How to make your business greener

Big or small, your business could benefit by becoming more eco-friendly

Big or small, your business could benefit by becoming more eco-friendly

Green habits have become significant in recent years as homeowners and businesses strive to reduce their carbon footprint, cut fuel bills and show an eco-friendly stance. To some capacity, having a green agenda has become somewhat fashionable. “Green” is certainly a buzzword and the importance of creating a sustainable environment is now more important than ever before.

The good news is, taking a green stance is also easier than in the past. Why? Because the possibilities are almost endless and there's the potential to integrate green thinking into almost every area of your business – from an operation standpoint through to the company's entire culture.

Why 'go green'?

Climate change is a big deal. Leonardo DiCaprio recently made headlines after claiming his first Oscar – partly for the award itself – but largely down to the impressive speech in which he called on the world to face climate change issues head on. With climate change, this is a problem everyone can address. Every home and business is jointly responsible and as such, an eco-conscious is required to ensure bettering our society for future generations.

There is a lot being done in an attempt to resolve climate change worries too. The British government for instance, has introduced a number of schemes in recent years to encourage the uptake of green solutions. They have their own EU targets to meet as well – Reducing the volume of carbon emissions 80% by 2020.

These schemes and incentives offer an extra reason to get behind the green movement and as a business, you should ensure both you and your employees are actively practicing green habits. Of course, the difficulty your business faces is being able to incentivise a green approach amongst staff. However, you need to be able to teach, convince, communicate, enable and support participation in green living.

Enabling change is a primary issue, with habits being difficult to break. This is especially the case when many don't understand the need to go green, or the significant benefits a change will bring. People are unable to see why their efforts are so important and aren't convinced by green agendas set out by their employers. These are challenges you'll likely face, but as a responsible business, creating a sustainable environment is crucial.

Then of course there's the situation whereby thousands of companies are caught in something referred to as a green slump. This is where they've been unable to adapt with the times and prioritise green change in the workplace. Engaging in green projects has likely been difficult and to many extents the progress made has been less than satisfactory.

However, this is when an action plan becomes key. You should analyse your business's existing green strategies and determine how best to approach the future. This resource should help you with deciding on a strategy and ideally, open your eyes to some of the easiest ways to instantly promote a green environment. However, you should also consider the need for a return on investment. Green projects add true value from a number of standpoints – such as the economic, environmental and societal perspective.

How does your company look in the eyes of others? This is a huge motivator for many business owners and the opportunity to promote your company as a forward thinking and environmentally sound organisation shouldn't be shied away from. From customers and clients, through to employees, stakeholders and other third parties, you'll want people to see your business as actively green.

The importance of becoming green takes many forms and some of the key influencing factors are:

  1. Company or brand image
  2. Cost savings
  3. Competitive advantage
  4. Employee satisfaction, morale, or retention
  5. Product, service, or market innovation
  6. Business or process innovation
  7. New sources of revenue or cash flow
  8. Effective risk management
  9. Shareholder relations

Perhaps surprisingly, in many surveys the company's brand is rated as the chief reason behind taking an eco-friendly stance. In fact, this can often be two and a half times more important than the second most popular incentive – cost savings.

However, whilst this is of course great news that companies would consider a poor green stance to have negative effects, it would be reckless to spend money on green investment if the returns weren't able to offset this. For instance, if it costs a certain amount of money to reduce electricity consumption and the return on investment didn't meet this cost, would the investment be pointless?

What are the benefits of creating a green business?

Every business has their own motives and agenda for becoming green or pushing an eco-friendly stance across the board. There are plenty of solutions to consider and naturally, varying benefits and drawbacks to each. However, regardless of how you choose to approach a green change in your company’s activities, there are often the same benefits to take advantage of.

In this section we take a closer look at the primary benefits of greening up your business.

Enhancing the brand and gaining a competitive advantage

This is often one of the major driving factors behind a company's adoption of green practices. As discussed in the previous section, brand image weighs heavily on the decision to invest in green measures. In fact, backing this up is research to suggest a consumer would be 58% more likely to use a company for its products or services, by knowing the business is mindful of its environmental impact.

In fact, the green agenda has become a major factor in how consumers buy. Customers will spend up to 20% more on environmentally sound products and 9 out of 10 people would describe themselves as being a conscious consumer.

