“The process utilized in Houston will remove materials of less than two inches early in the sorting process to minimize contamination. From there, products will be sorted into various “streams” for resale, reuse, or disposal. In addition to mining all conventional recyclable commodities, the design will produce compost or carbon-neutral fuel streams from the remaining organic waste. All components of the facility and process are field-tested and proven, arranged to maximize productivity, uptime, and diversion rates.”
When I hear the term “going green,” these days, it seems a bit campy. And that’s a good thing. Green has moved past the realm of recycling and into the C-Suite’s psyche. Smart companies realize there’s no magical point where all the check boxes are filled and a company suddenly becomes “green.” It’s a roadmap that needs to be developed, nurtured, and sustained for the long haul. So what are some of the compelling reasons to for pushing a green agenda this Earth Day?
Efficiency Equals Cost Savings
One of the best ways to upsell green benefits is to frame the discussion around efficiency. From processes and supply chain tweaks, to resource utilization and facilities management, there’s plenty of areas to find the low hanging fruit that can be optimized or eliminated to create savings. Watch for this area to explode in 2014 as more businesses become aware of energy costs and buildings and office environments become better equipped to monitor and report usage. An added bonus for efficiency evangelists is the consumerization of smarter infrastructure. Companies like Tesla and Nest have brought clean energy and smart technologies into the American household. It’s just a matter of time before that infiltrates offices everywhere.
Push The Paperless Mentality
If there’s a no-brainer initiative, it’s going paperless. With today’s technology, you’ve run out of excuses for not doing it. Paperless projects usually end up being much larger than companies anticipate. That’s because once things are digitized, there’s an organizational epiphany that occurs. One department is suddenly efficient, better organized, and less dependent on paper. Why aren’t we all doing this? Exactly. If you’ve ever needed a reason to reduce paper, use this Earth Day to build the business case. Get with a vendor that can help you analyze which processes are best suited for a digital upgrade. Less paper is so
Recruitment and Retention
The lifeblood of your company is your people. Use your green commitments as a recruiting tool. Who wouldn’t want to work for a company that has a conscience? The key is to market your sustainability roadmap as well as you market your products and services. A business needs to show how green practices are baked into its service and delivery model. It’s not so much the why, but the how. Get good at explaining the how.
New Business Opportunities
Lucky businesses or entrepreneurs probably weren’t lucky at all. They made their own breaks. In other words, they saw opportunities that were out of sight to competitors. Companies that adopt green practices have the same opportunity. Every industry is being reshaped by the need to mitigate risk. Whether it’s climate change, resource scarcity, or energy costs, organizations that understand what it means to be resilient will be the ones to uncover new business opportunities. When a company becomes so good at managing a resource, (i.e. waste) there’s probably others willing to pay for that expertise. This Earth Day, make it a point to scrutinize your company’s sustainability plan. There’s a good chance you might uncover opportunities to expand a business line of service offering.
For starters, by most accounts, my spouse and I are kind of extreme when it comes to simplifying. My wife describes the (main) set of circumstances that sparked our sustainability push more eloquently than me, but roughly speaking, here’s the short version.
When we had our first child, it was right after Katrina and with my wife being from New Orleans, it hit home on many fronts. The impacts of climate, people in need, and our kids’ futures all seemed bizarrely exposed. It was around that time, we both decided we had grown tired of hearing, “Don’t worry, someone else will take care of it!”
The problem was that we weren’t meeting a lot of those “other people,” the ones that were deftly operating behind the scenes. She basically led the charge at that point and moved beyond the rhetoric. Sometimes,we collectively decided, it has to be you. And that meant it had to be us.
We ended up in Houston a few years later for work, just in time to catch the arrival of another monumental storm, Hurricane Ike. And boy did that shift things. With Katrina still in the shadows, we were pounded in Downtown Houston and left without power for almost two days. Our daughter had also just been born, so here we were with two babies, no power, and stranded.
So there’s some context. And it’s not just about climate change, or being green. The latter is a byproduct of being acutely aware of our surroundings. We challenged ourselves to question things more —at every turn. Why did this happen? How do we keep it from happening again? I can’t explain why we didn’t change things sooner. We just realized that things in our world, our personal world, had to change. Over the last five years, here’s a few things we’ve done.
