One of the hottest colors in business marketing these days is bright
green. Increasingly, customers prefer brands that use resources wisely
and respect the environment.
In a 2007 survey of "green" brands, for example, consultant Landor
Associates found that consumer interest in sustainable products has
soared, noting "nearly all Americans display green attitudes and
behaviors versus a year ago." Plus, customers will now pay a premium to
support "green" efforts. Just look at the success of Whole Foods
Market, the popular retailer of natural and organic foods.
Going green also has been found to cut operating costs. Home-based
businesses can reduce energy bills by as much as 30 percent, according
to Energy Star,
a government program that helps businesses and consumers conserve
energy. Some changes do require investments that will pay over time,
such as new energy-efficient air conditioners or windows. But many
practices, big and small, have no up-front costs and can still save you
Then there’s the compelling argument of securing your future. Small
businesses, which operate on slim margins and scant insurance, tend to
be hardest hit by extreme weather and climate change. Ski operators,
food producers, landscapers, retailers, distributors, and service
providers of every stripe face higher costs and slowed sales in the
face of hurricanes and global warming.
So while it may be hard to imagine that one newfangled light bulb or
a **** of recycled paper actually makes a difference when stacked
against the worldwide problems, the fact is that each choice counts.
"When people begin to understand how each decision they make has an
impact on an entire industry or supply chain, they will see how even
small actions can contribute to change," says Anna Clark at
EarthPeople, a Dallas consulting firm that advises companies on using
environmentally friendly resources.
Reduce, recycle, reuse
Small businesses can make the shift to sustainable practices much
more quickly than can their larger counterparts. So if you start now
and promote your new green profile to customers, you can reap the
rewards before deep-pocketed competitors jump in.
Here’s a practical menu of ways to go green. Choose those that make sense for you. Just remember: Environmentally
focused consumers are now skeptical of talk. You must demonstrate real
commitment to earn their trust and dollars.
Step 1: Measure your carbon footprint
Before making any changes, you must figure out how your business
consumes resources. Overall, consider your energy and water use, what
can be recycled, and the quality of your environment and indoor air.
An energy audit from your local utility is a good place to start.
Call and ask for help. Most utilities offer free advice about becoming
energy efficient, either on site or via phone. The audit will recommend
improvements and ways to reduce costs.
Tip Tip: To figure your energy use, try this carbon footprint calculator.
Step 2: Draft a strategic plan
Don’t try to do everything at once. Instead, set up a plan to phase in changes as you have the time and resources. Be flexible.
To reduce costs and “green” your workplace, consider these six ideas.
- Switch to electronic communications. Try using Microsoft Office applications or Adobe PDF
for all your documents. Use paper only when clients request it. That
includes invoices, newsletters and marketing messages, NDAs, proposals,
contracts (with electronic signatures or ask clients to print and fax
only the last page with the signature).You can also opt for online banking, bill payment, and statements.
Mind the basics.
- Use a programmable thermostat that’s set to turn up and down depending on when spaces are occupied.
- Install timers on lights and electric equipment so electricity shuts down over night, weekends, and holidays.
- Disconnect equipment you don’t much use to avoid phantom electricity costs.
- Use high-efficiency light bulbs, such as compact fluorescents.
Typically, compact fluorescent lights will cost you 75 percent less to
run and last 10 times as long.
- Shop for energy-efficient computers, monitors, fax machines, printers, copiers, and so on. The EnergyStar label is one good indicator.
- Get annual checkups and check all filters for HVAC systems
(heating, ventilating, and air-conditioning) to ensure you’re not
wasting money and energy.
- Replace washers on dripping faucets. One faucet that drips once every second adds up to 2,700 gallons of water per year.
- Engage your customers. Retailers,
restaurants, coffee bars, caterers, and the like can ask customers to
bring their own bags and mugs. Then, reward such customers with
discounts or perks.
- Don't be a technology hog. An Energy
Awareness Campaign, sponsored by software solutions provider 1E, found
that more than 31 million of the country’s 104 million office computers
are left on overnight. “Across the nation, this adds up to more than
$1.72 billion dollars and almost 15 million tons of CO2 emissions,”
according to the campaign survey.Energy costs run as much as 10
percent of larger companies' technology budgets. Even at a small
business, the savings can be significant. Use your computers’ power
management and automated shutdown features to conserve energy, and do
- Harness micropower. You may be surprised to find how business-friendly renewable energy technology has become. Choices range from a small solar device that can recharge your mobile or PDA to microturbines, about the size of a refrigerator, which generate enough power for most small businesses.
Other options include solar water heaters that can work for
laundries or small restaurants, as well as wind and hydropower products.
For advice on renewable energy for small business, see the National Renewable Energy Laboratory or call your state environmental agency.
- Recycle technology and peripherals. You
may already be using rechargeable batteries for office electronics
because these are more cost-effective. But, eventually, even
rechargeables stop working. Instead of tossing them in the trash or an
empty drawer, put them to use. Retailers such as Office Depot, Staples,
Office Max, Best Buy, and others have collection centers to recycle old
devices and batteries. Just drop off what you don’t need.Across the country, nonprofit groups have also stepped in to help, such as the Call2Recycle program from Rechargeable Battery Recycling Corporation.
Step 3: Promote your greener business
Once you're on the path to green, let your customers know, whether
by newsletter, an e-mail blast, phone conversations, or other marketing
channels (billboard on the highway, anyone?).
Also, think beyond simply saving energy or water. You might extend
your product line into sustainable versions of what you sell—say,
financial services for green businesses if you’re an accountant, or
recycled equipment if you’re a technology provider.
One thing's for sure: The market for green products and practices is
attracting more and more folding green every day. You may want to go
for that kind of green