10 Tips for a Greener Business – Sustainable Steps You Can Begin Today

By Paul J. Hoffman
February 5, 2009

If you’ve followed the news lately, you’re certain to find two prevailing story lines: a brutal economy with no definite end in sight, and the “green movement” has proven itself and is now mainstream. While finances might be tight, now is a great time to consider the sustainable decisions and mindset of your company and reap the benefits. As you consider your business objectives, there are numerous steps you can take to make your business more sustainable without razing a building or developing a new facility.

You should consider the business solution as much as the environmental solution when thinking about sustainability. As you rethink your business or consider new construction or facility updates, your planning approach should include these four critical components: capital costs, life-cycle cost savings, healthy productive environments, and sustainable design and delivery. When every decision considers satisfying all of these elements, you will reach a solution that provides a positive, sustainable impact on your business and your people, while minimizing the impact on the environment. Here are 10 considerations for a greener business:

First -“ Your people.
1. Equip your staff. Misconceptions are rampant about what it means to be green and the benefits it provides in terms of indoor air quality, marketing, daylighting, visual appeal, environmentally friendly products and systems, and other attributes. The myth should be dispelled that it costs more to take sustainable steps. Help them gain a holistic knowledge of sustainability by educating them via staff meetings, conferences, magazine articles (like this one), links to blogs; creating a “green culture” within your business.

2. Develop buy-in with your constituency. Help your customers and vendors understand the enhanced value and health benefits that can occur through integrated, responsible, sustainable solutions and the steps that you are taking. Research has demonstrated that younger generations show a much greater affinity to those businesses who demonstrate a commitment to a sustainable culture and care for the environment.

Then the building systems and products.
3. Work with local businesses. Whenever possible, choose products and services from local businesses. You will reduce the energy required for transportation, keep dollars within your local economy, and develop stronger bonds within your region. On one recent construction project, a local wood window manufacturer was even used to develop a new, highly-sustainable commercial wood window product.

4. Choose low or no VOC (volatile organic compounds) furnishings and building finishes. While it is commonly expected today to consider the amounts of VOC in flooring, carpeting, paint, adhesives, and sealants, you should also consider the VOC levels in your purchases of furniture, fixtures and equipment. A greater array of low or no VOC products are now available at competitive prices.

5. Electric audits save money. As part of an overall energy reduction strategy, some energy providers offer an electric audit. Assessment of the lighting levels and light quality relative to the visual task being performed is important. Unneeded lighting of unoccupied or daylit spaces can be reduced with occupancy sensors.

6. Reduce water use. It is feasible to reduce your annual water consumption up to 50 percent. The move to low-flow toilets, urinals, sinks, and tankless water heating systems has cost-effectively proven to save water. Outside, consider using native plant species selected to provide beauty without sprinkler systems. You can also add retention basins to store and replenish groundwater.

7. Analyze your heating, ventilating, and air conditioning (HVAC) systems. HVAC system operation and/or upgrades play a pivotal role in reducing energy consumption and costs over the life of your facilities. It’s important that you evaluate and monitor your system’s performance and carbon dioxide (CO2) levels to be certain it runs at its optimal level. Preventive maintenance and changing filters are important considerations after a system is installed.

8. Carefully consider window selection. Many technological advances have been made that enhance the thermal gain or loss and the daylighting performance of windows. These advances should be utilized to optimize your buildings’ performance for your climate. Window films may improve the performance of existing windows.

9. Be green as you clean. Educate your facilities staff on the influence cleaning products have on the health and welfare of facility users. Reducing the exposure of your staff to harmful cleaning substances improves productivity, morale and days lost to illness.

10. Establish baselines and measure performance. Establish a baseline for your existing energy and water use, set goals for improvement, and measure your performance against these goals. Task an interested employee with the responsibility to monitor data to evaluate the performance of your facilities. If inefficiencies are found, make appropriate adjustments.

Be Greener Today
Everyone wins when we create an environmentally-responsible business and corporate culture. Utilize this top 10 list as a tool to make a positive impact on the health of your staff, the environment, and the bottom line of your business!

Paul J. Hoffman ([email protected]) is owner and CEO of Hoffman LLC in Appleton, Wisconsin. His firm integrates a single-source of responsibility for planning, architecture, and construction management; and a commitment to holistic sustainable design and delivery.