Guest post by Susan Chambers
On more than one occasion over the last couple of years, I've heard heart-centred business owners declare that they'd love to make a positive difference in the world through their business—if they only knew how to get started transforming their business into a socially responsible entity. I've also encountered microentrepreneurs who express fears that going green will send them broke, and yet others who believe that their companies are too small to make a positive difference in the world.
I believe that everyone has the capacity to be a change agent and lead by example when (1) they have the information and resources (a network of like-minded individuals to call on for support or inspiration) to guide their actions, (2) they start from where they are and with what's available to them, and (3) they make changes through small, incremental steps. I also believe that with some thoughtful planning beforehand and along the way, adopting more planet-friendly business processes ultimately contributes to the overall value of a business; it enhances the sustainability of both the company and the planet.
You wouldn't set out on a journey without doing some planning beforehand, and the same wisdom applies to greening your company's environmental footprint (the overall impact your business has on the planet as a result of greenhouse gas emissions, waste production, and usage patterns for resources such as energy, water, renewable and non-renewable resources). Yes, the information gathering, decision making and planning take a bit of time, but in the long run it will keep you within your budget and on track, contribute to some small and encouraging successes, and keep you engaged in the process. Here are a few strategies to get you started.
1. Do a mini appraisal of your business so you have a clear idea of your motives, readiness, and capacity to go green. What financial, material, intellectual, and human resources do you have available to you? Are your investors, partners, employees, customers, vendors, etc, on board with your decision to green your business operations?
2. Do an inventory of the environmentally friendly business processes you already have in place. Give yourself some recognition and appreciation for what you've already accomplished: it's a better motivator than focusing on what you're not doing or dong well.
3. Measure your environmental footprint. You can either take DIY approach, or call in an expert to do the assessment, depending on the type and location of your business.
4. Based on the results of your actions in steps 2 and 3, write a list of the green business practices you want to implement, then look at the resources (money, time, people) that are currently available to you right now. Based on the resources available to you right now, choose two or three actions that are easy to implement immediately, won't cost you a cent, and will help you to start saving resources and money. (For example, using less energy translates into lower electricity bills; banishing bottled water saves both money and precious resources.)
5. You may discover that you have one or two "big ticket" items on your list that are not affordable in the short run—and you're not so sure how you are going to afford them in the longer run, either. If this is the case, set up a "green fund": direct the money saved from the cost-saving green strategies into a specially designated savings account, and use the money saved in that account to pay for those big ticket items.
Start from where you are, and take small steps that will yield some early successes on your path to greening your company's footprint. You'll find that the small steps add up to big changes-- and you didn't go broke in the process. So, are you ready, now, to step up as a change agent and lead by example?
Susan Chambers is the author of Small Business, Big Change: A Microentrepreneur's Guide to Social Responsibility (Night Owls Press / 2012).