Reduce, reuse, recycle. Easy to remember, but tough to implement, especially if your small business isn’t in the environmental sector. Remember that these terms are guidelines; there are many ways by which the small business owner can reduce consumption, reuse materials, and recycle recyclables, saving money and the environment at the same time.

Specifically, a discussion of rentals follows below. Renting is reuse (and it contributes to reducing), but it is often overlooked as an extremely efficient and practical way to fill in one of the three Rs. Some of the ways that the small business owner can rent his/her way into the black and the green, for their balance sheet and the environment respectively, are unconventional, but very efficient.

Computer/printer rental

The concept of renting a desktop or laptop for your small business might sound a bit out of the ordinary, but when it comes to saving much-needed cash, it’s the only way to go for some. Of course, it depends on how computer-intensive your small business is. If there is a lot of accounting and/or inventory design involved, for example, renting a personal computer is probably not the best option. For some businesses though, renting a computer for a few days a month might be enough to satisfy the business’ computer needs, especially as much of the scheduling and communicating that is done these days has moved to third-party clients online (Google, Opensource). The sustainability of personal computer rentals is almost obvious: for every person that rents a computer, a new computer is not purchased, saving all sorts of materials and energy. For small businesses that necessitate a large printing requirement, renting printers saves money in maintenance and repair over the long-term, and saves the materials and energy rolled into the purchase of a new printer.

Furniture rental

So many small business owners picture themselves sitting in a large wing-backed chair, inside an oak-paneled high-rise office. Understand that these creature comforts do not make your business more financially secure or sustainable. Instead, think minimalism: desk, chair, lamp. Most businesses don’t even require a defined office space for years, especially those that sell a product based on quantity sales, where a warehouse becomes home, office, and storage facility all-in-one; long hours over lots of coffee is implied. That being said, if you already have an office and/or plan on having one in the near future, furniture rental saves money over the long-term, while saving the materials and energy used to produce new furniture. It also looks great! The beauty of some furniture rental warehouses is that there is an expansive selection for a relatively low monthly rate. The small business owner can select the right sort of furniture, and return it after any length of time (1 month-1 year), creating flexibility that does not exist if one purchases furniture outright.

Rent space in someone else’s office

This might sound a bit extreme, but think about your needs as a small business. It’s probably the case that you need a relatively quiet workspace for much of the workday, making calls and expanding your business network. Again minimalism: desk, chair, lamp. These needs can be met in someone else’s office! Small businesses with 20+ employees are already renting office space in your area, and the majority of them have an extra corner or two not being used, as a result of spatial inefficiencies in real estate. Even if your small business has a few employees, consider splitting the rent with another business. Sharing space with another business will potentially save tens of thousands of dollars annually from the lease bill, without sacrificing much in the way of comfort. Such a scenario is also much more sustainable, as the less space needed to sustain your small business, the better. The energy savings alone is enough financial and environmental incentive to postpone the dream of your own exclusive office, and cozy up to the neighbors!

JR Rodama is a sustainability expert at the University of Cambridge in the United Kingdom. He is a successful entrepreneur, and has worked with US government (EPA, Congress) on various sustainability programs. Rodama believes that healthy organizations beget a healthy environment; he focuses on practices that help small businesses succeed in today’s “green business world.”