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Here, at the Sustainable Business Leader Program (SBLP), we are often asked about quick-win actions that businesses can take to green their operations and practices. Although the real value of the SBLP is our customized approach to identifying and acting on your specific sustainability needs and opportunities, we wanted to provide some basic resources here to get you started.
The following guide provides your business with useful information to begin incorporating the SBLP’s seven key sustainability categories into your everyday business operations and practices. To learn more, simply click on a category below to be directed to a brief description, recommended actions, and a selection of useful resources to help your business begin on its path toward becoming a Sustainable Business Leader.
Get a free energy audit by contacting your electricity or gas provider (i.e. NSTAR, National Grid, etc.). Let the experts walk through your business to identify possible areas of improvement that can save you energy and money. Qualifying businesses receive up to 70% (or, in some cases, 100%!) of the total cost for retrofitting qualifying lighting and mechanical systems.
Heating and cooling, in most cases, make up the largest portion of a company’s energy consumption. Ensuring your space is properly insulated and sealed can help to greatly improve overall energy efficiency, resulting in lower energy bills and reduced environmental impact.
Replace your outdated incandescent, halogen, or other, light bulbs with Light-Emitting Diodes (LEDs) or Compact Fluorescent Lights (CFLs). LED’s are 75% more efficient than their incandescent counterparts and last about 25 times as long! CFL’s, while also more efficient than incandescent bulbs (though not nearly as efficient as LEDs), contain trace amounts of mercury (a toxic substance), so, when faced with an LED vs. a CFL, we recommend going with the LED. Better yet, use natural light whenever possible!
Set the thermostat to 76 degrees F in the summer and 68 degrees F in the winter, and only heat or cool your space during work hours. Programmable thermostats make this a breeze. One additional tip: Save 6%-7% on every degree above 76 degrees F in the summer or below 68 degrees F in the winter! (source: consumerenergycenter.com). Better yet, use a fan in summer!
Set your hot water temperature to 120 degrees Fahrenheit and insulate your tank with a hot water heater blanket (read the label on your water heater first to make sure it is okay and necessary) and pipes with pipe insulation. The blanket can save you 10% or more depending on the quality of your tank.
Perform regular maintenance to keep heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) systems running at peak efficiency. Maintenance of these systems can save up to 30% of fan energy and up to 10% of space conditioning energy use. (source: p2pays.org)
Installing motion sensors for irregularly used rooms, is an inexpensive way to ensure unnecessary lights are turned off.
Just because an appliance is turned off doesn’t mean that it isn’t drawing energy (called Phantom Load). This power that is being used while the appliance is technically “off” (think a plugged-in cell phone charger that is not connected to your phone) is wasted energy and money. The United States spends approximately $3 billion a year in standby power consumption! (source: cityofboston.gov) Use a power strip or a smart strip to serve as a surge protector and as a simple way to turn off all appliances when not in use.
Mass Save - http://www.masssave.com/business
NSTAR - http://www.nstar.com/business
National Grid - https://www.nationalgridus.com
Energy Star - http://www.energystar.gov
Massachusetts Clean Energy Center (MassCEC) - http://www.masscec.com
Department of Energy - www.energy.gov
PRISM Energy Services - http://sustainablebusinessleader.org/
Absolute Green Energy Corporation - http://absolutegreenenergy.com/
LittleFoot Energy Corporation - http://www.littlefootinc.com/
New Generation Energy - http://newgenerationenergy.org/
ThinkLite - http://www.rethinkrelite.com/
Use water-conserving aerators on sinks and showers. Low-flow faucet aerators save 1.5 gallons per minute and showerheads save between 2 and 4 gallons per minute. (source: mwra.state.ma.us)
Post signs to remind employees and customers to conserve water. While lathering up your hands and brushing your teeth, turn the water off. You still get the job done but without all the waste. Alternatively, install infrared or spring-loaded faucets to control water flow automatically.