Research suggests customers are more likely to buy from one company over another (if prices are equally priced), if the business:

  • Demonstrates environmentally friendly practices (90%)
  • Promotes health and safety (88%)
  • Supports fair labour and trade practices (87%)

Reducing the overall running costs of a business

As a business owner, tackling the costs of your business will be one of the most important challenges you face on a daily basis. There are so many outgoings that it's vital to find ways of reducing the expenditure and cutting back on the bills. Not only will this help you to keep money in the bank, but also improve efficiencies and productivity across the board.

There are many ways your business can tackle the subject of saving money with environmental practices too, much of which will be discussed later in the guide. However, as a starter for 10, you could consider:

  • Efficient lighting opportunities to reduce electricity consumption.
  • Insulation measures to cut back on heating bills in winter.
  • Renewable technology to generate your own power throughout the year.

Cutting carbon emissions and improving energy efficiency

From an environmental aspect, this is the main reason to take on an eco-friendly stance. Everyway in which you'd change your business will be reflected in the carbon emissions released. It's the CO2 that has a devastating impact on the environment and unfortunately both homes and businesses are major culprits when it comes to this.

As such, the UK government has been charged with reducing CO2 levels by the EU and there are plans afoot to slash back on CO2 emissions by 80% by 2050. This is a huge target and will only be met with the collaboration of home and business owners. Of course, to incentivise this, the government have launched a series of schemes and grants.

Increase employee retention and recruitment rates

More and more potential employees have an eco-conscious and as such, want to work with companies that showcase their green credentials. To attract new talent and ensure retaining your existing staff, a green drive is therefore integral.

According to polls, as many as 52% of those in employment believe companies should be actively working on ways to improve their impact on the environment. However, this is a two-way relationship and many employers also believe their employees should be contributing to the company’s green policies and helping to minimise environmental impacts.

Show your employees how seriously you’re taking the green agenda and you’re sure to witness success in both retention and recruitment.




Introducing green measures into your business

Implementing a green practice in your business will ensure eco-friendliness is at the forefront of people's minds on a daily basis, whilst also providing the foundation for larger projects.

You'll start to see a positive environmental impact straight away – whether it's switching off the lights or reducing paper usage.

If there are some amazing benefits to focusing on improving your business's green credentials and strengthening the eco-friendly stance, why isn't this green embraced by all? Well, there is sadly a misconception that becoming green involves spending too much time and money, whilst not having a positive impact for the short term. This belief is not well placed.

In fact, for those considering the implementation of green measures into their company, you'll be pleased to know that none of the above have to be negative considerations. Of course, whilst adapting an eco plan won't happen overnight and there will be some cost involved, it's by no means enough to dissuade your investment.

In fact, there are plenty of things you can do in a short period of time that'll have almost instant rewards. You'll start to see a positive environmental impact straight away – whether it's switching off the lights or reducing paper usage.

Whilst the more expensive options may bring about long term savings and benefits, there are a range of fantastic green ideas you can bring to the company that produce short term gains too. Implementing a green practice in your business will ensure eco-friendliness is at the forefront of people's minds on a daily basis, whilst also providing the foundation for larger projects.

Best practice green ideas for your business

Around 30% of the energy produced in the UK is wasted. This is an unbelievable statistic and just goes to show how much room there is for improvement. As such, this should also be one of the first things your business addresses. Rather than running out to install solar panels on your roof, you should first determine how best to make the most of energy you're buying in the first instance.

Lighting

When it comes to the typical office environment, a huge proportion of energy wastage can be attributed to lighting. Of course, when you consider the average 9-5 workplace, this is naturally the lightest time of the day. If there are plenty of windows and light is able to flood into the building, why even have the lights on in the first place?

Your first solution when thinking about becoming eco-friendlier, is investing in lights that manually switch themselves off whilst inactive. Between this and ensuring staff are better educated about turning off lights when they're out of the room, you could make a saving up to 15% each year.

There's also the chance to save money by switching traditional bulbs to energy saving replacements. Although they are slightly more expensive to buy, they'll last longer and reduce energy consumption up to 75%.

Heating

Behind lighting, what's likely to be the next biggest drain on your energy use is heating. The Health and Safety Executive say an office temperature should be a minimum of 16°C, whilst if physical exertion is part of the role, this can be reduced to 13°C.

