Taking Steps Towards a Greener Brand
Environmental issues are a touchy subject. They continue to polarize opinion, particularly when it comes to government policy and the long-term view.
Regardless of your personal views on the subject, however, it's clear that green initiatives are fundamentally important for some consumers. In fact, companies' environmental efforts (or lack of them) are increasingly being seen as "deal breakers" for many choice-rich, time-poor customers.
Big names such as Microsoft® and Wal-Mart® are now working on major green initiatives such as harnessing renewable energy, and this both differentiates them and enhances the power of their brands.
Likewise, green issues appeal to employees. Most people want to be part of "something good," and this includes being green. According to one report, companies that have good green credentials have higher staff morale, see less staff turnover, and can attract and retain top talent more easily.
In this article, we'll outline examples of successful green management – including highlighting companies that have saved costs – and show how small steps can positively impact your organization.
Why Green Management Matters
Apart from the intrinsic benefit of looking after the environment, the biggest boon for organizations that address green issues is an improved brand and company image, according to a report published by MIT Sloan Management Review.
The impact is felt internally – with companies seeing a noticeable improvement in team members' belief in the quality of the organization and its mission – and externally, because it is easier to attract and retain top talent.
Employee health can represent another significant reason for moving towards green management. For example, improving indoor air quality and avoiding strong chemical cleaning agents can help those who suffer from respiratory illnesses or skin conditions. This can result in less absenteeism and greater productivity.
Becoming greener can help you improve relationships with customers, suppliers, government agencies, and the media. Many people and institutions now expect organizations to reduce their impact on the environment, and when your company is seen as a "good corporate citizen" (and can provide quantifiable evidence of this), it appeals powerfully to these expectations.
Green initiatives can also reduce costs. The savings depend on the size of your organization and the steps you take to reduce energy consumption, but some businesses have seen utility bills fall by 20 percent or more.
Businesses in all industries benefit. For example:
- Office chain Staples® saved $4.2 million each year simply by changing the light bulbs in its stores and offices, and another $1.5 million by making delivery trucks more energy-efficient.
- Chemical maker DuPont® estimates that it has saved $3 billion from its efforts to reduce carbon emissions.
- Global coffee chain Starbucks® is on track to reduce its energy consumption by 25 percent, which will result in substantial company-wide savings.
Finally, green initiatives can stimulate innovation. Some companies have discovered new sources of revenue – or even entirely new products – after starting sustainability efforts. Others have found that going green has helped them manage risks more effectively, enter new markets, use resources more efficiently, and improve their competitive position.
Seven Steps to a Greener Office
So, what can you do to "green" your office? Start by considering the steps below.
1. Watch Power Use
Replace regular bulbs with compact fluorescent bulbs (CFLs) or light-emitting diode bulbs (LEDs). CFLs use 70 percent less energy than regular incandescent bulbs, emit 75 percent less heat, and last 10 times longer. LEDs use an average of 75 percent less energy and last 35 to 50 times longer than incandescent bulbs.
Encourage team members to turn off lights when they aren't using them. Consider installing motion sensors in shared areas such as bathrooms, break rooms, and conference rooms. These sensors automatically turn lights off when the space is empty.
Electronic devices such as computers and printers continue to use energy even when they're turned off. This "phantom power" consumption can add 10 percent or more to your utility bill, so encourage your team members to use a power strip for their electronics, and to switch it off when they're done for the day. You can also invest in "smart" power strips, which stop power consumption completely when you turn the machine off. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, turning electronic equipment off entirely can save $50 to $150 each year, for each machine.
Consider switching to laptops when it's time for an upgrade. On average, laptops use 80 percent less energy than desktop computers. Responsibly recycle your old computers and printers with a certified electronics recycler.
Finally, make use of natural light to save power. If practical, rearrange workspaces to take advantage of light from windows, and turn off overhead lights. This is also an important part of creating a healthy workplace .
2. Think Twice Before Purchasing
Before you buy new office equipment, ask yourself whether you really need what you're planning to buy. And is there a greener option?
For example, recycled stationery, or items with little or no packaging, cause less damage to the environment. "Gently used" furniture has also become common in offices around the world – a quick search online will yield plenty of suppliers.
3. Use Reusable Products
If your office uses disposable cups, plates and eating utensils in the break room, look for dishware that you can wash and reuse. Switch to plant-based, biodegradable dish soap, and use cloth drying towels or energy-saving hand-dryers instead of paper towels in bathrooms.
4. Plant Trees
Where it's practical, you can save energy and improve the appearance of your work environment by planting trees around your building. For example, large deciduous trees planted on the sides of a building that receive afternoon sun (the west and southwest sides of your building if you're in the northern hemisphere; the west and northwest if you're in the southern hemisphere) can help reduce your air conditioning costs by up to 35 percent. You can also reduce costs and improve energy efficiency by shading your air conditioning unit from hot summer sun.
Trees also help block cold winter winds. If you can, plant coniferous trees (for the most benefit, plant on the northern side if you're in the northern hemisphere, and the south if you're in the southern hemisphere). This can reduce winter heating costs by up to 30 percent.
Allow team members to work from home one or more days each week. This can yield great benefits for both your organization and the environment.
First, people who work from home don't waste time sitting in traffic. As well as saving time, this saves gasoline and prevents carbon emissions. (If it makes sense, you can also save money and energy if you shut the office down on telecommuting days.)
If telecommuting isn't an option at your organization, create a carpool information board or intranet page to connect people who use similar routes to work. Encourage team members to walk, bike or take public transportation to the office, and incentivize green travel: For example, you could reward car-poolers with reserved parking. Make it easy for people to start using green transport options by posting transit schedules, bike routes, and details of incentive programs in easily accessible spots.
6. Limit Business Travel
Technology has made it possible for organizations to limit business travel without this having a knock-on effect on efficiency. Of course, face-to-face meetings are important when you're establishing a relationship with a new client, or when you're getting a new location up and running; however, you may be able to hold more established events such as training, catch-ups and conferences virtually. These virtual events are often cost-effective and have a much lower impact on the environment. (There are now numerous software applications available to support virtual events.)
7. Create a "Green Team"
A green team creates and monitors environmental initiatives that are tailored to your organization. Members are responsible for seeking new ways to lighten the organization's footprint, and should also report on it. You can use their findings to customize future efforts towards the needs of your organization.
Teams such as this create new personal development opportunities, and help to make your organization more cohesive by encouraging colleagues to work towards a common goal. This can be great for morale!
Green management appeals to both consumers and staff. It makes a powerful statement about your brand, improves employee health, reduces staff turnover, and can impact your bottom line.
The following steps are part of a green approach to management:
- Watch power use.
- Think twice before purchasing.
- Use reusable products.
- Plant trees.
- Limit business travel.
- Create a "green team."
Regardless of your opinions on environmental issues, there are compelling business reasons for thinking carefully about green management.
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