Nearly 50 years ago, a 22 year-old musician from Minnesota released his third folk music album in as many years. The title track “The Times They Are a-Changin” warned the listener “you better start swimming or you’ll sink like a stone, for the times they are a-changin.” Critics were confounded because not only was a mere kid from Hibbing wagging a parental finger at an entire country, but nearly everyone knew he was right. Those who declined to change with the times were sure to be left behind. That kid, of course, was Bob Dylan.
The Old Road Is Rapidly Aging
This musical detour has a purpose: there is crucial wisdom in that song for small businesses and entrepreneurs. While five short years ago “going green” was an optional choice for workplaces, now even the biggest companies have committed to more sustainability in their operation. In fact, not going green can put your operation at a competitive disadvantage.
Who Went Green!?
Wal-Mart is leading the charge in business sustainability. A week ago, the corporate giant released a 126-page progress report on its efforts to be a more socially responsible and sustainable company, something they’ve done annually since 2008. These reports can be found here, if you’re interested. However, the company’s biggest step may be the inclusion of a “Sustainability Index Score” (SIS) on their products near the price tag. These scores rate the environmentally-friendly factor of product packing and production.
Make no mistake; Wal-Mart has not gone soft. While they enjoy their greener status, they’re most excited about how the changes have affected their bottom line. Consumers want to feel good about the products they buy, and want to feel like they’re making environmentally responsible purchases. Wal-Mart believes these SIS scores will give customers peace of mind when they shop in the retail chain.
Wal-Mart has also installed skylights in their stores and painted the roofs of their buildings with reflective white paint, which shaved a cool $1 million from their electricity bills last year.
In a few short years, the once villainous company has become a model for sustainability, and their commitment has made them more profitable.
Now Is The Time
Wal-Mart’s sudden obsession with sustainability is a microcosm of a larger trend showing that running a green business is no longer only a strategy for courting progressives: it is the new norm. Yet, it has always been admittedly easier to want to be sustainable than it is to be sustainable, especially since many business owners already have their hands full with the usual challenges of day-to-day operations in a less-than-stellar economy.
Nevertheless, things have changed from the way they were a few years ago. Many of the obstacles that were deal-breakers are no longer there, or at least they’re not so insurmountable. Since more businesses have committed to being environmentally conscious, collectively, they’ve learned how to be better at it. Here are some tricks other small business owners and entrepreneurs have picked up along the way that can help make your green transition go smoothly, save money, and make your business more attractive to potential customers:
- Commit – If you’re serious about becoming more sustainable, you have to commit. This applies especially to small businesses with multiple employees. Putting a recycling can next to the garbage is a good start, but you can go further. If you’re a small business leader, you must communicate to your employees “this is the way we do things here from now on.” Successful conversions require strong leadership.
- Self-Audit – Do an energy/waste audit of your business. Take a look at your business on a macro-level, and look for ways you can be more efficient. This could be as small-scale as better using the timer on your thermostat, or as large as finding distribution routes for deliveries with less stop signs and stop lights.
- Upgrade – Upgrade your building where you can. Many hot water heaters and toilets, for example, are decades old and are very inefficient. They use loads of water and run for a long time. Newer units can drastically reduce water bills. Newer air conditioning and heating units are also much more efficient than their predecessors. Note: do some research on government rebates. Sometimes there are some pretty awesome kickbacks for upgrading to more efficient technologies.
- Track Your Progress – Tracking your energy savings is wonderful for everyone at a business. It’s nice for you when you’re paying the bills at the end of the month, but it also gives your employees ownership of the company’s green growth. This gives them proof that their hard work has paid off and gives them motivation to keep it up in the future.
Continuing with the theme of ownership, encourage your employees to be innovative and creative, always looking for ways to be more sustainable. After all, someone had to think of Wal-Mart’s sustainability scores.
Yes; for the past decade the terms “green” and “sustainable” have been used ad nauseum, but it is unfortunate if this dilutes their importance. Sustainable businesses are not part of a fad that will soon disappear; they’re the new standard. Not only are they more ethical, but they’re also more profitable. Times have changed, indeed.
Hopefully, upon reading this, something you can change has already popped into your mind. What are some of the new ways you’ve come up with to go green? Have you already instituted changes in your small business that are providing a profitable return?
Author: Brent Hardy is Vice President of www.extraspace.com, responsible for all corporate construction & facilities management. He writes about corporate sustainable practices at blog.extraspace.com/category/sustainability.