How green can you go? Making your business more environmentally responsible can reduce your carbon footprint while building team spirit and staff productivity. No matter what business you're in, these tips may help save the planet - and save a buck.
1. Invest in video-conferencing technology and webcams
Smart companies are rethinking travel.
"I use technology a lot to save travel because so much of what I do is with clients who are in Mississauga or north Toronto, or with companies and staff across the country," says Mia Wedgbury, founder and CEO of High Road Communications, a national public relations firm based in Toronto. "With five offices across Canada and in San Francisco, we hold national all-staff meetings over live video-conferencing and use webcams with people who report to me in other offices."
"The majority of our team members take public transit, and we have a few individuals who bike to work every day," says Ms. Wedgbury. The company promotes these efforts internally by offering safe storage for bikes in the office.
Mat Wilcox, founder and head of the Wilcox Group, a national public relations firm based in Vancouver, supports using more technology and goes one step further by suggesting companies have teams work from home three or four days a week.
"The best companies in the world are going virtual successfully," says Ms. Wilcox. "Go to meetings online. No more airline trips. No more car trips. No more hotels required."
2. Economize your vehicles with biofuels and fuel efficient hybrids
Steam Whistle Brewing, an independent Toronto brewery operating in Ontario, Alberta and British Columbia, powers some of its trucks with B20 biofuel, which contains soy and recycled restaurant grease.
"We starting using biofuels in late 2006 for our biggest trucks," says Josh Hillinger, operations co-ordinator for the brewery's retail department. "We actually pay a premium for it so there's no money saved, but we feel the value is in preserving the environment."
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But the company does save a few bucks with its two Ford Hybrids. "Those hybrids are in constant use by our sales staff, so they're always on the road," says Mr. Hillinger. "The fuel savings are substantial."
3. Turn off those lights
To save power, businesses are replacing wasteful bulbs with energy-efficient ones and creating eco-consciousness among their workers.
Jen Evans, founder and chief strategist for Sequentia Environics, a Toronto-based communications firm, puts a reminder at every light switch.
"We actually have stickers that say 'FLICK OFF' and they get a double-take or two, which is very effective as a reminder," says Ms. Evans.
4. Consider alternative cooling systems, or just turn down the air conditioner
Another green initiative from Steam Whistle is its use of Enwave's Deep Lake Water Cooling system for climate control, a switch made in 2000, eliminating the need for conventional air conditioners with their harmful CFC refrigerants.
The system works by drawing icy cold water through intake pipes deep in Lake Ontario and moving it through the brewery, where it gives off a nice chill. Mr. Hillinger says it saves the company "a ton of money," reducing Steam Whistle's power bill by about 61 kilowatt-hours per year (equivalent to seven fewer homes using electricity).
If that's not an option for your company, lower the thermostat and take off your jacket. Shirt sleeves are a very green look in summer.
5. Swap dishes and cutlery for a biodegradable substitute
Commercial grade dishwashers create tremendous amounts of chemical and hydro waste, says Matthew Corrin, founder and CEO of Freshii, a North American fresh-food chain. So the company replaced its food-prep dishes with biodegradable bags. Instead of using bowls and tongs, like they did in their first restaurant, every single order at its 20 locations is prepared in the bio bags instead. There's no longer a need for dishwashing machines, says Mr. Corrin, pointing out that they don't need to hire and train often-transient human dishwashers.
Greening your business model shouldn't compromise profitability, Mr. Corrin says. The bags cost the company about a third of a cent each. Now that they don't have to buy a dishwasher, the company saves more than $10,000 in the initial build-out of each store, and annually saves more than $6,000 per store.
The bags also maximize cleanliness. Each order is prepared in a fresh bag, so there's no risk of cross-contamination as with dishwashers.
"Customers are served in takeout packaging, almost all of it biodegradable too," says Mr. Corrin. "Our bowls are made of corn. In the U.S., and soon in Canada, our cutlery is made of potato plus our takeout bags are fully biodegradable. From a packaging perspective, we are as green as you can get."