Today, it’s critical for companies to practice environmental stewardship. Consumers want products made from sustainable materials, and employees want to work for ethical companies. Even investors are jumping on board, filling their portfolios with companies that follow environmental, social and governance principles. Besides being a hot-button issue, many eco-friendly initiatives also save companies money. With so many reasons to act sustainably, you may be wondering where to start. Follow this guide to learn how to become a more sustainable business.
How to Create a More Sustainable Business
To design a business with sustainability at its core, you must incorporate eco-friendly practices into every operation. Consider how every department and function of your business can make a positive impact and limit its effects on the environment. Here are six areas to take into account.
1. Make Sustainability Your Mission
When you’re building a business from the ground up, or even if you have an established brand, incorporate sustainability into your company’s mission. If going green isn’t already part of your mission statement, it’s a good idea to create a concise declaration summarizing your sustainability goals. Green business certifications often require companies to have an overarching mission statement governing their sustainability practices.
Core values help your team organize their efforts around a central goal while holding everyone accountable. They distill and clarify your priorities and formalize your company’s commitment to the environment. As you write a mission statement for your green business practices, collaborate with your decision-makers. First, include why sustainability is essential to your company. Write down specific goals, a list of priorities and tangible actions you’ll use to get there. Finally, include a vision for the future and define how you’ll measure success.
2. Create a Green Product
If sustainability is part of your company’s mission from the start, you have the opportunity to create an eco-friendly product by design. When doing so, prioritize sustainable materials. Whether you’re a manufacturer or a construction company, you have the opportunity to source your supplies from ethical providers. As you select materials, consider whether they share these characteristics.
- Sourced sustainably: The supplier’s practices impact a product’s sustainability. Source products from manufacturers that have enacted ethical, environmentally friendly practices. For example, buy wood or paper from a vendor that plants trees to replace the ones it harvests.
- Fair trade: Look for suppliers and materials with fair-trade certifications. Fair-trade principles involve paying producers in developing countries at or above market rate for the goods they produce. Under fair-trade arrangements, farmers and their workers receive living wages while enjoying better working conditions. These practices also empower people to practice sustainability.
- Recyclable, renewable or biodegradable: Wherever possible, create products that are recyclable, renewable or biodegradable. Use materials that minimize their impact on the environment, free from toxic substances that may contaminate water and soil or deplete the ozone layer. Cardboard and paper are excellent examples, especially those made with post-consumer fibers. Besides the product itself, also consider its packaging. Cornstarch, wood pulp and seaweed packaging can replace single-use containers. When you must use plastic, use only one type, so recyclers can accept it.
- Locally sourced: When your materials come from small businesses in your community, it supports your local economy and reduces transportation emissions.
- Reusable: Consider packaging your products in stylish, reusable packaging — for example, a canvas drawstring bag or a sturdy cardboard box — to prevent them from entering a landfill.
3. Store and Ship Your Products Sustainably
Next, ensure you use sustainable practices with your finished goods. Warehouse products in a facility that conserves water and energy, and package them in reusable shipping boxes. If possible, outfit your storage facility with solar panels, or work with a third party that uses a renewable energy source. When you must get rid of unsold products, consider donating or recycling them.
4. Go Green Wherever Possible
If you run a service-based company or travel for work, take other steps to create a sustainable business.
For example, a construction company must employ sustainable practices on every job site. That could mean using fuel-efficient construction equipment and eliminating unnecessary water usage. It’s also critical to manage your waste effectively, to avoid contaminating the area around your construction site.
Effective waste management for the construction industry lets you recycle and reuse more, saving money in the process. VLS Environmental Solutions can help you with solid waste recycling for both demolition waste and scrap building materials. We can also recycle chemicals such as paints and solvents. For waste that’s impossible to recycle, we offer sustainable waste transportation services to reduce your environmental impact.
5. Consider Your Back Office
Many businesses work to make products and customer-facing services eco-friendly. While your customers might rarely see your office, it’s just as critical to building a greener business. All the principles that apply to manufacturing sustainable products or constructing sustainable buildings should also apply to your office.
Your office should work to be energy-efficient and reduce its waste generation. Accomplishing this goal can involve both specific policies and employee support. For example, outfitting your facility with recycling bins is a smart first step, but it does you no good if you don’t remind employees to use them and instruct your staff on what materials can and can’t recycle. If possible, go paperless or reduce the paper documents your office prints. Use energy-efficient computers and office equipment, and be sure your team powers down and turns off the lights at the end of the day.
