Lean Business: Save Money, Save the Environment

Driving to Bloomington a few weeks ago on my way to the older son’s graduation from IU, I was struck as I always am by the sight of a massive wind farm along I65 in central Indiana. Hundreds of gargantuan windmills line the fields in orderly rows almost to the horizon. Spinning slowly and in near-perfect unison, the farm is a hypnotic and surprisingly beautiful spectacle in an otherwise boring landscape. A combination of government incentives and high oil prices have made projects like this one feasible and profitable for the companies that build them.

Wind farms, solar ranches, and tidal power generators are popping up around the world, and businesses from other sectors have taken notice and implemented strategies that have the dual purpose of saving money and earning respect for forward-thinking corporate policies. Why not be a good global citizen and add to the bottom line at the same time? Walmart and other large retailers have undertaken efforts to go green by building huge solar arrays atop the bog box outlets and switched over to compact fluorescent bulbs inside. UPS has achieved huge cost savings by carefully mapping out new routes for their trucks, which (of all things) minimize left turns to save on fuel, turning to electronic vehicles, and even human-powered transportation in urban areas.

But it’s not just Fortune 100 companies that can benefit from sustainable strategies –  small businesses and startups can also see cost savings while doing their own bit to reduce their environmental impact and lessen the effects of greenhouse gases by keeping an eye on their own carbon footprint. Here are 5 things any business can do to create a more sustainable business atmosphere:

1. Kill the vampires. You would be shocked at the savings which can be found when you kill the power flowing to various appliances, computers, monitors, printers, television sets, cordless phones, chargers, and fax machines which populate the average office. Electrical “leakage” can add up to a significant portion of your monthly energy bills and the simplest of solutions (unplug ’em!) can often save a company hundreds or thousands of dollars every year and, in aggregate, can have a meaningful impact on the collective energy footprint of the small business community.

2. Promote remote. Working from home can not only lead to productivity gains and improve employee retention rates, but it can also be a significant way to save energy. The costs of commuting are high not only for the individual worker who has to fill up the tank every week or buy that train ticket every month, but for society as a whole. Those highway miles increase particulate counts leading to negative health outcomes and increased costs of care, but also wear on expensive infrastructure that (guess what?) means higher taxes for individuals and businesses. By implementing remote work strategies and giving employees tot resources they need to work from home, a business can find real savings in lower costs for everything from electricity to capital expenditure to rentable square footage. Nice.

3. Dial it down (or up). Set the thermostat down a couple of degrees in the winter and up a couple in the summer and you will be doing your part to improve the condition of our planet while reducing your company’s energy cost. Be sure to make some nice iced tea available for the team on those hot hot days, and you’ll see attitude improvements to go along with the other benefits, too!

4. Change your bulbs (and switches). Switching out the old incandescents for energy efficient compact fluorescents (ala Walmart) or LED bulbs can reduce energy costs in direct proportion to the number of square feet you are lighting. Take a few minutes and do a quick count of the number of bulbs in your own office or facility; every CFL you install will save you over five times its purchase price in electricity costs! It adds up, believe me.

5. Travel less. Finally, cash in that airline ticket and schedule a Skype video meeting with that West Coast client instead. You’ll save hundreds on the airfare, more hundreds on the hotel room, hours of lost productivity sitting in airports and taxis, countless pounds of carbon emissions from the rental car, and ease of mind knowing you can sleep in your own bed tonight.

Photo: Charles Cook