There has long been a perception that “going green” adds to the cost of doing business. But as more companies of all sizes and in all sectors experiment with environmentally friendly approaches, the evidence is mounting that developing green products and services and incorporating sustainable practices into a business’ operations can increase profitability and spur innovation. If you are considering taking steps to make your company’s operations or product line more eco-friendly, you will find you are far from alone in the small business community.
According to a recent report by Green America and several partners based on a survey of 1,305 small businesses that have been implementing green practices, a full 79% of respondents strongly agreed that offering green products and services gave their businesses a competitive advantage, and 75% said they planned to expand their portfolio of green products and service offerings.
The results also showed that the greener the company’s practices, the higher their sales. When the businesses were broken down based on the green attributes of their products and services and their level of adoption of specific green actions, the findings indicated that the “deep green” segment reported stronger performance than their “light green” peers.
Despite the obvious trend toward environmentally friendly practices and products, you may be concerned that your company lacks the economies of scale to go green. Unlike large companies, which may have a whole department devoted to sustainability, a smaller business will likely have to rely on the input and cooperation of people at all levels in the organization when implementing green practices. But small businesses can also respond to rapidly evolving customer demand more quickly than their larger competitors, and have the flexibility to develop and bring to market experimental eco-friendly products.
Simply through a shift in perspective, you can find ways to integrate the concepts of sustainability into every aspect of your business, from operations to human resources to product development to customer relations. With the spread of computers and smartphones, most offices are using far less paper than they used to. Many business interactions that used to take place in person are now occurring by phone, email, or teleconferencing. Employees may be telecommuting at least part of the time. Vehicles, appliances, office machines, and even light bulbs are becoming gradually more efficient. The question is not whether to go green, but how to accelerate a process that is already well underway.
To drive further improvements, you should encourage and empower everyone in the organization to think about how they can recycle, reduce waste, conserve energy and water, reduce transportation miles, and source sustainable materials in their department or area of responsibility.
And when it comes to making steps towards sustainability, small businesses can find plenty of support. A number of government agencies ranging from the federal to the local levels offer tax breaks and even direct subsidies for recycling initiatives and investments in renewable and energy-efficient systems. Most utility providers also have programs to advise companies in how to reduce their energy and water use, and may offer rebates and other incentives for the installation of photovoltaic panels or other renewable technologies.
Moreover, according to the Green America report, a nascent “green” support network has sprung up over the past decade, with more than 160 green certification programs and more than 35 specialty industry trade associations dedicated entirely to environmental goals. These associations can provide industry-specific guidance in how to make eco-friendly improvements to your business practices, offer ideas on how to make your products and services more sustainable, and refer you to suppliers and contractors who can provide green services.
As energy prices rise and regulators, investors, and consumers hold businesses to progressively higher standards when it comes to pollution and carbon emissions, small business that do not act now to take advantage of the market potential for environmentally conscious products and services, and of the tremendous efficiencies that come with reducing fossil fuel use and minimizing waste, risk falling behind in the future.