The Heirloom Principle
Consumption is the centerpiece of how we think things through. We both come from families that love to collect things, so it’s a constant challenge. Estate sales signs in older neighborhoods are our addiction. What we had to agree on was a simple set of rules.
We decided on “immediate utility.” Just what it sounds like. If we bought something, it had to be hung, worn, toted, or played with in an increasingly short time frame. Use it or lose it. Or in our case, take it back to Goodwill.
I was reminded of the term itself from the founder of Opportunity Green, Karen Solomon. “Buy stuff that’ll last,” she told me after a meeting in Austin.
Audit The Resources You’re Using
Start with assessing your usage. How much water and electricity do you use every month? And fortunately, it’s become much easier to see that information. Utilities, water districts, and municipalities are awash in data. The challenge is getting you and me to act on it. Beyond common sense and choosing fundamental options — Energy Star ratings or tips from your local utility — it’s part education and part discipline.
Living through a drought in Central Texas and summers in Dallas taught us early on that we might not want to be dependent on a lot of watering. Soon after, my wife blew past “quick study” status on native landscaping and voila!, our water consumption plummeted. It wasn’t all because of our lawns, but it was a big piece. That decrease in usage was one of those light-bulb moments. If this provided such an impact, what else could we do?
And don’t let anyone tell you that competition doesn’t have anything to do with it. Competition is word-of-mouth’s favorite cousin. We saw that the first time we went over to a friend’s house and mentioned our water bill (below). I’m not sure they believed us, but the next time we saw them, they mentioned they had no idea they were using so much water.
One other example that opens peoples’ eyes has to do with electricity. My wife took a weekend class a few years back that was focused on solar, mostly residential. A subset of the curriculum addressed “vampire power,” or the standby mode of particular devices. I haven’t compiled hard data from month-to-month, but we saw a pretty substantial spike after we starting using more power strips and aggressively turning everything off. Yes, that means unplugging the microwave, too. I told you we were extreme.
After a few months, it became habitual, and more so as we continued to see what was attainable. Dovetailing off that, we looked at all of our appliances. After seeing how much power a refrigerator eats up, we attacked that first. The key was to take a long-term view, especially since a few of our adjustments would require replacement costs. Wefound a fridge that was super-efficient, without an ice-maker, and with the capability to turn off the freezer as needed. The point isn’t to tell you to go out and buy new appliances. What’s important is putting your usage under a microscope.
How often did we really make those ice-tray popsicles ? Not very often. Why not head down to the local shop and support them instead? That’s what we did. We also got rid of our dryer and used the undervalued, often maligned, clothesline. Besides huge energy savings, there’s a certain vintage, if not ritualistic quality hanging out clothes provides. No room for a clothesline you say? Target has small drying stands for less than $15. Get a few.
Keeping the outdoor theme intact, we also bought a Sun Oven. That was an easy transition, considering we had recently yanked out our old range, which of course, had an oven. That left us with no oven inside, as we opted for an induction cook-top. Soon we had become “trial-and error” Sun Oven cookers. And it wasn’t that hard. We quickly learned which veggies and grains were best, and soon were wedging all sorts of other things inside the hard foiled edges of our new friend.
There was certain type of win we felt everyone time we got back to the house and pulled something out of the yard that was ready-to-eat, and didn’t require the grid. Now granted,our Austin house is about 1100 sq. ft, but in cooler months, all the things I mentioned helped us consistently hover around $20 for a full month’s power.
Lifestyle Choices Lead To Lowing Hanging Fruit
There’s also some less tangible, lifestyle choices we’ve made. The biggest ones have been buying local and moving to the second-hand market. It’s amazing, and a bit horrifying, when you try to find stuff made in the States, much less regionally. Buying second-hand became not only a quest for quality, but an economic vote for companies that had some backyard skin in the game. And if you have kids, well, that’s the multiplier.
It was absurd to buy new swim shirts for any kid under the height markings on our giraffe’s shoulder. They outgrow those things too fast. Besides, our local Goodwill creates jobs in the community — a win for everyone. It was also interesting to see how our thrifting tendencies drove our mindset in other areas.
By paying attention to what lasted,we developed an innate sense of categorization. We’ve become adept at classifying things that should always be found in “gently used” environments. No to mention, we got smarter, we saved money, and we gave back. Those are things everybody can relate to. So create your own playbook. And grow from it.
We posted this first on Medium.
Here are three trends where green is a key element, but not the key driver.
