Dear EarthTalk: I own a small business and would like to do whatever I can to minimize its impact on the environment. What do you suggest?
— Jacob Levinson, New York, NY
There are many ways to green up any business, large or small – and an added benefit might just be saving money. Just like individuals, businesses can measure their carbon footprints to get a sense of where they are starting from and to get some initial ideas of areas to focus on to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency offers a free “Simplified GHG [greenhouse gas] Emissions Calculator” to help small businesses get started. Another option is TerraPass’s “Carbon Balanced Business” program, which helps commercial entities measure and then offset the greenhouse gas emissions they are generating.
Beyond carbon footprints, there are many other things businesses can do to minimize their environmental impacts. The nonprofit Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) reports that, first and foremost, businesses should shift the paper paradigm – the average office tosses out about 350 pounds of paper per year per employee.
Some easy ways to do this include setting printers to use both sides of a page (or designating a “draft tray” filled with paper that is blank on one side); buying copy paper with a 30 percent or more post-consumer recycled content; collecting used paper separately for recycling; and stocking bathrooms with post-consumer recycled tissue products.
Getting more energy efficient is another way to save the Earth while saving money. NRDC recommends taking advantage of the fact that most utilities offer free or inexpensive energy audits, whereby an engineer examines operations and provides a report about how to save on energy costs. Turning off lights and electronics at the end of the workday can save bundles of energy.
Setting computers to “sleep” or “hibernate” when inactive will further reduce a business’s footprint. And the NRDC says to lose the screensavers: “Flying toasters and slideshows can use up about $50 of electricity in a year.”
Cutting water waste will also make a business greener. Install faucet aerators and low-flow toilets, fix leaks, and recycle gray water where applicable for nonpotable uses, such as watering gardens.