6. Give Back
Charitable giving can be a crucial part of your sustainability strategy. For example, when your company donates unused items to the community, you prevent them from entering a landfill. Monetary charitable donations or team volunteering opportunities can also be part of your sustainability mission. Your company might work with nonprofit organizations that support environmental conservation. It could even be part of your business model. For example, many companies donate a percentage of their proceeds for specific products to a nonprofit listed on the product label.
Charitable giving can also help offset business practices that are challenging to make sustainable in other ways. For example, if you must release carbon emissions to ship products worldwide, consider purchasing offsets or donating to causes that plant trees, allowing you to be carbon-neutral.
8 Green Strategies for Business
What are some specific environmentally friendly business practices and strategies your company can employ to reduce its impact on the planet? Here are eight sustainability ideas for businesses.
1. Encourage Remote Work
While not every business can support remote work, many can transition to a partially remote or hybrid workforce. If doing so is possible for your team, you stand to reduce your energy usage. Encouraging remote work can instantly lower your electricity bill. You’ll spend less on lighting, climate control and plugged-in office equipment. Those energy savings also mean less strain on the environment. While employees still use electricity while working from home, their impact is smaller while at home than at the office.
As a bonus, employees who don’t drive to work aren’t releasing harmful greenhouse emissions into the atmosphere. They reduce the fossil fuels they use each week, saving them money and helping the planet. To see how working from home could reduce your company’s environmental impact, let’s imagine an example of a company with 500 employees. If each employee spends 50% of their time working remotely, they would collectively use 98,958 fewer gallons of gas and 5,049 fewer barrels of oil.
Your business will also notice some other surprising eco-friendly benefits. For example, remote work can coincide with going paperless. As more work gets done without paper, your company will save trees. When workers brew their coffee at home, they don’t need to use disposable cups with plastic lids. If they eat lunch from home instead of ordering out, they don’t use single-use plastics from restaurants or the cafeteria. That all means less waste in your trash bins.
2. Buy Green Office Supplies
While the internet and digital collaboration tools have made it easier to reduce paper consumption, most offices can’t eliminate paper. Sometimes, it’s necessary or more productive to print out some paperwork or a document. Outside of printer paper, Post-It notes and notebooks remain handy office tools. Whether it’s for jotting down a reminder or writing down the day’s to-dos, nothing beats pen and paper for many tasks.
Most offices rely on a steady paper supply. For all the paper you can’t cut out, switch to post-recycled content. Recycled paper saves trees and stops paper from entering landfills. The simple act of choosing recycled paper can have a ripple effect. Paper saved from landfills lowers energy and water consumption while also reducing pollution. Each tree saved by recycled paper will absorb 48 pounds of carbon dioxide every year.
Besides paper, companies can switch to greener versions of many office supplies. Instead of single-use plastic utensils for the kitchen, consider reusable cutlery and dishware. Or, switch to utensils and plates made from sustainable bamboo. Your company can also cut out single-use paper cups at the watercooler and ask employees to use a refillable water bottle instead.
Consider sustainability when sourcing any supplies for your office. Paper towels, trash bags and cleaning supplies all come in eco-friendly varieties. Replace your printer ink or toner with reusable ink cartridges and the printer itself with a more ink-efficient model.
3. Recycle and Reuse
Recycling is an essential step for any facility to improve its sustainability. Make office recycling as easy as possible by providing recycling bins next to all trash bins. Create signage reminding employees what they can and cannot recycle to prevent recyclables from ending up in the trash.
On a facility-wide level, a waste compactor can save you money on your recycling program. By breaking down recycled cardboard and paper into compact bundles, you can schedule fewer recycling pickups and collect more recyclable goods per pickup.
You can also recycle specific business waste items in surprising ways. For example, your heating fuel and any machine shop, industrial, crankcase and marine oils can qualify for oil recycling. An incineration facility can convert unrecyclable waste to energy. Work with VLS to develop a customized recycling program for your facility.
It’s also crucial to consider areas where you can reuse items. In manufacturing, it’s often possible to scrap and rework defective products. Other businesses use the boxes that come with deliveries for storage or to ship items.
