Every business relies on some type of resource for its continued operation. That’s just an economic fact. Many resources are domain specific, and only matter to companies that operate in that domain, but there are some things that every business can do to become more sustainable.

In this article I’ll show you some changes that you can make to the way your company operates in order to be a modern sustainable business.

Why Go Sustainable

The conventional narrative has sustainability and business at odds. The simplistic picture paints jobless environmentalists rallying against heartless corporate lackeys with both sides attempting to swing the government to their cause. The reality is both more complicated and kinder to all parties involved.

The truth is that businesses shouldn’t aim for sustainability because of any government mandate or lofty environmentalist philosophy. Sustainability is at the core of running an efficient business.

Companies looking to streamline their work want to cut down on unnecessary consumption and this just is the central tenet of sustainability. It certainly doesn’t hurt that environmentally friendly technologies are becoming cheaper than their clunky counterparts.

Don’t just take my word for it, though. According to a 2010 survey 93% of CEOs think that sustainability is important for the future of their companies. The case for green business practices is clear: clean up our acts or get left behind by those who do. Here’s what you can do to stay ahead of the curve on sustainability.

Reduce, Reuse, and Recycle

The three R’s of environmentalism appear in this order for a reason. Reducing consumption is the best way to have a positive impact on the environment followed by reusing and, surprisingly, recycling. While recycling easily gets the most publicity of the three Rs it’s actually the least effective for both the environment and your business’s bottom line.

Reducing consumption is something that every business wants to do, if only to cut spending and feel a little more comfortable in their budgets. There probably isn’t much that I can tell you about minimizing your own costs that you don’t already know, so I’m not going to try. Instead, though, I can make some suggestions about reuse that you may not have thought of.

Reusing resources matters most when you do it for products that are ubiquitous in your workplace. Whenever possible you should find ways to reuse office supplies by either retasking them or returning them to a usable state.

A great example of the latter is reusing old toner cartridges. Every business has to print things, and every CFO laments the cost of printer repairs and toner refills. Those who have done their homework, however, have likely read up on the ongoing debate about remanufacturing or refilling your toner cartridges. If you’re not familiar with it do some reading so that you can decide which is right for your business. Whichever you choose, you can be sure that you’re cutting costs by not purchasing new and unnecessary cartridges.

Save Electricity

Electricity costs are easily the most common in the business world. There is no company that doesn’t spend some amount of money each month to pay for electricity. No matter what you do you can always save money by saving energy.

Some workplace policies that you can enact right now to cut down on your electricity bill include asking employees to shut their computers off or put them to sleep at the end of business, installing light switch sensors so that you only pay to brighten rooms that people are using, and allowing employees to work from home periodically, so that they add to their home energy bill and not yours.

Any one of these practices will help you save money and instituting a wide array of energy saving strategies will result in some serious cost savings in the long run.

Partner Responsibly

Someone once pointed out to me that all the electric cars in the world wouldn’t do a bit of good if we had to burn gasoline to produce each watt of electricity that those cars would go on to use. The lesson, which also applies to running a business, is that we’re only as sustainable as the networks that we take part in. In the story above my electric car doesn’t end up doing any good for the environment because I’ve just passed on the production of harmful emissions to another party, rather than doing something to eliminate that waste entirely.

Similarly, if you partner with a company that doesn’t measure up to your sustainability philosophy then you’re just passing on the waste, both environmental and financial, to your partner. Don’t think for a second that they’re going to absorb all of those extra costs without passing anything along to you, though. Streamlining your supply chain by partnering with other sustainable businesses will save you money down the road.

Do your research on your partners before you enter into any big deals. Many suppliers will publicly state how they’re trying to be sustainable, like this green printing company has done on their website. If they don’t, follow up privately with them and hold them to a rigorous accounting of their sustainable practices.

Companies that aren’t jumping at the opportunity to tell you how efficient they are are probably not companies that you want to work with.

Sustainability isn’t just for hippies. By employing sustainable business practices you can engender community support for your work while streamlining your production with efficient, modern strategies.

Author: Nick Cesare works at a local startup in Boise, ID. He’s interested in how businesses can rework themselves to be environmentally friendly and take charge of improving their own environmental communities. You can reach Nick @cesare_nick.

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