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Pulling Back the Curtain on the Cost of Sustainability

3 min read

Arlan Ulberg

Move over big companies—small to medium size businesses are also able to say “sustainability” and “profitability” in the same sentence. They’re finding that integrating sustainability into their core business strategies offers the benefits of lower costs, reduced risks, and new opportunities.

First, let’s be sure we’re all on the same page with what ‘sustainability’ means. Googling ‘sustainability’ gets more hits than the Grand Canyon. Definitions are often seeped in jargon and hard to comprehend.

The World Council for Economic Development puts it more simply, “Sustainable development meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.”

Most Americans agree with protecting the environment.

According to recent Pew research, Americans support protecting the environment—even if they don’t always agree on the strategies. Studies like this give businesses more confidence that today’s employees are more receptive to green initiatives.

Millennials care the most about companies conserving resources and using energy efficiently. Price is not everything to this generation. They have a strong sense of social justice much like their baby boomer grandparents.

According to Horizon Media’s Finger on the Pulse, “more than 80% of Millennials believe that companies should not only be good but actually be willing to make a public commitment to showing people their good citizenship. In other words, corporate social responsibility is essential to this generation.” Businesses are tapping their enthusiasm to take on green leadership roles and inspire their peers within the company.

Small businesses are seeing cost benefits in sustainability.

While ‘going green’ sounds trendy, it is now mainstream. Small businesses make up over 95% of all businesses. (See table.) Most understand that reducing waste, recycling, saving energy and taking on other green initiatives are good for business, employees and the environment.

The many kinds of small businesses are shown in table.

Table 1: Small Business Shares

Definitions overlap so the shares total more than 100.

Green initiatives can help generate profits.

Sustainability initiatives are often proving to leave more cash on the table to invest back in to business. For example, a La Crosse, Wisconsin university, with the help of their equipment supplier, is recycling empty toner bottles. The same supplier honored the request of the Eau Claire school district to have their printer default settings do automatic two-sided, black and white printing.

Little changes can make a big difference.

Conserving water and using energy efficient appliances can save $300 annually for a small office. Fixing a leaky toilet or faucet can save up to 90 gallons a month. Many states, including Wisconsin, have business incentive programs that serve commercial and industrial customers. The program offers custom and prescriptive incentives on a variety of technologies including lighting, HVAC, refrigeration, process systems, commercial kitchen equipment and more.

Other incentives are available:

  • Wisconsin offers the Renewable Rewards program for business customers with prescriptive and custom financial incentives for solar electric (PV) and geothermal heat pump systems.
  • The Renewable Energy Competitive Incentive Program (RECIP) provides business customers with financial incentives for cost effective renewable energy projects. There are many other options that can assist with creating a more sustainable business environment.

Employee and customer buy-in increases success and cost savings.

Being environmentally friendly is no longer a new concept. Employees and customers are already seeing the cost savings in energy efficiency in their homes. They get it. Make them part of the process. Also, many of today’s environmentally conscious customers seek out businesses who share their sustainability values—creating opportunities to bring in new customers.

Most exciting are the new technologies and services being offered to customers with green capabilities in mind. For example, in Managed Print Services, product recommendations are made based on:

  • Energy savings
  • Environmentally friendly supplies
  • Reduction of carbon footprint by reducing the number of machines
  • Enhanced work flows
  • Managed prints with print-tracking software, defaulting settings to black and white, printing two-sided

Sustainability is bringing in the green!

Going green is helping the planet and increasing profits. (Yes, sustainability and profitably can be said in the same sentence.) Sustainable thinking has evolved over at least two decades and is being integrated into every decision point throughout many business operations.

A famous frog said, “It’s not easy being green.” Maybe not for a frog, but it’s getting easier for businesses to be green—and as good stewards of this amazing planet it “meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.” Our grandchildren will thank us!

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