By Anna Clark, President of EarthPeople

If you think your business is too small or too service-based to benefit from going green, or you’re waiting for the hype about green and sustainability to die down, then you’re missing an opportunity to chart an upward course for your company.

The green movement has transitioned from a cause to save our environment into a full-fledged, vetted economy. This new economy is projected to be larger than the Internet-related economy by orders of magnitude. What is sustainability?

While many interest groups define the term “sustainability” differently, the term, as it relates to business, means: conducting business to meet human needs without rapidly depleting resources, degrading the environment, or compromising nature conservation efforts. In this article I use the terms “sustainable” and “green” interchangeably.

1. Conservation of energy and resources in the workplace
2. Conservation of energy and resources in the lifecycle of product manufacturing
3. Compliance (and exceeding compliance) of mandated environmental regulations
4. Sustainable harvesting/mining of natural resources
5. Use of clean energy (wind, solar, biomass)
6. Carbon emissions offset programs
7. Management of upstream environmental impact by greening supply chain Sustainability strategies vary from business to business, so there is no universal approach to going green. But the approach may vary based on size and industry type. Companies across the board are finding that being friendly to the planet can also lead to profits.

Why consider going green?

Consumers increasingly prefer to purchase products that are free of toxins, produced with a minimum of pollution, and that that have a minimal environmental impact. Opportunity in the emerging eco-economy is not narrowly limited to consumer products or certain industry sectors.

Companies that successfully adopt a pro-environment policy can generate profits, provide positive social impact, and reduce environmental impact. This trinity of effects is known as the triple bottom line–a paradigm that weighs a company’s social and environmental contributions along with its financials as a measure of success.

Companies that look out for the triple bottom line position themselves as sector leaders, lower operating costs and increase revenues.

Where are you now?

Companies today can be classified in one of five stages as corporate culture advances toward sustainability. Those stages are:

Awareness: Company becomes aware that environmental concerns are permeating discourse, though sustainability as a value is absent from corporate culture.

Resistive: Company becomes aware of its own environmental impact of doing business, but demonstrates no commitment to environmental responsibility and possibly some reaction against it.

Legalistic: Company strictly focuses on compliance to minimum environmental regulations, with no commitment to raising standards for conservation or energy efficiency.

Reactive: Company recognizes strategic value of sustainability opportunities, but pursues only opportunities that do not create new risks.

Strategic: Company uses proactive approach to sustainability opportunities and evaluates the impact of sustainability initiatives on the long-term value of the enterprise.

In spite of the payoffs that some big businesses have received from going green, many companies still view a sustainability commitment through the lens of compliance. When companies progress beyond compliance and extend their sustainability actions strategically, they become more nimble, and better equipped to meet the rapidly changing demands of the marketplace.

Steps toward sustainability for service or office-based companies Sustainable practices are not limited to high-energy, high-resource enterprises. As many Vistage members are aware, small and mid-sized businesses represent 85 percent of the U.S. economy. In fact, 99.9 percent of businesses in the U.S. contain 500 employees or less. Many of these businesses are office-based, service-based or non-manufacturing enterprises. A well-conceived green strategy is based on certain fundamentals, and small, non-resource intensive firms can customize these fundamentals to achieve highly specific growth results.

There is no one-size-fits-all approach to sustainability, but here is a good plan of action:

– Investigate where your company can conserve resources.
– Engage your employees as champions of the effort.
– Implement conservation measures throughout operations and facilities.
– Communicate your green efforts to stakeholders.
– Seek ways to integrate a strategic approach to sustainability in other areas of your enterprise.
– Support industry and community sustainability initiatives.
For more information on sustainability steps that a company can take see the comprehensive article How to Green Your Business.

