A Plan for a Greener Business
Every day, the pressures mount to make a business as green as possible — even if the business isn’t intrinsically green, like TerraCycle, Method or Earth911. At the same time, lots of small businesses are just trying to make it through the week, which is why many people do not feel they have the luxury of devoting time and energy to reviewing their operations and turning them green. For their businesses the question becomes, how can you go green in a smart way that gives you the best bang for your buck?
Many companies equate sustainable practices with economic efficiencies. For example, if you cut your product’s packaging weight by, say, 30 percent, you will have made a more environmentally friendly package and most likely have saved money in the process. Not surprisingly, these kinds of “eco-efficiencies” are big in the corporate world because they are driven by financial efficiencies that translate into quantifiable savings.
Obviously, every business should put in place every eco-efficiency it can. Most often, these efficiencies can be found in the form of reductions in the use of resources. But they may also come in less traditional ways, such as from installing solar panels (which we just did at our headquarters in Trenton), encouraging employees to car-pool and installing LED light bulbs.
Once you have taken the easy steps, there are harder questions. Should your business invest in environmental practices that will cost money instead of saving it? Should a business offset its carbon emissions? Sponsor a TerraCycle brigade for its nonrecyclable waste? Participate in 1% for the Planet (you give 1 percent of your profits to various charitable causes)? There are lots of options. The challenge is that all of these programs have a cost. So the next question is: what is the value for your brand from a marketing perspective? For some businesses, a program can provide an immediate sales lift. For others, it can help with a long-term strategy of building brand loyalty.
Let’s take an example. Suppose you have a coffee shop. What would bring greater marketing benefit to you? Eliminating waste (from coffee cups and coffee grounds), giving a percentage of your profit to a social cause or offsetting all of the carbon your shop produces? I would argue — and, yes, this is somewhat self-serving — that consumers can relate more to something concrete, like tackling the waste produced from a cup of coffee, than doing something less tangible, like offsetting a pound of carbon emissions.
Some businesses fail to take action because they do not want to call attention to their own waste problems. I would encourage these businesses to think differently. Consumers are not dumb, and they will not be surprised. More important, they will give you credit for facing the problems in your business head on.
Sometimes, the benefits of greening your business can include a marketing boost. If your coffee shop decides to compost coffee grounds and recycle cups, you should call attention to that with signs and other point-of-purchase material. Greening your shop can also give your business more of a premium feel, and it can help with branding. It may help set you apart from competitors.
In the end, any decision to go green should be evaluated the way you would a choice between newspaper and TV advertising. You should ask whether the money spent will generate more sales and more customers than a traditional form of marketing.
And don’t assume that if your business is standard issue — an office with cubicles — that means there is nothing you can do. There is always something. You can put bricks in your toilets to use less water. You can print double-sided or avoid printing altogether. You can put timers on lights to ensure that rooms without people in them are not lighted. You can buy reusable coffee mugs. You can replace traditional light bulbs with efficient ones. All of these measures will save money and make you greener.
If you’ve tried those, you might move on to using recycled paper, or even something exotic like paper made from elephant waste (which packs a bit of humor). Or give a financial incentive to your clients to get their billings electronically rather than in the mail. Or perhaps use an ink stamp as a business card instead of an actual business card.
If you do decide to carry out these kinds of green measures, there are two crucial mistakes to avoid. First, don’t do things that are trivial if you don’t have larger projects behind them. For example, reducing the size of your business cards to cut down on paper use is a joke if you don’t deploy more substantial green practices as well.
Second, when you go green, you want to eliminate any glaring infractions, such as not recycling in your office, overusing the HVAC, driving a Hummer, using cartridge coffee without a recycling program and so on. Avoiding these kinds of “eco-ironies” is crucial to making people feel that you are taking the practice seriously. At TerraCycle, even though our business is recycling, we had serious trouble getting our staff to recycle properly at the office. This was such a glaring eco-irony that we spent considerable time fixing the problem, and now we can boast that we have a fantastic office program.
This post was first published in You’re the Boss Blog