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5 Simple Steps to Make Your Small Business More Sustainable

Take a look around your office. What do you see? You’ll probably notice that, among other things, you have a desk, one of those rolling chairs with a sway back, and stacks of papers, notebooks, and the like filling in the nooks and crannies. That’s the superficial view.

Now let’s take a look at your office space from the point of view of a sustainability consultant. SusCons look deeper. They look at desks and see wood, glass, and metal, and then they judge. They would probably look upon your sway-backed chair with disdain, mostly because it’s new and you could’ve bought used or rented something similar. And all of that paper? SusCons can’t stand it, especially when 75% of what you’ve printed was absolutely unnecessary.

Feeling judged? Don’t fret! Below, find 5 simple ways to avoid the scorn of an angry SusCon (and save a bunch of money to boot!). Feeling apathetic? Remember that sustainability is as much about saving money as it is about saving the environment. Why do you think Fortune 500 companies are creating sustainability departments across the board? Yes they want to please their stakeholders, but they also want to save millions of dollars from previously wasted energy, materials, etc. As a small business owner, you don’t need, nay can you afford a SusCon, but you probably don’t need one… just follow these easy steps!

1. Unplug Everything Before you Leave

You might not realize it, but anything that draws power from a power socket continues to do so even AFTER you shut it down. Computers, cell phone chargers, and even light fixtures (depending on the make and model) are costing you precious financial resources every year, simply because you don’t unplug them over night. If you are a plug junkie and can’t bother to unplug everything in your office, focus on the items (computers, TVs) that show an idle light even after you turn them off. These are called “vampire” appliances, as they are the most notorious for sucking energy after shut down. Instruct and encourage any employees to unplug if they're working late.

2. Stop Printing the Unnecessary!

Do you really need to print a 400-page manual for fighting termites, even though you’re going to hire an exterminator? Even the most “important” documents can likely be reviewed, signed, and delivered online, saving you time and money while saving the planet’s forests. Remember that a ream (500 sheets) of standard printer paper uses about 10% of a tree (source: http://www.straightdope.com/columns/read/2231/how-is-paper-made), and that certainly adds up over time. And all of that paper is costly! If you just can’t be bothered to stop printing all of that useless info, at least print double-sided. Doing so will cut your paper use by 50%. Most printers do this automatically these days, just click “Print,” “Properties,” and select “Print double-sided.”

3. Buy Used or Rent Furniture

Does the name Clarence Darrow ring a bell? (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Clarence_Darrow). Well, you’re not him and you don’t live in his era. You don’t need brand new Mahogany furniture. Your needs are most likely met by a desk, a desk chair, a filing cabinet, and a couple of chairs for your reception (if you have one). Remember that as a small business owner, customers and clients care more about your product(s) and your service(s) than they do about your oak-paneled indoor shower. Don’t waste the money! Instead, buy used furniture from a warehouse nearby. Plug “used furniture, local” into your favorite search engine, and you’ll be off to the races. Even if you are in the advertising business, requiring an aesthetically pleasing office with beautiful furniture, and you don’t think used furniture will do the trick, think about renting. Most rental warehouses have an amazing assortment of cutting-edge furniture, for 25% of the price of their new counterparts. Again, plug “office furniture to rent, local” into your favorite search engine. You will save big money, and you’ll reduce the impact that you have on the planet in regards to materials used.

4. Replace Old Bulbs with CFLs

Compact fluorescent lightbulbs (CFLs) are those squiggly bulbs that take a second to flicker and turn on. They are an amazing cost-saving device for small business owners, homeowners, corporations, and governments alike, which is why all of the above have been replacing their old incandescent lights with CFLs for 10+ years. First, CFLs have an 8+ year life-cycle, as opposed to 0-2 years for incandescent bulbs, and second, they use 20-30% of the electricity compared to their incandescent counterparts. Big cost-savings. CFLs function like the long, tubular fluorescents that you often find as under-lighting in kitchens, and as corridor lighting in office buildings, using electricity to ionize fluorine particles which coincidentally generates light. If you’re a stickler for the old-world “warmth” of incandescent bulb light and don’t like the harsher light that CFLs produce, buy a colored lampshade to produce the same effect.

5. Stop Using your AC

If you don’t have control over this, due to a centralized building AC system, then all you can do is close your windows, allowing the building to cool and the centralized thermostat to shut down the AC. If you do have autonomous AC control, don’t use it! AC is a notoriously inefficient means to cool a space, using copious amounts of energy. And AC use among city residents usually occurs at the same time of day, when people are the hottest, straining the already taxed electrical grid, and pumping toxic emissions into the atmosphere. If you live in a cold climate, heating is just as energy inefficient, so wear a sweater or two instead of lighting up the furnace. The solution? Do your best not to turn on the AC (or heat). Open your windows, un-tuck your shirt, loosen your tie, take off your shoes. If it’s just sweltering and you can’t help but use the AC, don’t set the thermostat any lower than 77degrees F. If you can, try 80degrees F. There is an exponential energy use increase with every degree cooler (or warmer) that an AC unit (or heating unit) is set to, which comes with a higher energy bill!

Remember, you don’t need to hire a consultant to be more sustainable. Remember too that sustainability is as much about saving money as it is about saving the environment. It’s a win-win that you can make happen today!