A priority of your business should be to ensure a comfortable working environment and the heating level will undoubtedly be a major contributor to this. However, placing too much reliance on heating and cooling in the building can use up a lot more energy overall.

Although you wouldn't be expected to scrap the use of central heating or air conditioning, it is advisable to ask colleagues to bring extra layers of clothing during the winter, whilst making use of windows in hotter conditions to reduce the need for air con.

Laptops

In today's world, laptops are the primary accessory for working – especially in any office environment. Computers have become a thing of the past in many cases and nowadays employees typically work from laptops, which they can take to and from work easily.

However, whilst laptops do have a positive impact on efficiency in the office, they can be a drain for energy usage. This is particularly the case for those who leave their laptop plugged into the mains throughout the day – even when fully charged. The chances are if you're reading this from a laptop, you're plugged in.

Again, this is a simple habit to change and with it, will reduce the energy usage of your business. Ask employees to unplug the laptop from the wall when it reaches 100% battery and you'll notice a difference. This also has a positive effect on the laptop's battery and leaving it plugged in non-stop will reduce performance in the long term.

Energy monitoring systems

It's all well and good saying your company is likely to be wasting energy and therefore money, but how can you track where exactly this is leaking from? Reducing energy usage will have a beneficial environmental impact and save you a small fortune at the same time, so it pays to have an accurate recording.

This is precisely where energy monitoring systems come into the equation. Plus, there are government schemes whereby you could get a free system installed. These smart meters will provide real time information on all the energy being used in any building, allowing you the opportunity to work out where cuts can and should be made.

As you'd expect, this is great news especially for smaller businesses who are wanting to better manage their energy and save money where possible. A free rollout began in summer 2014.

Encouraging an eco-friendly ethos

As discussed in the previous section, there are some easy ways you can quickly turn your business into a forward thinking company without breaking the bank. However, if you want to take a rounded approach to carbon reduction, you'll need to enlist the help of employees. As such, there are some great ways to get workers on board and ensure they bear eco-friendliness in mind, whilst changing the ethos of the entire company – top to bottom.

Replace direct marketing with e-marketing

Many businesses in the UK are still actively using direct marketing. Whilst in the past this would have been an effective marketing technique and every now and then still produces the goods, it wouldn't be described as an eco-friendly method. Printing out and mailing hundreds or thousands of flyers or leaflets at a time is not viewed as an environmentally friendly approach.

If your company is actively pushing direct marketing, you're contributing to the strain. It's not just a financial burden though and there's a great cost to the environment too – filling up landfill sites and producing harmful CO2 emissions in the creation, delivery and destruction of advertising.

Sending out marketing emails won't have the same impact on the environment and can also be beneficial to your company too – giving you the chance to track success rates and determine how you can better your marketing practices. With direct marketing, you've no idea who reads your company's message or throws it into the bin.

Encourage company-wide printing guidelines

Despite our best intentions to avoid printing documents needlessly, it can't always be avoided. However, it makes sense to impose some level of guidelines for which documents are printed, to avoid waste of both ink and paper.

For starters, where possible, how about printing on both sides of the paper? For important documents and contracts this isn't possible. However, there's little reason to avoid this when printing for in-house purposes.

Another viable solution for reducing paper wastage is to set a standard font size and type. This will encourage the use of a thinner font and can actually save you up to 10% on ink costs. What's more, this practice is completely free to implement and brings cost savings to your business – whilst boosting the eco-awareness.

Invest in recycled paper

It's all well and good recycling your paper in the office and having separate waste bins for recyclable and non-recyclable materials, but it all seems pretty pointless if you then choose to buy non-recycled paper.

It takes a staggering amount of energy to create paper. This stands at around 25-30MJ per kilogram – which is more than steel, iron, glass and aluminium. Of course, this makes the whole production costly to the environment.

As a workaround and to ensure your business takes an eco-friendly approach, we would suggest using recycled paper for office purposes. Recycled paper is typically produced with 28-70% less energy and you'll also be supporting the UK economy (as recycled paper is often made on our shores).