That trickling sound you hear in the bathroom could be a leaky toilet wasting 50 gallons of water a day. A fixed leak is water in the tank and money in the bank.
Low-flow toilets and urinals save water and your bottom line. Toilets account for over 1/3 of the water used in businesses. Switching to high-efficiency toilets alone reduces toilet water use by over 50% and indoor water use by an average of 16%. Low-flow toilets use a maximum of 1.6 gallons of water per flush compared with about 3.5 gallons of water used by a standard toilet. (source: epa.gov)
If you have a garden or outdoor area, try trees and plants like White Oak, Marigolds, or Cosmos. Many trees, shrubs, and flowers are drought resistant and can survive without supplemental watering. Also, consider a rain barrel to capture rainwater for landscaping use.
It takes water to make almost everything. Behind that morning cup of coffee, there are 140 liters of water consumed to grow, produce, package, and ship the beans. For a single hamburger, an estimated 2,400 liters of water are needed. In the USA, the average person consumes nearly 7,000 liters of ‘virtual water’ every day. (source: Professor John Anthony Allan, Virtual Water Calculator)
Massachusetts Water Resource Authority (MWRA) - http://www.mwra.com
WaterSense (U.S. EPA) - http://www.epa.gov/watersense
Kohler Commercial Water Calculator - http://www.us.kohler.com/savewater/calculators/commercial.htm
Waste audits, conducted free of charge by most waste management and recycling companies, are a great place to start to understand what makes up your waste stream and how you can reduce and best manage your waste. Recommendations from such audits often result in waste management plans that can save your business money.
Set a goal of transitioning to a zero waste business. Begin by identifying what makes up the majority of your waste stream and how you can responsibly recycle it. Work “down the funnel” of your waste stream, determining how to eliminate, reduce, reuse, or recycle all materials until you have successfully eliminated any waste sent to landfill.
The amount of oil needed to make those bottles equals about 15 million barrels a year, or enough to fuel 100,000 cars for a year (source: Earth Policy Institute) and switching to tap water saves you money (~$.01 per gallon of tap vs. $1.00-$8.00 per gallon bottled). Public tap water must also meet more stringent Environmental Protection Agency requirements in comparison to bottled water. (source: mwra.state.ma.us)
It’s worth a simple phone call. Each year, 100 million trees are used to produce junk mail with Americans receiving almost 4 millions tons of it every year. (source: EPA Ohio)
Computers, cell phones, iPads – we live in a digital age. Electronics, cumulatively, contain enormous amounts of hazardous materials, which all too often end up in vast toxic landfills across the developing world. There are numerous ways to recycle these products for free and, in some cases, even get paid to do so.
Buy in bulk. Buy reusable products. Buy recycled content products. You’ll be surprised how much of this will lower your overhead (think individual sugar packets vs. large bag of sugar, one-time coffee mug purchase vs. hundreds of disposable cups per employee, toilet paper from recycled content vs. virgin material).
Pollution Prevention & Safe Alternatives
Electronics, batteries, CFL’s, ink cartridges, cleaning supplies - Hazardous materials are abundant in today’s workplace, containing such toxins as mercury, cadmium (a known carcinogen), and hexavalent chromium (cause of nerve and brain damage). All of these materials can be disposed of responsibly, whether they be returned to their original vendor for reuse, are recycled, etc. In fact, it’s the law to do so!
Toxic, corrosive, explosive, irritant, flammable… If you see these labels on products, you can make a safe bet they have negative health and environmental impacts. Chemical companies are not required, by law, to disclose all ingredients in their products. Ensure you and your staff are aware of any hazards that exist in the workplace and are properly trained on how to handle and dispose of them.
Most cleaning products on the market are hazardous for human health and the environment. However, LOTS of safe, green alternatives now exist for everything from all-purpose cleaners to bleach alternatives. Switch to green cleaning supplies today!
