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Greening your business: How sustainability can add more green to your bottom line

By Robyn A. Friedman    

The staff at American Electrical Contracting Inc. believes in sustainability. They monitor the thermostat, usegreenlightbulbsmall occupancy sensors to cut the lights in unoccupied areas of their 12,000-square-foot building, have energy-efficient lighting, and recycle not only the firm’s trash but also old lamps and wire removed from completed client retrofits.

Toby Williams

Toby Williams

“We started going green about three years ago,” said Toby Williams, a manager for the Jacksonville-based residential and commercial electrical contractor, which has about 65 employees.

Going green has done more for American Electrical than just giving its staff a “doing good” feeling. The firm is saving money too. “Probably 10% to 15% on our energy bills,” Williams said.

American Electrical is just one of the multitude of small businesses now adopting green principles. According to a report released in November by Siemens and McGraw Hill Construction, corporate America has integrated standard sustainability practices—such as recycling, green building, employee engagement, and partnering with non-profits—into their cultures and everyday operations. The report found that 75% of firms view sustainability as consistent with their profit mission—a twofold increase over the past three years.

Not only do corporate executives view going green as a way to improve their bottom line, but more than three-quarters (76%) expect that sustainability efforts will help them attract and retain customers as well as drop the costs of doing business, the Siemens report said.

Ellen Leroy-Reed

Ellen Leroy-Reed

“Small businesses can not only reduce their materials used but also see an actual profit increase from going green,” said Ellen Leroy-Reed, president of the North Florida chapter of the U.S. Green Building Council.

Of businesses that haven’t yet gone green, the most common reason is a feeling that it’s too expensive. But experts say that although there may be a higher upfront cost to do things the green way, over time companies usually save money.

In addition, small businesses can do many things to go green that cost little or nothing. For example, companies can reduce their environmental impact by implementing simple green practices such as printing on both sides of their paper or turning computers off at night. About $100 per computer per year can be saved if power management functions are properly used, according to Claire Woolley, an environmental specialist with Howard Ecker & Co. in Chicago.

Another common reason for avoiding sustainability, according to Leroy-Reed, is the belief that “going green is something only tree huggers do.”

“If we install aerated faucets in our building, we will use less water,” she said. “That’s not doing something for the environment. That’s not being a tree hugger. That’s just smart business.”

David P. Barley

David P. Barley

David P. Barley, a CPA with Barley, Martin & Wild in Jacksonville, agrees. “In the past, managers improved the efficiency of their businesses by getting more out of employees, improving inventory handling and things of that nature,” he said. “Now businesses are starting to think how they can be more efficient with the use of energy.”

Barley suggests that small businesses compare the benefits of going green to the costs. “Yes, the cost may be more, but if you’re going to be able to reduce your replacement costs because things are more efficient, as well as reduce your energy costs, this outweighs the cost, lowers your cost of doing business and improves your bottom line,” he said.

Numerous tax credit and rebate programs encourage energy efficiency, both at the federal and state level. Many local utilities also offer financial incentives. A complete listing of all the programs and financial incentives is at the DSIRE (Database of State Incentives for Renewables and Efficiency) Web site, www.dsireusa.org.

What can your company do to go green?

 

Marie Hurst

Marie Hurst

• Recycle furniture and fixtures

. Marie Hurst, owner of GreenSpace Interior Design in Jacksonville, furnished her office with workstations and chairs no longer wanted by other firms. She also gets supplies from companies that are downsizing or going out of business. “There are a lot of corporations that close down, and nobody goes through to clean out the desks,” she says. “So you can get a ton of supplies—hanging folders, paper clips, staples—all that stuff is left behind.  I look at that as a great cost-saver to my business, plus there is the added benefit of preventing all those materials from ending up in a landfill.”

• Improve indoor air quality. Many studies have concluded that employee health and productivity improve with better indoor air quality. As air quality improves, so do asthma, allergies, flu, respiratory ailments and headaches, leading to less absenteeism. Consider doing the following to improve indoor air quality: Ban smoking in or near the office; avoid paint and cleaning supplies with volatile organic compounds (VOCs); change air filters regularly; increase the amount of fresh air inside by opening windows and doors; and test for radon.

• Incorporate green principles into your location if you build or renovate. LEED-certified buildings have lower operating costs—10% to 20% lower, according to Energy Star—and that increases operating income. Another plus: Some studies have shown that buildings with an environmental certification can sell for up to 16% more than a similar building without certification.

• Replace incandescent light bulbs with compact fluorescent lights (CFLs). According to the Alliance to Save Energy, CFLs use considerably less energy. An Energy Star-qualified CFL will save about $30 over its lifetime and pay for itself in about six months, while using 75% less energy and lasting about 10 times longer than an incandescent bulb. CFLs cost between $3 and $15.

• Turn off lights and computers when not in use. Even better, unplug dormant appliances to reduce stand-by power consumption. Power strips make it easy to switch off all devices in one fell swoop.

For businesses that haven’t yet incorporated green principles, the process may seem daunting. That’s why experts say to start small.

“Don’t look at this as a huge obstacle, or think you have to change every aspect of your business practices—choose one thing, make it a habit and then choose another,” said Leroy-Reed of the U.S. Green Building Council. “And then spread the word. If you’re a small business doing good things in your office, there’s no reason why your customers shouldn’t know about it.”

That too is good for business.

Robyn A. Friedman is a contributing editor to Jacksonville Small Business Advantage. She can be reached at RAFWriter@att.net or through her Web site www.everythingwrite.com

SIDEBAR

Survey: ‘Green businesses’ important to consumers

The “greenness” of a company earns its business for a lot of Americans. According to a recent Harris Poll, conducted online among 3,110 adults, 27% of those who are “most green” patronized a business because of its environmental activities, and 23% of that group avoided patronizing a business because of its environmental activities or lack of them.

And it doesn’t take a “tree hugger” to make a difference to a business. Eleven percent of those who were “least green” patronized green businesses, and 9% of the same group avoided businesses that were not environmentally concerned.

Respondents to the poll were divided into four groups—least green (23%), not very green (29%), somewhat green (25%), and most green (22%)—based on their responses to four questions (“describes me completely, very well, fairly well, somewhat well, not at all, very well/completely”):

• I am environmentally conscious.

• I am a conservationist.

• I am an environmentalist.

• I am “green.”

The most frequent environmental activities respondents engaged in during the last year included:

• Installed more energy-efficient light bulbs (63%),

• Purchased energy-efficient appliances (36%),

• Started paying bills online (46%),

• Switched to paperless financial statements (40%),

• Donated an electronic device for recycling (41%),

• Switched from bottled to tap water (29%),

• Installed a low-flow showerhead (17%) or low-flow toilet (16%),

• Made energy-efficient home improvements (14%),

• Bought a more fuel-efficient car (13%).


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