Sharing Is Changing Consumption and Commerce
The sharing economy permeates nearly every facet of every industry. From cars to the driveways left empty when they’re gone, the Internet has made it easier than ever to sell idle resources. Lisa Gansky, one of the catalysts helping companies tap into sharing, describes a perfect storm of accessible data, the open Web, and connected communities as a “cocktail” being tested by businesses in every vertical.
Companies should be looking inward at their own idle resources and figuring out how to provide that information to other businesses, or municipalities. New revenue streams will come from services that can be reconfigured or modified to operate within these sharing communities and networks.
“Data is a kind of connective tissue and when we liberate data (between communities, companies, investors, governments), we play better, faster,” Gansky said in a recent interview. She says that sharing is being accelerated by the next big social network, and it’s not Facebook. It’s the neighborhood.
The Economist built on that notion in a recent profile of the sharing economy’s impact: “The idea of renting from a person rather than a faceless company will survive, even if the early idealism of the sharing economy does not.”
Tapping Into Greener Transportation
Businesses are finding ways to tie into the rise of walk-able communities. Marketing opportunities are everywhere as smartphones become more connected to the open data available on the Web. Companies like RideScout can now deliver multiple transit options to its users, whether they prefer pedicabs or Car2Go.
The transparency of transit data has much larger implications, especially when it comes to cities. That’s one of the areas where opportunity exists for small business. Faced with rising populations, traffic congestion and parking woes, city officials are taking matters into their own hands.
Portland is a prime example, highlighted in a recent CitiWire article: “It has a 35-year-old urban growth boundary to curb sprawl, plus America’s only regional governance structure. It leads in transportation – not just regional light rail but America’s first streetcar service of recent times.”
That’s an approach that should buoy businesses in every sector, certainly ones that adapt their products and services to complement the urban density model that continues to develop. It’s an obvious step to see all sorts of businesses eventually appear alongside the bus routes on RideScout’s app.
The nation’s capital has similar initiatives for which sustainable transportation is the centerpiece of economic development.
The CitiWire article goes on to report, “[Washington D.C.] Mayor Vincent Gray has just unveiled proposals to create the ‘healthiest, greenest and most livable’ city in America with a raft of measures to curb energy use, reduce traffic and boost use of fresh fruits and vegetables. By 2032, a quarter of all commuter trips would be by bike or foot and at least half by public transit. Major chunks of energy would be delivered from nearby wind farms.”
Other cities are sure to follow as fuel prices rise, populations increase, and better infrastructure emerges. Businesses that capitalize on these trends will reap the early awards.
The Built Environment and Boosting Your Profile
Improving productivity and differentiating your business are constant challenges. An easy way to boost both is by plugging into the green building movement. Aligning with local providers that can help with energy rebates can easily spur some economic gains. Beyond the numbers, productivity can also be lifted through smarter and more efficient design. Healthier employees are happier and more productive.
A recent New York Times article highlighted research from an affordable housing community in Seattle that showed how small changes can have big effects. Spurred by medical research, a local coalition of architects, designers and citizen-led groups were able to impact asthma rates within 60 “Breathe Easy Homes” with better air filters, less carpet, and low-allergen landscaping.
The Times reports, “A study in 2010 performed by the University of Washington School of Public Health found that the Breathe Easy residents had reduced emergency room and urgent care visits by 67% and that symptom-free days had increased by 61%. As designers, that was the first time that we had really seen a direct relationship shown between the built environment and the health of residents.”
It’s easy to see how that could translate to your workplace.
Another project that promotes healthy work sites is the Sustainable Sites Initiative (SITES), an organization started to accelerate best practices in sustainable land development and management. It has pilot projects across the country that are taking green spaces beyond atria and waterfalls.
By using SSI’s framework for “healthy ecosystems,” commercial businesses can cut costs and drive efficiency with better land-use decisions. Whether it’s a restaurant, corporate campus, or small business, standards are emerging to address everything from native landscapes and irrigation, to zero waste and air quality.
The U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC), an SSI partner, says it anticipates certain guidelines and benchmarks might be included in future iterations of the LEED(Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) Green Building Rating System.
USGB’s commitment shows how the big picture is starting to play out for businesses in every industry. Companies of all sizes are being judged not only by how much they’re growing, but how that growth impacts surrounding communities.
This article first appeared in Forbes.