I met an inspiring small business owner recently – the founder and CEO of Pangea Organics – a skincare company – who is the perfect reminder of the “power of one.” Joshua Onysko launched Pangea with a simple business plan, as he put it: “Make soap, sell soap.” But along the way, he realized that every step in the process counted – and had to be environmentally and ethically sound.
It wasn’t enough to make eco-friendly products – he said he had to be equally friendly to his staff – paying a living wage, including health and dental insurance for all. And why stop at natural soap and lotions when you can also make the packaging entirely out of recycled newsprint?
And why stop with simple recycling – when you can tell the consumer who just bought that Facial Scrub that they can stick that empty package in a flowerpot and step back! Before they can say “I live in an apartment and don’t have a compost pile,” they will be sprouting herbal plants whose seeds were embedded in the box. Nice touch, Joshua.
Small businesses are what make America great. And their influence – if they choose to go green – can be as big as the mighty corporations getting all the attention for joining the eco-friendly fray these days.
“Independent firms with less than 500 employees employ half of the private sector workforce and use half of the electricity and natural gas consumed by the commercial and industrial sectors, In 2006, small businesses accounted for 99.9 percent of the 26.8 million businesses in the country,” according to Jonathon Bardelline, in The Big Impact from Greening Small Businesses at GreenBiz.com.
So here are 10 simple Go-Green Steps for entrepreneurs everywhere – no matter what your core business may be.
- Ask your employees for green ideas first.
You don’t need to hire a Director of Sustainability. Ask the people who always have the best ideas – your team. After all, if they have to implement these plans, it’s smart to get their buy-in from the start. Offering bonuses for eco-ideas that save the company money wouldn’t hurt.
- Buy everybody a mug.
Warning to CEOs: Do not put your mug on their mug, as one CEO we know thought of doing. It’s funny for the first 2 seconds –and then it’s just creepy (and a little Orwellian). Your logo is OK. Giving each employee the gift of a ceramic, reusable mug engenders goodwill – and it will save you a fortune on those nasty Styrofoam cups. The average office worker uses up to 500 disposable coffee cups per year – and Styrofoam takes about one million years to fully decompose. Give the extra mugs to clients and visitors to use and then take home. Not a bad way to reinforce your identity as a company that cares.
- Buy green coffee – and green cleaning products — while you’re at it.
Coffee with the Rainforest Alliance Certified seal of approval has been produced by companies committed to sustainable practices and treating their workers decently. Stock the kitchen and bathrooms with natural, organic hand soap, detergents and dish soaps that are kind to employees’ busy hands — and the environment.
- Replace the office refrigerator, microwave – and all your equipment – with energy-efficient models.
Newer Energy Star-Rated appliances use up to 40% less energy than older versions. Look for star ratings on fax machines, copiers, printers and everything you use.
- Recycle Paper – this is a big one – and easy, too.
Do we really have to remind you about this one? About 40% of the garbage in our landfills is paper that could have been recycled. * Buy recycled paper – along with biodegradable paper plates and napkins. * Encourage copying on both sides. * Have bins for recycling paper in convenient locations – like next to the coffee machine – to give added incentive to toss the paper in the right spot.
- Apply the 3 R’s to electronics and office equipment, too
The eco-mantra, reduce, reuse, recycle, doesn’t stop at paper. You can refill ink cartridges. Recycle electronics safely – Staples and Office Depot are getting into the recycling act. When in doubt, go to Earth911 to see where to recycle – or donate – in your area. You may even qualify for a tax credit for donations to local schools or non-profits.
- Replace bottled water with a water filter
Bottled water costs too-to-three times as much as gasoline. Americans spend more than $8 billion a year on bottled water – and generate over 1.5 million tons of plastic that will not break down in landfills for tens of thousands of years. A water filter costs pennies per gallon. You do the math.
- Save on travel costs – telecommuting, teleconferencing, hybrid vehicles
Consider allowing some employees to telecommute from home one or two days a month and teleconference their meetings – the energy savings, time savings, and goodwill can be immense. If you need a new company car, consider a hybrid — you may even qualify for a tax credit up to $3,400. (Check The IRS Rulings on Hybrids .)
- Consider laptops – instead of desktops – for staff.
A laptop’s LCD screen uses 1/3 the energy of a typical Cathode Ray Tube. And employees can take laptops with them – at night or when they travel — to get more done. Win-win.
- Change your lights to CFLs — Are you seeing the light?
If every American installed 5 CFL bulbs, we’d save close to $8 billion each year in energy costs — and prevent greenhouse gases equivalent to the emissions from 10 million cars, according to the EPA’s Energy Star site.
What are you waiting for? There’s gold in going green.