Experts warn us that we'll soon run out of landfill space and could face a dilemma in as little as 10 years. This will mean the only way to get rid of waste would be through incineration, which is even more detrimental to the environment and human health. Using recycled paper in your workplace, is therefore an important way to encourage an eco-friendly stance.





Long term green measures for business

With a little investment to kick-start things, you'll be able to make greater savings and have a long term benefit on the environment.

Whilst there will be that initial outlay, with the suggested measures in this section the long term gains will ensure they pay for themselves in the months and years to come.

With the cheaper and almost instant opportunities listed in the previous chapter, your business has some easy ways to implement change across the board and ensure an eco-friendlier company stance.

Despite the ease in which these can be integrated into your company, you'll probably be surprised at just how much difference they make, improving the bottom line. There's also the positive impact to consider of you and your employees embracing sustainability and taking a green approach to everyday practices.

However, this is all just the tip of the iceberg. There's even more to consider and with a little investment to kick-start things, you'll be able to make greater savings and have a long term benefit on the environment. Whilst there will be that initial outlay, with the suggested measures in this section the long term gains will ensure they pay for themselves in the months and years to come.

Whilst not all the suggestions would be viable for every business, you should certainly consider the following and determine which ideas would be best for your company.

Lighting, equipment and technology upgrades

Whenever the word 'upgrade' is used, you'll likely think straight to the financial outlay required. However, whilst the suggestions here do require an investment, it's with the intention of bettering your energy usage and in turn, saving money in the near future.

Light and electrics sensors

We've already mentioned the notion of ensuring lights and equipment in the office are switched off when not in use, but if staff aren't on board with the eco-friendly approach, this wouldn't have the effect you'd hope for. This is naturally a problem when companies are trying to improve their environmental awareness.

However, as with anything there's a way to counter the problem - automation. Thanks to the latest advances in technology, lighting and electrical usage can all be regulated by an external device. When lighting or equipment isn't being used, it is simply switched off.

You're not short on options either and some of the sensor technology includes:

  • Lighting controls
  • Daylight harvesting
  • Occupancy sensors
  • Room temperature sensors
  • Climatic sensors
  • PC and other IT equipment

Installing sensor technology can have a big impact on energy usage in the office too, helping your business to save up to 70% on its bill. Whilst the installation isn't necessarily cheap, it shows that there's a massive saving potential for those who make the investment.

Auto shutdown for PCs

Again, in a similar vein to the point outlined above, changing the habits of all your employees can be difficult. Despite your reminders and encouragement, will everyone shutdown their PC at night and over weekends, or will they be left to run and use power when no one is around?

This is a massive waste of energy and precisely why software that helps to automatically shutdown a PC would be handy. This will monitor a computer's use and can even be set to shutdown the PC at predetermined times. It can cut down the energy usage by a third and won't put you at risk of losing work either.

The installation of insulation

Many business owners see insulation as a solution for homes and therefore, don't proactively look to install it in the workspace. However, it has just as much benefit for your company and will help to seriously reduce bills.

What's more, there are loads of opportunities when it comes to insulation and the chances are, improvements can be made to the building. In a traditional office for instance, a suspended ceiling can reduce the energy consumption up to 26% by preventing heat from escaping through the roof.

Another popular option on the insulation front is the installation of cavity wall insulation. Most properties built after the late 1920s have cavity walls and without insulation in place, are susceptible to leaking a vast amount of heat. For a three-bedroom home, cavity wall insulation will reduce CO2 emissions by 550kg annually and help to save as much as £135 each year. Of course, the larger the building, the greater the potential savings.

Insulation opportunities for your business to consider include:

  • Roof insulation
  • Cavity wall insulation
  • Solid wall insulation
  • Floor insulation
  • Double or triple glazing

Even in listed buildings and properties in conservation areas, there's an opportunity to benefit from insulation measures. Therefore, you should look into the possibilities of boosting your building's efficiency.

Switching to LED lighting

LED lighting is much more efficient than the traditional bulbs and if you're looking to make long term financial gains, it could be worth moving over to LED. Although installing the system can be initially expensive, you can quickly start to see a reduction in your bills – An LED bulb will use just 9 Watts, compared to a normal light bulb's 60 Watts. The lifetime of the bulb is also a significant difference – LED bulbs enjoying 25,000 hours compared to a usual bulb's 2,000.

