"Going green" may sound a little gimmicky but it has some real benefits for small businesses. Operating a green business is not only good for the environment but good for your business' bottom line because conserving resources and cutting down on waste ultimately means money savings for the business. For the imaginative entrepreneur the move to thinking green also opens up a wide vista of opportunity in developing and marketing green products.
Developing green products
Growing concern about environmental issues has opened up a wide variety of new markets related to producing and selling green products that answer to an increasing desire by consumers to be ecologically friendly.
Established in 1995, Roots Biopack Limited produces eco-friendly biodegradable food containers and packaging products using agricultural by-products, such as sugarcane fibre and empty fruit receptacles. In their factory the boiler's waste heat is used to heat up water for office and staff housing. Roots' clientele has grown to include many leading international fast food restaurants and supermarket chains.
Fried chicken and the environment might not seem to have much in common but FiltaFry developed a microfiltration process that significantly extends the life of cooking oil, which means much less waste is generated. FiltaFry will come to a restaurant, hospital or hotel and clean the cooking oil on location. And not only does the oil last longer, but it's also cleaner, which means the food is healthier too.
Saving production cost
Even companies whose line of work is more traditional can benefit from using green practices.
TerraCycle produces an organic plant food made from worm castings but what is different about their product is the packaging - used plastic soft drink bottles. Not soft drink bottles that have been melted down and remade into a different form, but the actual used bottles themselves. The company has repurposed over a million such bottles which has meant savings in production costs as well as a lot of good publicity.
Thomas Mott Bed & Breakfast phased in energy efficient practices over a number of years to reduce its electricity bill from its pre-programme level of $11265 to a post-programme one of $1649. How? The owners of the old farmhouse-turned-B&B invested in wall space insulation, windows designed to minimise heat loss, a state-of-the-art boiler, highly efficient compact fluorescent lamps, switched the kitchen from electric to gas and planted trees to provide shade and lower cooling costs in summer.
Common sense savings
While any one SME may produce few direct greenhouse gas emissions, their collective use of energy in the form of electricity to heat and cool and drive equipment, of oil and other chemicals and of fuel to transport raw materials, distribute product and remove waste all add up to a significant contribution to total emissions. By optimising energy use most small businesses achieve significant savings on their utility bills as well as reducing their carbon footprint.
Most of the savings that green businesses make result from nothing more than common sense thinking. Laptops use less power than desktop models; motion detectors in bathrooms, timers on water heaters and coffee pots, and programmable thermostats throughout the premises all cut back on using electricity when people aren't using the facility; replacing equipment that performs inefficiently, such as printers, refrigerators and air conditioners with new, energy efficient models reduces energy use and utility bills; moving to e-mail to deliver mail and accounts reduces paper use. Look at your business carefully and there is likely a lot of low-hanging fruit to be picked when it comes to saving energy. Added up, these will amount to significant savings.
Coming ready or not
In industrialised countries small businesses consume from 50-55% of the oil and natural gas resources, and so are responsible for a significant amount of greenhouse gas emission. It's only a matter of time before the impact of global warming results in mandatory limits and penalties for non-compliance and these will be applied to SMEs no less than to large companies. Yet while SME surveys regularly find that increasing energy prices rate as a top concern, only a minority report actually spending money to increase energy efficiency. That's a disconnect that needs to be addressed. Since one of the quickest ways to cut greenhouse gasses is for businesses to become more energy efficient it seems that the most sensible solution for SMEs is to kill the two birds (greenhouse gasses and energy bills) with the one stone - introducing more energy efficient production methods.