According to the EPA, indoor air is THREE times more polluted than outdoor air and is considered to be one of the top five hazards to human health. Paints and finishes release low-level toxic emissions into the air for years after application. Reduce pollution in your workplace by using low/no-VOC paints.
Massachusetts Environmentally Preferable Products - http://www.mass.gov/epp
Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection - http://www.mass.gov/dep/air
Environmental Protection Agency - http://www.epa.gov/
Toxics Use Reduction Institute (TURI) - www.turi.org
Boston Public Health Commission - http://www.bphc.org/
Here are a few ideas: walking, biking, public transportation, car-pooling, the list goes on. There are plenty of national, state, and local programs incentivizing alternative commuting. Installing a bike rack can’t hurt either.
The “T” is the fourth largest transit system in the nation and definitely the oldest, dating back to 1631! Riding the T can often reduce trip times, is more affordable than driving, and is far better for the environment.
Keep engines tuned up to save up to $.16 per gallon, replace filters and save up to $.41 per gallon, and keep tires inflated to the proper pressure to save $.12 per gallon.
Meeting remotely has become normal business practice in today’s business culture. Why travel offsite when you can hash out that big business deal via Skype, WebEx, or Join.Me? We don’t need to tell you about all the environmental, economic, and other benefits that go along with virtual meetings.
Biking or walking to work offers many benefits. On a personal level, you'll save money, get good exercise, and experience your city in ways that are impossible at 30 miles per hour. Environmentally, it cuts local air pollution, reduces greenhouse gas emissions, and helps reduce roadway congestion and traffic. Economically, you can’t beat the savings! Plus you burn approximately 175 calories (per hour) instead of releasing about 20 pounds of carbon dioxide for every gallon burned.
There are great alternatives, like Zip Car, that offer cars on demand. Don’t hassle with parking, maintenance, and auto insurance. Leave that to the experts and call on them only when you need a ride.
Local Purchasing & Local Food
Coming soon (Winter 2011), the Sustainable Business Network of Greater Boston’s Local Green Guide will be the best local resource for businesses in eastern Massachusetts that demonstrate environmentally sustainable business practices.
Take an in-depth look at all the inputs and supplies you use to run your business. This includes essential office supplies like pens & paper, etc. Identify local alternatives and make the switch!
The northeast is chock-full of farms, fishermen, breweries, and other food and beverage producers. Their food and drink are fresh and delicious. Support local food and beverage!
Our very own certified “Sustainable Business Leaders” - http://www.sustainablebusinessleader.org/graduates
Sustainable Business Network of Greater Boston - www.sbnboston.org
Cambridge Local First - http://cambridgelocalfirst.org
Somerville Local First - http://somervillelocalfirst.org
Worcester Local First - http://www.worcesterlocalfirst.org/
Creating a Sustainability Plan helps to clarify a vision, set goals, identify successes and challenges, and put into action real environmentally sustainable change.
It’s fun and effective! Start by finding interested staff by posting notices in common areas, making an announcement, or sending a company-wide email. Try to engage at least one person from each department and be sure a direct line of communication exists between the Green Team and a decision maker for the company.
Write sustainability initiatives into job descriptions and the company mission statement. This creates measurable tasks for each employee and reiterates the commitment to sustainable practices within your company.
Sharing knowledge about the environmental, and other, benefits of making sustainability improvements not only educates, but also excites and engages, staff and customers. Add language to your e-newsletter, make announcements at staff meetings, or post informational signs in high traffic areas. Share both company and wider-scale successes and challenges as they relate to environmental sustainability.
Create a maintenance schedule to keep filters, temperature controls, lighting, electronics, appliances, and HVAC working properly. Make sure someone is accountable for these checks and fixes.
Reward those who volunteer their time and energy to create a more sustainable and healthy work environment. It feels great to be recognized!
- Biggest Loser - Who has made the most changes to reduce their carbon footprint
- MSVP - Most Sustainable Valuable Player, who has gone above and beyond
- Green Guru - Who has helped create education information for the office