Despite these significant benefits and although LED bulbs have been embraced to some extent over the years, many businesses still haven't taken advantage of the full potential available. One of the major concerns is the varying degree of quality on the market, so there's an importance in choosing the right system.

In order to encourage uptake of LED systems, the Energy Saving Trust has started to label LED lights according to their efficiency. This should improve trust in the product. It's not just for lighting these ratings apply to either and the following could be EST rated:

  • Computers
  • Servers
  • Appliances
  • Heating and cooling systems
  • Home electronics
  • Imaging equipment
  • Lighting

A scheme called Energy Star has been used to calculate the energy rating of these products. Using items labelled with Energy Star ratings could result in an energy reduction between 20 and 30%. It's not mandatory for businesses to use this technology, but choosing to do so would have a great benefit on the environment and the outgoings of your company.

Installing renewable technology

Everything covered in the guide so far has been targeting the implementation of technology that'll help you save on the amount of energy bought from the National Grid and used onsite. However, there is another solution available to your business, whereby you'd be generating your own power and reducing the need to purchase expensive grid gas or electricity. This is of course, renewable energy.

Renewable technology captures energy from a natural source and converts this into power to be used by your business. For instance, energy can be absorbed from the sun, wind or even heat from the Earth. There are a number of superb benefits for embracing renewable power too, with the potential to slash your bills, reduce your carbon footprint and even generate extra revenue.

One of the major problems though, is the daunting prospect of installing renewable technology. However, despite the commitment and time required to integrate renewable power into your business, the benefits far outweigh any drawbacks.

Let's take a closer look at three of the more popular renewable energy options your business could take advantage of.

Solar panels

Solar panels have been the most popular renewable option by far. They're typically installed on domestic and business properties all over the UK and offer a wealth of benefits for those who make the investment.

Energy bill reduction: Once installed, solar panels begin to draw the sun's natural energy and convert this into electricity. This power is then used, rather than grid electricity, helping to cut those ever-expensive bills.

Generate an extra revenue: Solar panels benefit from a government scheme known as the feed-in tariff. This incentive pays those with solar panels installed for every unit of electricity produced, regardless of whether it's consumed onsite.

Sell excess energy: Over the summer months particularly, it can often be a case where more energy is generated than required to power your building. As such, if you find there's excess energy, this can be sold at a good rate to the National Grid. This scheme is known as the export tariff.

Better your carbon footprint: As a green technology, solar panels help to reduce the carbon emissions released into the environment. For the average home, solar panels would reduce CO2 emissions by as much as a tonne each year. Therefore, for businesses the saving would be greater.

Wind turbines

For your business, this wouldn't be the large offshore wind farms you may have spotted around the British coastline. Instead, there are small-scale versions that can be installed for both homes and businesses, helping to reduce bills and better the environment. As with solar panels, there are some great reasons to consider wind turbines for your business.

Reduce your energy bills: Wind power is one of the most effective forms of renewable energy, which isn't surprising when you consider 40% of Europe's wind blows over the UK. Harness this power and cut your business's bills.

Be paid for the energy produced: In a similar vein to solar panels, with the installation of a wind turbine you'll also be eligible to the lucrative feed-in tariff. Reduce your bills and get paid for the luxury concurrently.

Store energy onsite: Wind turbines require one thing – wind. Therefore, what would you do on a clam day? It's a concern of many businesses, but fortunately manufacturers have included the potential to store energy for use later down the line. Therefore, you don't have to turn to grid power on a calm day.

Slash carbon emissions: As a green energy source, wind turbines will reduce your carbon dioxide emissions and in turn, help out the environment. Become a green business and put your investment in the power of the wind.

Ground source heat pumps

A third option for your renewable investment is ground source heat pumps. This technology has certainly come on leaps and bounds in recent years, with government incentives promoting the installation of heat pumps. This is on top of the potential for saving a great deal of money. These systems work by extracting heat from under the Earth, which is then transferred into usable energy for the building.

Bring down your energy bills: Ground source heat pumps are dug into the Earth and extract heat into the coil system. Heat is absorbed and transported to the building, reducing your need for mains energy. As such, you can save hundreds and even thousands of pounds on a yearly basis.

