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The Cost of Going Green for Small Business

Working greener practices into your routine not only helps the environment, but it also helps your health and sometimes your wallet too. The term "going green" can consist of simple individual acts like switching to recycled products or to start recycling trash, but can also be done on a much larger scale. In fact, many major corporations are adopting more environmentally friendly practices in their services and day-to-day operations. For example, Google created a "green team" dedicated to finding ways to keep its operations more sustainable, and they found a way to run their data centers using 50% less energy.

Now, I know what you may be thinking, going green sounds great in theory, but what are the costs of going green and are those costs outweighed by the benefits? This article will explore the costs and benefits for small businesses to go green on a small, medium, and large scale.

Start Small

To begin, take care of the basics.

  1. Replace all incandescent light bulbs with LED light bulbs. This technology might cost a little more than regular light bulbs, but they much longer and use up to 90% less energy.
  2. If you provide bottled water for employees, switch to a water cooler or water filter to purify tap water.
  3. Purchase reusable water bottles. The plastic water bottles are made mostly from polyethylene terephthalate (PET), an oil derived plastic. Each year they generate about two million tons of trash that adds to our landfills here in the U.S.
  4. Implement a recycling program for your business to help in reducing waste. According to the City of Houston's website, commercial waste makes up approximately 40% of total municipal solid waste. Aside from being more environmentally friendly, the more you recycle means the less waste you throw away, which can lower your overall disposal cost. For more information contact your waste disposal company.

Make The Green Switch!

An easy alternative is to switch to green energy generated from renewable sources. Most energy is generated by fossil fuels like coal and nuclear power plants. Green energy is an eco-friendly alternative generated from wind, solar, hydro, and biomass sources. Green energy plans, tend to be slightly more expensive, but the impact of switching to green energy leaves much less of a carbon footprint.

Larger Projects

If you've implemented the initiatives above and want to make a bigger impact, try these ideas!

  1. Install low-flow toilets. An average low-flow toilet can cost a little over $100, but with all the water you'll save, you can recoup your costs rather quickly, usually within a year and a half.
  2. Install motion sensor lights in rooms that aren't occupied all the time. By installing a motion sensor light switch, you automatically start to save money since the lights only stay on as long as you need them - and no more forgetting to turn them off.
  3. Reduce the use of paper. Not only is it good for the environment, but it also saves you money. Encouraging employees to read all emails and information on their computer first before they decide whether it's necessary to print. Also, promote double-sided printing to lower paper and printing costs.

Taking the Big Step: LEED Certified Construction

Ready to make green changes on a much larger scale? Whether you want to redesign the space or start from scratch, it's time to talk about LEED Certification.

To provide some background information, the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) is a non-profit community of leaders working to make green buildings available to everyone. And to make a building "green," they established the LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) green building certification. This certification can be applied to all building types - commercial and residential - with the goal to promote sustainable building and development practices.

The LEED certification was designed for the environment, but it also makes business sense too, benefiting commercial building owners and tenants. The advantages to redesigning or building a green building not only helps the bottom line, but according to the USGBC, green buildings have proven to make happier and healthier employees and occupants. Green buildings are designed to have a healthier and cleaner indoor environmental quality, which affects employees in a positive way. It leads to improved employee satisfaction (which means less missed time), improved productivity, improved mental/physical health and better recruitment and retention. Having a green building is now a big selling point in recruiting employees (especially younger) because they want to work for companies that are conscious about their impact on the environment.

In addition to benefiting employees, a LEED certified building costs less to operate and maintain. And since green buildings provide immediate and measurable results, building managers and occupants will be able to see lower operating costs as soon as changes are made. There are also tax benefits and incentives for green buildings, which allow for additional savings. Lastly, green buildings are great for public relations and community awareness too. For example, according to the USGBC, "Adobe Systems, Inc., a major software maker, announced in 2006 that it had received three LEED for Existing Building Platinum awards for its headquarters towers; not only did it reap great publicity, but the firm showed that it had garnered a net present value return of almost 20 to one on its initial investment."

Like most things in life, all these benefits of being LEED certified don't come free. There are costs associated with the design and construction (if necessary) to bring a current building up to code or to build a new building. Although I cannot tell you exactly what those costs amount to, it's important to weigh those against the benefits started above.

Now, if becoming LEED certified is not for you, but you are interested in additional ways to make your business greener, check out the LEED project checklists. These checklists outline the specific tasks involved with becoming LEED certified.

For more information on LEED or how your business can become LEED certified go to

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