How to “Green” Your Business
By Susan Meredith
Converting to “green” is a lot like learning to ride a bicycle.
son Ian first started riding a bike, he was a bit reluctant. He
watched other people do it, talked about it, was interested in how
the equipment worked, but wasn’t so sure he was ready. An early
incident didn’t help matters. Ian was just starting to feel
comfortable when he sailed down a hill, careening on one training
wheel while he wobbled the front wheel back and forth trying to
regain control. He didn’t know how to use his brakes and eventually
toppled. Ian had pads on and wasn’t physically hurt, but his
confidence was shaken. He figured he would leave bikes alone and let
other people ride them.
experience is a lot like how many of us approach “green.” Watching,
listening, talking, interested, but not really pushing off into it
yet. Hearing about mercury in compact fluorescent lightbulbs leaves
our confidence shaken. Is it going to do us harm? Maybe we’ll leave
it alone and let someone else do it.
analogy about bike riding is true though; you can read about it all
you want, you can watch others, but until you try for yourself, you
really can’t know how to do it and you can’t gain the benefits. And
there definitely are benefits to greening our businesses on a
personal level and collective level, as well as organizationally –
saving energy saves money.
If you reduce the amount of paper you use, you reduce the amount you
have to buy. If you reduce the amount of travel and transportation,
you reduce the travel costs. If you improve the efficiency of your
light bulbs or turn them off when not in use, you reduce the amount
of electricity you have to buy.
back to the Chicago area recently to visit family. There were bike
riders everywhere – the fit and the flabby, the wildly carefree
racers, the white haired retirees and the serious riders on their
way to work. The hilly landscape in Austin, Texas is a lot different
than the flat streets of Chicago suburbia. It’s different riding on
gravel than pavement. The environment makes a difference.
it’s like making the green transition. The weather affects the
appropriate solutions for greening your offices and other
facilities. For instance, in colder climates you want to use
designs, materials and habits that encourage heat to enter the
buildings. In warmer climates, you want to keep the heat out. In all
cases, you want to minimize the heat transferring in and out
social environments make a difference on how accepted and expected a
green existence is. Peer pressure makes a difference. Media coverage
in your area makes a difference. Attitude is important. A gloom and
doom feeling is not very inspiring. Focusing on problems and fear
freezes action. Focusing on solutions and success motivates and
Chicago trip inspired Ian to venture out around his hometown. He
started out with a death grip on the handlebars and needed a push to
get going. He focused on every obstacle within twenty feet, sure he
was going to fall victim to it. But he kept going. He began to
notice how little changes in the way he moved made big differences
in how smoothly the ride went. At the end, he was riding leisurely,
looking around at the dogs, the lake, the boaters, confident and
proud, truly enjoying the ride. Like anything, it gets easier when
you get into motion.
If you’re hesitant about becoming a green business, find someone to
give you a push. You’ll find it’s fun to play the game of energy
efficiency. “What if we kept the temperature one degree different –
would we notice the difference and how much energy would it save? I
wonder how few lights we can use? How about if we stagger work hours
so employees could avoid rush hour traffic and use less gas on their
commute? What if we allowed more telecommuting? How about if we used
teleconferencing in place of some of our business travel? How can we
reduce paper waste and other waste? I wonder how much energy we’d
save if we installed motion sensors in the bathrooms?”
really understand the impact, you should track the changes as
business process improvement projects. Or not. Just the fact that
you play the game will get you saving and improving and making a
matter what size your business is, everyone can contribute to making
a greener office environment by simply starting small. Each small
movement will make everyone more comfortable with bigger steps. For
instance, changing out lightbulbs, in the office or at home, is
relatively simple and inexpensive to do. It’s like taking that
first push on the bike – you’re on your way. Have a lightbulb
smashing party for the old bulbs, signifying the company’s
commitment to being a green business.
smash the new bulbs though! About that mercury: if a compact
fluorescent bulb breaks, treat it like the mercury from those old
thermometers – make sure to clean it up thoroughly. Treat broken or
burned out bulbs as hazardous waste – put them in a bag and put them
out with other hazardous wastes. When you bring those to the
hazardous waste recycling center, bring the bulbs, too. It’s really
not that big a deal.
Computers generate lots of heat and provide lots of opportunities
for energy savings. Make sure defaults are set to standby or
hibernate when idle; screensavers still use energy! Encourage staff
members to start the habit of turning computers off when going home
or leaving the office for an extended period. Consider using power
strips to shut down all electronics completely.
you’re ready to move onto bigger projects, your computer networks
are a good place to look. Get more efficient equipment, energy
efficient chillers for data centers and check into computer power
management for large-scale networks. In other areas, think about
using solar water heaters, acquiring your own energy storage to take
advantage of off-peak electricity prices, and xeriscaping the
grounds to reduce the water usage. Use alternative fuels and
alternative vehicles for company vehicles. For those with dedicated
routes, see if fully electric vehicles will do the job. Share your
research with other companies so they can benefit, too.
Knowledge dissipates fear, so continually educate yourself and your
employees. Knowing you’re contributing to the solution just feels
good! Like riding a bicycle.
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