4. Donate Supplies in Good Condition
Many companies have lots of supplies they no longer need or could live a second life in someone else’s hands. As a manufacturer, you can donate surplus products or leftover supplies to an organization in need. Construction companies can donate excess building materials to organizations like Habitat for Humanity.
Outside these specialized industries, any business can donate unneeded office supplies to organizations that give school supplies to lower-income students. Many programs also accept toner and inkjet printer cartridges for recycling, which nonprofit organizations use as a fundraising drive.
If your company has recently rebranded, you may have a stockpile of leftover promotional materials with outdated logos and taglines. Consider donating reusable water bottles, coffee mugs, clothing, tote bags and similar swag to those in need. If your company has leftover food after an office party, donate the nonperishables to a local food bank.
Any goods your organization donates instead of throwing them away reduces your waste. You’ll save trash from entering landfills and from traveling long distances to waste disposal facilities. By donating supplies, you help give back to your local community. You may also be able to deduct some donations from your taxes.
5. Reduce Waste
The most sustainable way to manage your waste is to produce less of it. By reducing the waste you generate, you can protect the environment and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Consider strategies like going paperless or reducing the amount of paper your company uses. It’s also helpful to invest in equipment and materials with a longer lifespan to prevent them from entering landfills sooner. If you’re in manufacturing or construction, use industry best practices to reduce the excess material used.
The waste management consultants at VLS are also happy to help you develop a strategy to reduce waste and find sustainable disposal solutions for the waste you generate.
6. Improve Energy Efficiency
Energy efficiency is among many companies’ top priorities. Through energy initiatives, companies can reduce their operational costs by decreasing reliance on electricity and fossil fuels. They can also help the planet. In 2017, the U.S. saved 147 million metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions thanks to electricity savings. Improving energy efficiency will encompass many strategies. When combined, these efforts will significantly lower your energy bill, reduce your reliance on fossil fuels and save carbon dioxide from entering the atmosphere.
Here are a few areas to consider.
- Insulate the building: If you have an older building, upgrading your insulation has a significant impact on your energy usage. Better insulation retains more cold air during the warmer months, and traps more heat during the fall and winter. It reduces the amount of energy your heating and cooling system consumes.
- Choose LED lightbulbs: Lighting makes up a significant portion of a commercial building’s energy consumption. Upgrading your office lighting to LEDs has considerable energy savings over compact fluorescent bulbs and even more significant savings over incandescent lighting. For even more savings, improve your building’s natural lighting through windows and skylights, and encourage staff to keep the lights off when natural light suffices.
- Buy Energy Star-certified equipment: You can upgrade everything from your office computers to the kitchen refrigerator to energy-efficient models. When it’s time to replace old equipment and appliances, choose Energy Star-certified versions for guaranteed energy savings.
- Use a fuel-efficient fleet: Outside electricity, your company can save energy by improving fuel usage. Whether you have a construction fleet or some local delivery vans, prioritize fuel efficiency. You can achieve this with hybrid or electric vehicles. If you must use fossil fuels, consider investing in commercial equipment that runs on natural gas or propane, since these fuel types burn cleaner than gasoline and diesel.
- Organize freight transportation: Another way to optimize energy usage is to use the right modes when shipping goods. Choose rail for long-haul deliveries, and save truck transportation for shorter distances.
7. Conserve Water
Going hand in hand with energy efficiency, conserving water saves your company money on utilities while helping you meet sustainability goals. Alongside the direct environmental impact of conserving water, reducing water consumption saves the electricity associated with heating water.
Commercial buildings can save water by installing low-flow faucets, toilets and urinals in bathrooms and company kitchens. No-touch sensors can also save water by preventing people from unintentionally leaving taps running. You can improve water usage in your landscaping by introducing plant species that don’t require a lot of watering. Make your sprinkler system more efficient, and program it to stay off on rainy days.
Alongside conserving water, you may need to consider eco-friendly means of handling your wastewater. Whether you’re a manufacturer or work in an office building, the water you use needs treatment to reduce its impact on the environment. At VLS, we can customize a sustainable wastewater treatment plan for your facility. We’ll remove contaminants from the water and dispose of them in the safest way possible, allowing your business to respect the local environment where you operate.
8. Manage Your Chemicals Safely
The chemicals you use in your operations every day can impact the environment. Where possible, use EPA-approved green chemicals for cleaning products. Use non-chemical solutions to pest and weed management.