Rewards of going green

Companies that adopt a pro-environment policy will see numerous positive results, both tangible and intangible. Early adopters of environmental strategies:

• Earn publicity with the local, regional or even national media
• Uniquely differentiate themselves from competitors
• Attract the interest of top job candidates
• Attract consumers in the rapidly-growing green marketplace
• Transform their companies into industry leaders
• Reduce operating costs
• Create brand distinction and recognition
• Create significant competitive advantage
• Enhance employee satisfaction
• Become preferred vendors in green supply chains
• Attract top job candidates
• Build credibility with stakeholders
• Attract investors

The media notices companies that show their green stripes. For example, when Aspen Ski Company switched to green power, it was featured in Newsweek and made the front page of Fast Company. Positive publicity for going green is not reserved for large companies. When Dallas-based law firm Gardere completed its first sustainability report and became an EPA partner, it was recognized by the American Bar Association and featured in a half dozen articles that reached key audiences in Texas and around the nation. Companies taking voluntary steps to become greener will gain visibility, earn credibility, and develop a reputation for leadership.

Employee loyalty and retention are less tangible, but equally important benefits to going green. A sincere sustainability strategy will help your company attract top talent. A recent survey revealed that 81 percent of MBA students polled said that business should work toward “the betterment of society.” In a Stanford University survey, MBA students who were polled across North America were willing to forgo an average of $13,700 to work for a company with a better environmental reputation than most. Attracting competitive candidates without raising starting salaries directly enhances your company’s bottom line.

Companies that market consumer products or provide consumer services can tap into the emerging Lifestyles of Health and Sustainability (LOHAS) market, which includes more than 35 million adult consumers putting some $209 billion into the economy each year. Those figures are expected to grow as more Americans identify with the goals of oil independence and seek ways to minimize climate change.

The cost of sustainability

There is no easy way to quantify the cost of going green. Companies should look at the cost of sustainability initiatives as an investment. Hiring a consultant or an energy auditor may require an initial outlay of funds, but this can lead to exponential returns, saving your company tens or hundreds of thousands in savings.

Bank of America has committed $20 billion to green lending and clean technology projects. Small businesses considering energy-efficiency projects could easily get funding through a traditional small-business loan. The cost is not what keeps more business owners from investing in sustainability; rather it lack of knowledge or mere complacency. The fact is, when you sit down to do the math, most initiatives will yield profits or savings far beyond the cost of implementing them.

The bottom line

The ROI of going green can be more sales, increased market share, enhanced visibility, happier employees, and a better brand. Cleaner air, a healthier climate, and a better future for your kids are not bad benefits, either. Anna Clark is President of EarthPeople, a consulting firm that helps companies of all sizes save money and bolster their brand through the leading-edge principle of sustainability. EarthPeople Sustainability Consulting has a national reach and is currently looking to serve clients in the San Diego area.

Recommended Resources

Lean SCM Professional On-line Certification Program Lean SCM Professional On-line Certification Program
This On-line Certification Program has been developed in association with the American Institute of Industrial Engineers, the Irish Institute of Industrial Engineers, and the Canadian Professional Logistics Institute.

The Program consists of 9 on-line lessons that provide participants with a comprehensive overview of Lean Thinking and its application. It also outlines and demonstrates the essential lean tools and practices that can be applied to your business in order to achieve significant savings to your bottom line. It can be undertaken by individuals through on-line distance learning study.

© 2009, Anna Clark. All rights reserved. Do not republish.

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Author: Anna Clark (5 Articles)

Anna Clark is president of EarthPeople (www.earthpeopleco.com), a consulting and communications firm that helps organizations of all sizes create and execute profitable green strategies. A featured blogger for Greenbiz.com and SustainLane.com, Anna writes on sustainability and leadership. Her first full book,<a href="Becoming Earth-Friendly and Reaping the Benefits Green, American Style, is scheduled for release in April 2010. Anna lives with her family in Dallas in one of the first residences in Texas to earn a platinum LEED-certified rating from the US Green Building Council. For the more on sustainable living and green business, follow her on Twitter at anna_m_clark or visit www.annamclark.com.