Years ago, the book, “Let My People Go Surfing,” by Yvon Chouinard, the founder of the clothing company Patagonia, inspired Ken LaRoe, CEO Climate First Bank to change the way I live my life and how I run a business. I’m hoping you are ready to change the way you run your business or organization, too. I’m hoping you are ready to convert it to an environmentally sustainable one. According to a recent study by Accenture, your customers are ready for you to do it:
- 66% of consumers plan to make more sustainable or ethical purchases over the next six months.
- 74% of consumers believe that ethical corporate practices and values are an important reason to choose a brand.
The same study says your company revenue is ready for you to convert:
- 81% of sustainable indices outperformed their peer benchmarks in 2020.
According to a 2019 report from Nielsen, Your employees are ready for it, too:
- Nearly 40% of employees prefer to work at environmentally friendly companies.
Whatever is holding you back, have the courage to set it aside and use this blog post as inspiration to move forward. By operating more sustainably, you can have a positive environmental and societal impact all while delivering greater financial value. Each business is different, but there are a couple of elements that most share including a physical facility of some sort, even if it’s your home, and a product or service the business provides to its clients.
Let’s start with the physical facility. Many of the recommendations I made in my last blog about converting your home to an environmentally friendly one apply here. You’ll help your clients, community and the planet, and you’ll help yourself reduce business costs. I’ll name a few areas to address, but you can see more details and information available in my last blog post, “Converting to an Environmentally Sustainable Home”.
- Heating & air conditioning
- Dual-paned windows
- Water usage reduction
- Solar panels
Many people think commercial businesses can’t get weekly recycling pick-up, but that’s not true. Start by reaching out to your local city or county government to see what they offer. If they don’t offer it, then you may need reach out to a private company. When First Green Bank was up and running, local government didn’t provide recycling on-site, but our employees were so dedicated that they collected it and took it home for pick-up curbside. Whatever service you end up using, make it easy for your employees and customers to recycle at your place of business by supplying visible collection bins. The lesson is, where there’s a will there’s a way.
Many experts say recycling was just a steppingstone to a more evolved process – composting. I’m persuaded they are right. You can only recycle plastic products once or twice before the plastic becomes unusable, and then may end up in a landfill. On the other hand, the biodegradable and compostable cups, utensils, straws, paper products and trash can liners we use at the bank that are supplied by O-Town Compost can be remade indefinitely. It’s several times less expensive to compost materials than to recycle them. Compostable materials are produced from natural sources like corn starch, sugar cane, and canola oil in a carbon neutral process. Conversely, the production of traditional plastic materials releases a variety of toxic chemicals into the atmosphere. And, the best thing about composting is you don’t need a industrial plant, just your own backyard, to do it.
Production materials are a critical area to consider as you reduce waste and your carbon footprint. Every business and office can embrace the digital world and go paperless. There’s almost no need to use paper any longer.
Restaurants should look at alternatives to Styrofoam packaging for to-go orders and find alternatives for plastic eating utensils and straws like the compostable materials mentioned above. Organizations like Foodprint Group can help you use better inventory management and donation practices to reduce food waste to zero and cut costs by nearly $2,000 a year. This means less food is needed, none of it goes to the landfill, and hunger is reduced.
Retailers can stop selling items that aren’t packaged using recycled and recyclable materials. They can stop offering their customers plastic bags at checkout. They can provide recycling services to their customers for the products they sell them and the batteries they use.
One of the most effective things construction industry businesses can do is reduce mistakes. It may sound overly simple, but if you find your crews are frequently cutting incorrectly or using the wrong pipe or piece of lumber, you need to get to put a stop to it – it’s hurting the environment and costing you money. Make sure plans are precise and material orders follow suit. Use only responsibly sourced materials. Store them well – evenly stacked and protected from the elements. Make sure they are secure as well, as theft is increasingly common.
Landscaping companies have great opportunities to reduce carbon emissions and water usage. First, you can encourage customers to engage in xeriscaping, which in Florida means beautiful designs with native plants that require little (if any) water or fertilizer. It also takes into account the delicate balance of aquatic ecology for buildings and structures close to water. You can also make sure to compost lawn clippings and bush and tree trimmings. Finally, amazing advances in battery technology now make it possible to meet your need for all-day performance on a single charge. Avoid gas-powered equipment and find ways to use electric powered lawn equipment whenever possible.
Don’t stop your efforts with what happens on-site with your own company. Expand your efforts to your supply chain as well including suppliers, vendors, partners, etc. Find companies and business partners that share your values. Ask to review their operations. Confirm they have earned key certifications. Keep a list of these companies and prioritize using their services and raw materials.
An often-overlooked area is chemical management. What chemicals are being used to clean and maintain your facility? If you are a small business and you and your employees do this work yourselves, then strive to use green cleaning products as well as non-chemical products for pest control and weed management. If you hire a cleaning service, make sure you review their chemicals and practices and demand that they conform to your values. If they aren’t willing to adapt to your requirements, then find a service that will – there are more and more services that share our values, you just need to look.
Look for ways to reduce vehicle miles such as carpooling, telecommuting and teleconferencing. Use electric vehicles as company vehicles and incentivize employees and clients to use them, too. At Climate First Bank, our offices feature electric vehicle charging stations that employees and customers can use for free. Businesses can also reward employees who bike to work or take public transportation.
Make sure your business leaders and line employees know all of these practices aren’t the latest fad, but the de facto way your company conducts business. Incorporate these approaches into official company policy. Make it part of regular employee training. Hold leaders and employees accountable for living these policies in performance reviews.
Certifications and Industry Groups
You are not alone in your quest to convert your business to an environmentally sustainable one. There are some incredible organizations that can help you set the right goals, create a plan and execute it. Here are a few organizations that Climate First Bank is affiliated with and whose leaders I have known for years:
Engaging with these groups will also help you find other like-minded business owners and leaders who can share insights and tips with you and help you find the drive to keep going, especially when facing difficult challenges. There’s so much more I could share, but I’ve given you a great head start on your research and information gathering, the rest is up to you. Good luck! Can’t wait for you to email me your stories of transformation so I can use them in future blog posts to inspire others.