If your facility produces industrial chemical waste, work with VLS to develop a safe plan for their disposal. Our offerings include disposal services for toxic chemicals, lab chemicals, antifreeze, paint waste and oil waste, among others.
Improving Business Sustainability
It’s no secret sustainability is seeing increased focus these days. Consumers want to act responsibly with the products and services they use. Businesses want to save money by reusing what they can and wasting fewer resources. That means there’s a greater demand from business leaders and their users to renew their sustainability efforts.
It’s one thing to build a sustainable business from the ground up. What about established businesses looking to improve their sustainability after the fact? Successful companies celebrate continual improvement. Whether your business has already implemented a sustainability program or is creating one for the first time, advancement is critical. New technologies enter the market each year, empowering all businesses to build upon their current sustainability efforts. Investors continue to demand social responsibility as an indicator of long-term success. Meanwhile, regulations for sustainable business practices will become more aggressive.
These combined factors mean being green and acting responsibly requires constant, ongoing work from your entire company. Here’s how to make a business more sustainable by building on your current efforts.
1. Evaluate Your Current Practices
Any business looking to improve sustainability needs to evaluate where it’s starting. If you’re not already measuring and tracking your sustainability program, an audit of your current practices is critical. Go over everything from your electricity and fuel consumption to your supply chain. Look at your strengths and identify areas to improve. It’s essential to set a benchmark for your current practices, so you can measure success.
For example, to set an effective plan for waste reduction, you need to know how much trash you’re sending to the landfills each year. You also need to analyze the trash’s composition to identify opportunities for reuse, recycling and donations. Once you implement your waste reduction strategies, you can measure their success by comparing your current landfill contributions to your benchmark measurement.
2. Formalize Your Sustainability Plan
If you haven’t already incorporated sustainability into your company’s mission statement, you need to create a plan for implementing new sustainable practices. Your formal plan will establish priorities and set time-bound goals for improvement. For example, you might aim to reduce energy usage by 25% over the next three years or transition your entire fleet to electric vehicles in the next five years.
Your plan can also include specific steps to achieve sustainability goals and establish who is responsible for them. It’s crucial for your sustainability plan to include accountability. That way, your team can implement your project on schedule.
3. Start Small
If your company is enacting sustainability efforts for the first time, it’s a good idea to start with one or two programs. These can help you build early momentum with your eco-friendliness. Along the way, everyone in your company will learn about some of the challenges and obstacles associated with implementing changes, which can prepare them for your future efforts. By starting with something you know your team can achieve, you can gain early buy-in for your goals.
4. Engage Employees in Your Sustainability Efforts
Any sustainability initiative will need support from employees at all levels of your organization. Employees need to understand their role, whether remembering to turn off their computers when they leave for the evening or doing something more involved. They also need to believe in the cause so they can rally behind it.
As a company leader, involve your employees in your sustainability plan. Solicit their input and learn what employees want to see from your programs. Implementing ideas from your team can help you gain more company-wide support. You can also create incentives around sustainability, such as offering rewards for employees who bike to work. Turn sustainability into challenges, such as zero-waste days or bring-your-lunch days.
5. Maintain a Credible Sustainable Business Certification
Certifications are an excellent way to benchmark and score your sustainability practices. Meeting all the requirements to earn this credential lets you know your business is doing things right. By checking off all the required criteria, you can fill in the blind spots in your sustainability plan. It also reassures your customers that your company is making an effort to go green. A credentialing organization can provide independent verification of your sustainability efforts.
The other benefit of independent documentation is that your company must renew it every so often. That requirement prevents you from letting your green business policies become outdated or from growing lax with your practices. Since many certifications include a provision for continual improvement, it naturally builds in time for you to update your sustainability plan and introduce new efforts.
Talk to VLS About Sustainable Waste Management
VLS is a waste management company committed to providing sustainable solutions for businesses in the construction, manufacturing, oil and gas, pharmaceutical and marine operations industries. We offer a range of services, including solid and liquid recycling. For non-recyclable waste, we offer environmentally friendly transportation to safe landfill and disposal facilities. If you’re looking for a compliant solution to safely manage your waste, reach out to our team today. We’ll discuss our services in depth and build a custom plan for your company’s waste.