r='ltr'> The Green Civil Engineer: Steps Toward a Sustainable Small Business - Part 1 of 2

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Steps Toward a Sustainable Small Business - Part 1 of 2

There are a lot of definitions of sustainability out there, probably the most well know and widely adopted one is from the Bruntland Commission of the United Nations - "sustainable development is development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs".  That's a hard definition to get your head around - who knows what that really means.  More recently with the "green" movement, the term sustainability is often used interchangeably with green, environmental stewardship etc.  The problem I have with that is I believe that you can be very environmentally conscious without being sustainable.  If I go out of business because I spent too much money being environmentally responsible, then my business practices were not very sustainable.

There is a great deal of information available right now on corporate responsibility and ways to make your business more sustainable.  Companies like Coke, Nike, GE and countless others are spending enormous amounts of money on their corporate sustainability initiatives.  I think that their efforts should be commended, but what works for a multinational corporation doesn't always apply to small businesses.  So what can you do to make your small business more sustainable?  For most business types, I think that you can categorize your efforts two ways - operational or internal and external or product oriented.  If you are in the service industry (or specifically design like my small business) your product is the services you offer.  In this first of two posts I would like to offer some simple ways that you can make the internal operations of your small business more sustainable.  In part two I will address design tips that civil engineers and professionals in the building and construction industry can implement to make their projects more sustainable. 

Here are 8 simple and inexpensive steps that you can take to make your small business more sustainable.  
  1. Use Recycled Materials - This may seem like a "no-brainer", and it is, but many people don't think about the products that they buy for their office.  People often assume that you suffer a substantial price premium if you buy recycled products or need to buy from specialty stores to get them.  Not true - Office Max, Staples and most of the major office supply chains offer recycled paper products, filing accessories, pens and other ubiquitous office products at little or no price premium.  
  2. Recycle Your Waste - For many small businesses and offices paper and cardboard form a large percentage of their waste volume.  Both of these are very easily recycled - check with your city or county solid waste department, many of them will pick up for small businesses for free.   
  3. Reduce Your Waste - We have all heard "Reduce, Reuse, Recycle" but we often forget about reduce and reuse.  Again paper is an easy place to start.  Modern business runs on email and the web, but the paperless office is a misnomer.  Studies have shown that we often use more paper now than we did before everyone was using computers. Be aware of what you print and don't print anything that you don't need to.  When you do need to print, print on both sides whenever you can.  You may be supposed about how much paper and money you can save.  Also, consider reusable cups rather than paper for coffee and other beverages.  
  4. Buy Energy Star Appliances and Electronics - Chances are good that electrical use is a significant chunk of your small business carbon footprint.  One easy way to reduce your energy use is to buy Energy Star rated appliances and electronics.  You'll save money on your utility bills as well - an added plus.
  5. Consider Cloud Computing- Another easy way to reduce your energy use is through the use of cloud computing services.  Cloud computing is a term used for web based services including software and storage.  By using cloud based solutions you can often reduce or eliminate your onsite server needs which will in turn reduce your electrical loads.  Cloud based solutions places your data and software services on centralized systems that are optimized and more energy efficient than traditional office based servers.
  6. Buy Green Power - Most major power providers now offer green power options.  Green power options allow you to purchase power that is generated from renewable sources such as wind, solar and biomass.  This is a good way to reduce the environmental impact of your energy use and encourage the use of renewable power sources.  
  7. Demand More From Suppliers/Consultants - Ask your suppliers, vendors, consultants and other business partners to implement more sustainable business strategies.  This is one of the most effective ways to have an impact because you are enlarging your circle of influence beyond your own small business.  Most companies are willing to do whatever they can to keep good customers, especially with the economy the way it is, so asking them to make small changes to become more sustainable should not meet too much resistance. 
  8. Educate - Let other know what you are doing and encourage them to do the same.  I believe that more business would be on board with sustainable business practices if they were more educated on the subject.  Many businesses may not be comfortable with charging into uncharted territory, but if they see other small business making changes they are often more inclined to make changes themselves. 
None of the ideas above are ground breaking or difficult to implement.  Some may even criticize them as too little or not enough, but I believe that a lot of small businesses taking small steps toward sustainability can make a big difference.   


  1. Follow these steps for a sustainable small business. Thanks a lot for sharing that list.

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  2. Let other know what you are doing and encourage