Let’s face it, we regularly hear or read about becoming greener and running a sustainable business, but it can be a daunting task. But we’re each tasked with being caretakers for our planet, and our actions and inactions represent what we’re handing down to future generations and our attitude towards sustaining our resources and our craft. I can’t claim to run the most sustainable company possible, but I do my best to keep an eye on our impact and continually work toward decreasing our footprint.
Here are 5 not-so-daunting steps to begin, or expand, the process of greening your business. Summer is a great time to appreciate our planet and each do our part to sustain it - come on, no excuses!
1) Go Digital
I’m an analog kind of guy and appreciate a hard copy, folders, and filing cabinets so this step was a chore for me, but technologies today make it super easy to switch to digital. First, find yourself a cloud storage system. We use Dropbox, but there are several reliable services available. Think of this as your filing cabinet.
What are the benefits? Well, you can have folders within folders within folders! Try that with paper files; it gets really cumbersome really fast. And you have quick access to previous years' files without having to dig through old file boxes. There are so many upsides, including cutting down on the storage space needed for filing boxes, having files at your fingertips anywhere you have a device handy, being able to search file names instead of rummaging through a cabinet and file folders. But above all, it cuts down significantly on your business’s need to print.
"But Asher," you say, "I like having my printed receipts, invoices and order forms. I need them." It's OK, I get it. Just consider the following: In the USA roughly 16% of landfill solid waste consists of paper products, 45% of paper printed in office settings is trash by the end of the day, and we consume about 70 million trees per year, which equates to a family of 4.5 members cutting down a decent sized tree in their backyard every year. I don’t know about you, but we only have two big trees in our yard and the property would look pretty sad without them. Not to mention that filing cabinets take up valuable square footage, analog business employees spend 30-40% of their time searching for files, and the EPA predicts 70% of businesses would fail if they experienced a loss of records due to flood or fire. If that doesn't change your mind, I don't know what will.
2) Reuse Packaging Materials
Many businesses already do this, and the only downside about saving packaging materials is that they take up storage space. You can reuse everything from crumpled paper to wooden pallets. We keep a designated amount of reusable materials in our packing and shipping area then recycle everything else that can be recycled before we send anything to the landfill. For our particular needs we find crumpled paper and bubble wrap/air packets especially useful, if not for use in packaging products for clients, then in use for shipping components to our manufacturers when an additional manufacturing process is required.
3) Pull the Plug
This is probably the easiest task on this list. Many electronics pull power even when you’re not using them. We think of electricity as this magical and endless resource without consequence. Unfortunately only a small percent, 17%, of our energy comes from renewable power plants like solar, wind, and hydro, and the other 83% is consuming our natural resources like coal, natural gas, oil, and refined nuclear ores. The solution? Put your electronics on surge protectors and switch those off before you leave work at night. This is a twofold solution because surge protectors can save your electronics in the case of a power surge. We lost power at the studio last year during a terrible storm, and when it returned it blew out our fancy printer and several other electronics – an easily avoidable situation, and one that can cut down on your power usage.
4) Work with Like-Minded Companies
Although I’m constantly looking for new ways to improve our sustainability and decrease our footprint on the environment, it’s easy to amplify our impact by choosing to support like-minded companies. When we band together, we have a greater impact. When researching vendors to work with, ask about their stance on sustainability and their production practices. Business are sustainable in different ways. What may be an area where it’s easy for me to implement more environmentally friendly practices may be a completely different area for another business, and sometimes we can learn from each other in this respect.
5) Proper Disposal of Toxic Materials
Every business has its share, whether it’s bleach, drain cleaner, stains and varnishes, paints, paint thinner, and many more potentially toxic materials that should be treated as hazardous waste. Today’s landfills are lined to prevent chemicals from leaching into the ground, but other hazards can arise including but not limited to fire, explosion, or corrosion to the landfill lining and eventual poisoning of our water sources.
These materials should never be poured down a drain; it’s not only dangerous, it’s illegal. There are proper ways to dispose of these materials and almost all of them have instructions right on the label for proper disposal. In most communities you can find hazardous waste services where you can drop off your materials for recycling and safe disposal. You can also keep your eye open for community collection days hosted by your community’s waste management or recycling centers. Hazardous waste pickup services also exist for the sole purpose of curbside pickup and disposal if your business produces a decent quantity of this type of waste.
There is also the option to avoid hazardous products all together, which is always favorable. We do our best to source products that will have the least impact on our environment, including low or no VOC products, which I wrote about in last month’s blog post.
So set all your excuses aside and get green - or at least greener - this summer. These 5 basic steps will set you in the right direction. Then get out there and enjoy the beautiful months ahead with a clear conscience!