Sustainability is all about meeting needs and seeking a balance between people, the environment and the economy. Green thinking promotes the well being of each of these components because the decline of one would mean the detriment of the others.
It may seem counter intuitive, but it will not cost small businesses more to be green. Green thinking is about cutting costs. It will save your small business money in both the short term and long term; but especially in the long term. In addition to this, it will boost your social responsibility ratings and increase customer loyalty. That in turn will boost your bottom line.
If your small business barely exists in survival mode, the best things you can do to think green is to act green. You and your employees can turn off lights that are not being used; unplug appliances that are energy hogs (even when not being used); raise the temperature on the thermostat (in the summer and of course reverse in winter); buy goods in packages that can be recycled (and meet the recycling criteria of your local recycling center – many of which are unable to process some types of packaging even though the recycle symbol is on it); reuse things through repurposing (get creative here), and consolidate driving trips. These activities are just a few examples of the free things you and your employees can do to go green and save.
Small businesses that have more resources will benefit from investing in green strategies which will have longer term cost savings. This includes buying energy efficient light bulbs, windows, refrigerators and other appliances with the energy star seal of approval. These do make a big difference in the long haul. Energy efficient windows cut down glare and heat in the summer and the effect is noticeable immediately.
Green thinking is most effective when your small business creates a culture of green. This means that employees are involved and given the go ahead to be creative participants. This has a number of benefits including: promoting innovation, being more effective in cutting costs because of full participation, and most importantly, increasing employee loyalty and productivity because their input is valued. Cutting back is much more bearable when everyone is on board. The message should be that your small business is going lean on “things” rather than on people. This is an important morale booster.
Small businesses will always fare much better in tough times when employee morale is high. The attitude of your employees always comes through to your customers. Positive employees are able to be genuinely interested in customers instead of just wearing a phony smile that masks their displeasure at working in a stressful environment. Customer loyalty increases when customers feel better served. This again is an example of how people, environment and economics need to be in balance; the essence of green thinking and sustainability.
One of the most important work trends today, telecommuting, reflects this balance. It considers the needs of workers and saves energy in terms of reduced commuting and office space requirements. Small businesses that are able to use virtual administrative secretaries and other virtual assistants (e.g. for outsourcing SEO and other activities that require expertise) will save significantly because they will not have to incur the costs of hiring and maintaining a large staff (in addition to the savings realized from reduced commuting and needing less office space). They will save because outsourcing will enable them to find expertise at prices that may not be available to them in their local areas. Small businesses who do this will be embracing green thinking, cutting costs, be more socially responsible and be more successfully positioned to emerge from the economic downturn.