And low-flow fixtures don’t have to cost more than old-fashioned ones.
|✓||Put recycling bins in the workplace.|
If possible, get bins in sets of two: one for paper and another for bottles and cans.
|✓||Recycle electronic waste.|
Computers, kitchen appliances, batteries, and other electronics are full of dangerous chemicals and should go to a recycling center that specializes in safely disposing of e-waste.
|✓||Turn food waste into compost.|
Your leftovers can nourish your soil (if you have any) or someone else’s. See FindAComposter for nearby composting companies, community gardens, and other compost users.
|✓||Donate what you can’t recycle.|
CHOOSE SUPPLIERS WISELY
|✓||Look for suppliers that share your environmental values.|
Do they put the same high priority on rethinking, refusing, reducing, reusing, repairing, repurposing, regifting, and recycling as you?
|✓||Find out where they buy materials, components, and services.|
Do they make their products from recycled materials – or from sources that damage the Earth?
|✓||Ask them about their processes and practices.|
How do they make their products and perform their services? For instance, do they use clean, renewable energy?
|✓||Ask them for recyclable or compostable supplies.|
Whenever possible, look for materials that can become something other than trash when you or your customers are done with them.
|✓||Opt for local suppliers when you can.|
The shorter the distance that your supplies travel, the less impact on the environment. A long ride in a truck means a lot of fossil fuel going into the vehicle and air pollution coming out.
You’re not going to go green in a day. But if you make sustainability as much a part of your business as marketing or accounting, you’ll keep your employees healthier, save money, and help the planet become a safer place to live.
And that’s good business.