What really makes a business “green”? What is green to one person may not be green enough to another, so there’s a whiff of marketing around the term. A business can call itself green all it wants, but for people who care about what makes a company green, that’s not enough.
Green businesses prove their environmental friendliness by implementing and sharing their green practices with the public. There are a whole range of green activities, from using recycled napkins to renegotiating your entire restaurant equipment supply chain to only work with sustainable companies. There’s also a social component that is sometimes linked to the green movement too, such as fair trade agreements and participating in local cleanup activities.
Choosing which green activities and policies to use is challenging. Some activities are very green, but may be impractical or too expensive for your business. Others may be too small to really peg the public’s green radar. All businesses have to start somewhere, though.
Where to Begin
Becoming a more environmentally conscious business is much like any other efficiency improvement. How can you do more with less? The more is easy to define; it’s whatever your business’ purpose is. Less is trickier to define, but it boils down to three components that are present in any system: matter, energy and information. Matter is the raw materials your business uses, from what you need for your manufacturing plants to the coffee stirrers in the break room. Energy is the capacity to do work, normally to transform some kind of energy into another kind of energy. Information is the capacity to transform both matter and energy in new ways. The basic green equation is to use less matter and energy through better information on how to perform the functions needed for your business.
Every material component your business brings in has to go somewhere. Nothing ever gets truly thrown “away.” It just gets put somewhere else. One of the earliest fights in the environmental movement was how businesses handled their waste products. Air and water pollution were rampant back before the EPA was formed. Now there are strict controls.
Smart businesses find new ways to transform the waste products they make into useful materials. Sometimes this can even become a new revenue stream. Take Ferrero for instance, the company that makes Nutella spread. They use a quarter of the world’s hazelnut supply every year, but the shells of those nuts were just waste. Ferrero and their partners are researching ways to transform those shells into fiberboard for their packaging. A useless product turns into a useful one.
Not every business has the need or the resources to research new materials, so another way businesses control their matter stream is to use recycled goods and to start recycling programs. This is a common and accepted way for a business to become more environmentally friendly. Using less packaging for your product is another way to reduce the amount of raw material your business uses. Bottom line for matter:
- Bring in materials that are already recycled or are a waste product of another business if possible.
- Find creative ways to use less material in your packaging, production process and office supplies.
- Recycle what you can instead of throwing it into the waste stream.
Unlike matter, energy moves in a straight line from input to output. The strategy for environmentally friendly energy usage starts with using less. A great way to check your energy usage is to do an energy audit on the equipment you use. Find out how much electricity your old equipment is using and compare the energy usage with newer models. This is one reason why businesses threw out so many older CRT monitors and replaced them with flat screen models. The energy savings over time far offset the increased cost. There are also very simple things that can be done to use less energy. Turn off lights, monitors and computers after business hours. Turn down the thermostat in your buildings in winter and turn it up in summer.
Using renewable energy is another hot topic, but most businesses don’t have the resources to offset some of their energy costs with renewables. The businesses most interested in owning their own renewable energy supplies are those that require a constant energy supply like data centers. Some businesses are also using creative ways to recycle waste heat or hot waste water for heating or cooling. Pursuing renewable energy in these ways should only be done after significant efficiency improvements have been made.
Reducing energy and material usage has a direct impact on the bottom line of a business. Businesses with an interest in staying green should stay on top of the latest information and best practices, even if they may be impractical for you. The core idea in a fancy green project might spark an idea that transforms how much energy and material you use.
Your employees should also be informed about the green practices of your company and encouraged to use them. Tell them how much money the company has saved by following green practices. Hold competitions to see which floor can recycle the most material. Be creative and educational in your approaches.
Less is more when it comes to being green. Find ways to reduce the energy and material your company uses through good information about green practices and you’ll be well on your way.
Mark Masterson is the manager of IceMachinesPlus.com. He has more than 10 years of experience in the restaurant and bar industry. With an extensive background in restaurant industry, Mark is focused on providing quality information and advice to contractors and purchasing managers about the best practices on choosing the right type of ice machine for your client.