By Jean Kruse / Guest Editorial
How “green” is your small business? It’s an important question, considering the growing awareness of environmental and sustainability issues, and the fact that it often makes good economic sense. Many green operational strategies can prove less costly in the long run, boosting your profit margin.
What’s more, studies show that more and more consumers prefer to do business with environmentally responsible companies, reinforcing their own personal and/or business commitment to green practices. Many potential employees also choose to work for companies that follow an ethos of sustainability, making it an effective recruiting tool.
But there’s more to integrating green thinking into your small business than just replacing light bulbs and setting out recycling boxes. A good place to start is with the Green Business Guide at the Small Business Administration’s (SBA) website at www.sba.gov/green-business-guide.
Here you’ll find many simple, yet highly effective, ways to reduce energy use and conserve resources, funding assistance for implementing major energy improvements and tips for employee-based environmental programs. There’s also guidance for making your products and services more environmentally friendly, regulations governing marketing green products, and examples of how several small businesses have already reduced their carbon footprint.
One of the best things you can do for your bottom line is to take stock of your energy use. The Energy Efficiency section of the SBA’s website (http://bit.ly/SBAefficiency) provides a state-by-state listing of programs offering free or low-cost technical assistance to help small business owners conduct energy audits and implement energy-efficient technology. Many also offer grants and loans for implementing large-scale energy efficiency upgrades.
Another good starting point is your heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) system. Change your HVAC filters every month during peak cooling or heating seasons. New filters usually only cost a few dollars, while dirty filters overwork the equipment and degrade indoor air quality.
An annual maintenance contract with a qualified firm will provide system “tune-ups” before each heating and cooling season. The cost of the contract will be more than offset by lowered energy use, as your system will be operating at peak efficiency when it’s needed most. The inspection may also avert system failures – the kind that seem to occur at the worst times – and help your system last longer.
Also consider installing an Energy Star-qualified programmable “smart” thermostat to automate your HVAC system. These devices optimize your HVAC’s operation based on your schedule, and can be overridden as needed for unscheduled events.
Fans can similarly maintain year-round comfort using less energy. Moving air can make a somewhat higher temperature and/or humidity feel comfortable, while also delaying or reducing the need for air conditioning. When the temperature outside is more comfortable than inside, a box fan in the window, or large “whole facility” fan in the attic, can push air out and pull in comfortable air from the outside.
Mother Nature can also help you save energy. Depending on your location and the orientation of your facility, shades and blinds on windows can control sunlight levels, warming spaces in winter and blocking direct heat gain in the summer. Options such as solar screens and films, awnings and vegetation can also help keep interiors cooler.
If you’re looking to push your business’ sustainable characteristics even further, check out GreenBiz.com, a service of the Washington, D.C.-based Green Business Network. In addition to providing the latest news on a variety of sustainability fronts, GreenBiz.com also offers several newsletters, educational events and valuable background information to help you better understand the driving forces behind the green business movement.
To learn more about the environmental laws of Iowa and how businesses must comply with federal work and environmental regulations, go to http://iesiowa.com. That website provides information on complying with Iowa laws, and can help you determine if there are any environmental issues to be cognizant of regarding your particular business.
If you need a mentor with whom you can discuss green business ideas or concepts, consider signing up for a face-to-face meeting with a nonprofit SCORE mentor on our website, www.scorecr.org.
For a business just beginning to go green, there may be sizable costs, both in time and money. However, those costs can be recovered quickly over the first few years by cutting down on energy and overhead costs, making it worthwhile over time.
Jean Kruse is a SCORE counselor and SCORE Iowa district president. She operated her own CPA firm for 13 years and in 1988, joined RSM McGladrey, a national firm, where she provided accounting and tax services to small businesses.