Will Obama’s Inauguration Set the Tone for Small Businesses?

All the pomp and circumstance surrounding the inauguration of Barack Obama as U.S. President underscores a new flurry of business activity that shines like a small ray of hope in our dismal economy.

The San Francisco Chronicle recently reported that numerous entrepreneurs and small business have rushed to capitalize on Obama’s rise to the presidency. Just think about it. There are many angles to promote here. There is the historical significance of a electing the first black president, the fresh promise of change in an economy that has gone stagnant, and you can add to this the fact that Obama is young, photogenic, and charasmatic- all of which no doubt greatly add to his marketability.

But the surge in business goes beyond Obamamania. Several green businesses have already benefited from the environmentally conscious inaugural preparations, and the alternative-energy industry has also experienced a recent boost in investment and sales.

Whether this activity signals a prolonged boost for many small businesses still remains to be seen, especially since many small business owners are wary about Obama’s economic stimulus plan.

But for now at least we can hope…

What do you think?

Image credit: Flickr user 

Going Green Today… A Different Kind of Environmental Impact

In recent months, the demand for organic products may have dropped, but it should not be taken as a sign that the “go-green” movement has met its demise. Expect a transformation instead.

Whether you subscribe to the drive for all things organic and sustainable, are unabashedly opposed to it, or fall somewhere in between, there is no denying that the demand for environmentally friendly products and practices have left an indelible impact on the psyches of consumers and businesses alike. In response to green awareness, numerous habits were formed and products and technologies were developed that may prove to be a preemptive balm against today’s economic headaches and shaky consumer confidence. These days when people talk about “green,” more often then not they are referring to the color of the money.

With the typical “green consumer,” conservation and prevention reign supreme. (Think energy and water efficient appliances and appliance usage; think spending less on paper and plastics in favor of reusable products; think car pooling and natural health care products.) People have been looking to get the most out of their goods and resources, and if they happened to save themselves a little money in the process, then so be it.

But at a time when budgets are getting squeezed, conserving resources has taken on new meaning, and we can expect that this way of life will not go out of style any time soon.

In the business world, the drive to go green has been mostly expressed in operating more efficiently- purchasing energy efficient equipment, conserving resources, and even reusing waste. As profit margins shrink, those businesses that were committed to green ideals are probably pretty grateful for the resulting drop in expenses.

Moreover, the drive to go green spurred on the development and production of energy efficient products, renewable energy sources, organic fuel, and environmentally sound building design- all of which, not surprisingly, is currently experiencing an increase in demand.

We have the environmentalists to thank for planting the seeds…

Image credit: Greenpeace UK

Why Turning Green Will Put More Green in Your Pocket

My colleague, Gary Barzel, recently posted the “Definitive Guide to Turning Your Business Green”. Although it would be nice if we were all inspired to “go green” for the pure motivation of saving the environment – many of us are more motivated by the other type of green: MONEY. I’d like to expand on a few points Gary brought up, with the goal of showing that often times the two types of green are synonymous. What do I mean? Well, many of the tips Gary gave can actually save your business money.
Gary’s content is blue, my notes are green.

Many of Gary’s suggestions require some sort of initial investment. Check with your accountant to see which of these you can get special tax benefits for instituting in your business.

Operating in the Green

1. Reduce waste:

  • Look for ways to reduce the use of paper in your business’ internal and external communications by, for example, setting your printer to automatically print double-sided, switching from a fax machine to a fax modem to send and receive paperless documents, using electronic forms whenever possible, and emailing letters and documents to be read online rather than printed out. Also make sure to review your company’s mailing lists. This saves money on paper, toner, filing space, etc.
  • Recycle or refill the ink cartridges in your printer. Many stores, such as Office Max or Staples, will either recycle your old cartridges or refill them. Refilling cartridges can save a ton of money on ink. Some people even refill their own cartridges with a special syringe.
  • Provide washable china and utensils for your employees so they do not have to use plasticware or styrofoam cups. I would actually recommend non-breakable dishes. Mugs would be the exception. Many companies spend lot’s of money on disposable cups and cutlery to keep their kitchen area stocked. The challenge here is getting your employees to clean up after themselves! Encourage your employees to bring lunch from home in reusable containers This is a great way for your employees to save money; food from home is a lot cheaper than food from a restaurant. or frequent restaurants that offer green packaging.