Benefit from government incentives: In recent years the British government introduced a scheme known as the Renewable Heat Incentive. Under this initiative, all those with ground or air source heat pumps are eligible to payments for seven years from the date of installation. This is fixed and payable for each unit of renewable energy generated.

Cutting carbon dioxide: As you'll be moving away from grid energy, there's the potential to save a huge amount of CO2 emissions. This differs dependent on the fuel type being replaced and will ensure your business harbours a green ethos.

With different renewable options to choose from, your business can easily embrace a green culture by investing in environmentally friendly technology and producing its own power.




Green services and promoting a green ethos

To create an ecologically-minded business from top to bottom, you need to think outside the box and adopt practices you may not have previously considered. This would mean branching outside the office space and thinking about the external factors of green living.

Throughout the guide we've looked to highlight many of the potential green measures your business could accommodate. However, it doesn't stop at installing the latest technology or reminding your employees to unplug their laptop chargers.

To create an ecologically-minded business from top to bottom, you need to think outside the box and adopt practices you may not have previously considered. This would mean branching outside the office space and thinking about the external factors of green living.

Sustainable energy suppliers and offsite data storage

Choose a renewable energy supplier

If you're not currently in a position to start generating your own renewable power, then why not consider buying energy from those who are ecologically aware? There are suppliers out there who are committed to green living and focused on bettering the world we live in rather than burning oil, coal or natural gas.

There are specialist energy suppliers who'll provide clean, affordable energy specifically to SMEs too and work hard to ensure always providing top notch customer service. Switching your energy supplier to a green tariff would showcase your environmental attitude and put your business in a good public light.

Consider offsite data storage

Surprisingly, there are still a large number of businesses storing data onsite. This can be expensive and often not the best practice when it comes to maintaining a green approach. A better option by far is to keep the data storage offsite, but it seems smaller companies especially haven't warmed to the idea.

In today's world though, the advance in technology means storing data offsite is easier than ever before. Cloud capabilities in particular can be harnessed and these offer significant benefits from both an environmental and cost perspective.

Your business won't be obliged to pay for energy costs of running the external servers and the chances are, your data will be stored in a larger ‘server farm', where there are high efficiency levels. What's more, your package can be scaled to meet demand and you'll have the opportunity to increase or reduce the data storage as and when applicable.

Eco-friendly commuting for employees

Creating a green business doesn't stop at reducing the energy used onsite. Travelling to and from work has a huge environmental burden and as a responsible employer, you should take an interest in transport.

Ride to work scheme

It may sound simple, but an easy way to reduce carbon emissions and improve your business's green credentials is to encourage a ride to work scheme. Cars produce a huge number of nasty toxins and for those living near to the office, it's often quicker to cycle, rather than brave the traffic and pollute the environment.

To solve the problem, your business could sign-up to a ride to work scheme to promote cycling and help employees save money on their travel concurrently. In fact, the government does offer provisions under the Green Transport, for employers to provide tax-free bikes and cycle safety equipment.

There are certain organisations that'll assist in helping to take advantage of this government offer, such as Cyclescheme. They administer the process and often there wouldn't be a fee involved – as they work hand-in-hand with bicycle retailers.

Encourage car sharing

Again, this is a simple practice, yet one that just doesn't seem to take off. There are obvious benefits for the employees and they'll be able to take it in turns to drive to work, whilst sharing the costs of petrol.

Speak to your employees and try to arrange a suitable way for this scheme to work, whereby those living near each other would share transport. This would get more cars off the road and with it, drastically slash the carbon emissions released into the atmosphere.

There's also the added benefit of boosting staff morale and striking up new friendships in the workplace. Employees who didn't really know each other previously would start to spend more time together and of course, this wouldn't be a negative for your business.

Promote eco-friendly driving

This wouldn't be a case of preaching to your employees, but rather making them aware of the beneficial reasons to adapt their driving and focus on eco-friendliness. Not only would practicing eco-friendly driving be great for the environment, but it's also a safer why of driving whilst reducing your fuel bills too by consuming less petrol.

Some of the key points for driving in an eco-friendlier way would include:

  • Avoiding harsh accelerating or braking
  • Keeping to speed limits
  • Avoiding revving the engine
  • Considering the use of gears and changing to the highest possible when appropriate
  • Ensuring the tyres are optimally inflated, to prevent excess fuel use