Biz Expert Q&A: Greening Your Business on a Budget

Tips on how to save money while saving the planet

Becoming more environmentally aware while saving on energy costs for your small business doesn’t have to cost a lot of money. Jennifer Kaplan, author of Greening Your Small Business: How to Improve Your Bottom Line, Grow Your Brand, Satisfy Your Customers – and Save the Planet (Prentice Hall Press) points out that it doesn’t have to cost anything at all.

BLACK ENTERPRISE: When most people think about transforming their business into a green enterprise, the first perception is that it’s going to cost a lot of money. And during times such as these, most small businesses don’t have the financial resources to spare.
Jennifer Kaplan:
There are many things that small businesses can do before they should even consider investing in expensive measures. The vast majority of green measures can be done at cost savings. There’s a misconception that all greening is expensive. There are certainly higher order greening programs–putting in solar panels and wind turbines–but those are really higher order. Those are only done by companies that have well-established green programs in place.

If I’m a business owner keeping a close eye on the budget and bottom line, why should I consider spending money now to become energy efficient?
The best thing you can do is simply use fewer resources. It just means taking a look at what you’re spending money on and using less of it. Can you eliminate disposable paper products from your break room and use mugs instead? Can you have your copier print on two sides so you end up buying less paper and toner, and using less power? Try and move toward paperless.

What if I’m renting the office space and the landlord doesn’t want to invest in the upgrades, but my company pays the energy bills?
Typically, in a commercial lease, the landlord has to pay for the improvements but renters pay the utility bills, so there’s very little incentive for them to do it. The best time to talk to your landlord about greening and doing upgrades is when you’re signing or renegotiating a lease. That’s when you have leverage and a lot of the greening measures can be adopted.

The Building Owners and Managers Association International has something called the Green Lease Guide and it provides the landlord with ideas on how to incentivize the tenants to reduce their consumption of energy and materials. The reality is the landlord may want the right to pass on the capital costs of those improvements because they lower the operating costs to the tenants. But that may not be a bad way to do it because, in the end, you’ll be gaining those energy efficiencies and you won’t have to bear the upfront costs but the building will. But in reality there’s not a lot you can do as a leaseholder.

What would be your top tips for small business owners to keep in mind before undertaking such a project?
To eliminate direct mail and go more into electronic marketing. Direct mail is kind of expensive; the average is 50 cents a piece for direct mail. So multiply your database by 50 cents apiece. That’s a cost savings.

I’m a big believer in reducing business travel. Some businesses are built around face-to-face meetings, but you can book fewer trips and make them last longer and be more efficient in your scheduling. That way you’re not paying for extra airline tickets, which have a high environmental cost as well. You can also do web conferences and teleconferences in lieu of business trips. The average domestic business trip costs $1,054, but an hour of teleconferencing averages about $211. So you can save a lot of money and it’s much better for the environment.

ACROSS THE WEB