2. Conserve resources:

All the tips Gary gave in this section all will save you money on your energy bill each month. Each tip might save a little, but added together it makes a good sized chunk

The only exception was this one:

  • Save on water with faucets that automatically shut off as well as water conserving toilets. This will save you on your water bill AND you might be able get help from your government in switching to water conserving toilets.

3. Dispose of waste responsibly.

Establish a recycling program in your business. Set up bins to collect scrap paper for reuse. Recycle aluminum cans, glass, Don’t forget to collect the deposits on these. cardboard, office paper and newsprint. Make sure to also dispose of your old equipment responsibly. You could bring these items to an E-Waste facility or take advantage of manufacturer take-back programs. You can also donate old equipment to Goodwill and get a tax deduction.

Don’t forget to exploit your “Greenness” for full marketing benefit. You can have an “Environmental Awareness Statement” or an “Environmentally Friendly” notice in the corner of company literterature. This will help others feel good about frequenting your business, and is great PR.

Get the best of both worlds: Get Some Green by Going Green

Definitive Guide To Turning Your Business Green

The trend to “go green” has been leaving its footprint in countless industries. Small businesses that typically have limited resources to invest in things like renewable energy or environmental business consultants can still have a positive effect on the environment without making a huge investment of time or money. Here is a “how-to” for small businesses looking to give to the environment.Operating in the Green

Running and maintaining a green business depends on operating with good habits. These small changes can go a long way…

1. Reduce waste:

  • Look for ways to reduce the use of paper in your business’ internal and external communications by, for example, setting your printer to automatically print double-sided, switching from a fax machine to a fax modem to send and receive paperless documents, using electronic forms whenever possible, and emailing letters and documents to be read online rather than printed out. Also make sure to review your company’s mailing lists.
  • Recycle or refill the ink cartridges in your printer. Many stores, such as Office Max or Staples, will either recycle your old cartridges or refill them.
  • Provide washable china and utensils for your employees so they do not have to use plasticware or styrofoam cups. Encourage your employees to bring lunch from home in reusable containers or frequent restaurants that offer green packaging.

2. Conserve resources:

  • Whenever you purchase new office equipment, such as printers, scanners, fax machines, and telephones, be sure it is Energy Star rated.
  • Set computers on “standby” or in “hibernation” mode when they have not been accessed for more than 10 minutes.
  • Acquire a laptop computer as opposed to a new desktop to cut your energy usage up to 80%.
  • Plug all office equipment into power strips that can be turned off at night. Most computers and office machines draw a “phantom load” of electricity even when they are turned off.
  • Use motion sensors and time switches to turn the lights on and off in offices and restrooms.
  • Use programmable thermostats and time switches to regulate the heat and air conditioning in your office.
  • Save on water with faucets that automatically shut off as well as water conserving toilets.
  • Make use of as much daylight as you can. Where natural lighting is not adequate, change your old fluorescent light fixtures to new T-8s with energy efficient ballasts. Change all other incandescent light fixtures to CFLs (compact fluorescent light bulbs) or LEDs (light emitting diodes).

3. Dispose of waste responsibly. Establish a recycling program in your business. Set up bins to collect scrap paper for reuse. Recycle aluminum cans, glass, cardboard, office paper and newsprint. Make sure to also dispose of your old equipment responsibly. You could bring these items to an E-Waste facility or take advantage of manufacturer take-back programs.

4. Use eco-friendly supplies. Purchase products that will make little enviromental impact, such as non-toxic cleaning materials, post-consumer recycled paper and biodegradable plates, cups and utensils.

Cultivating Your Corporate Culture

In order to successfully run a green business, you need your employees’ active participation and commitment.

1. Develop an environmental policy. Create a policy that clearly outlines your business’ environmental goals and objectives, and make sure to go over this policy with your employees.

2. Form a Green Team. Bring together a group of employees from different areas of your business who will be responsible for evaluating and identifying environmental projects and promoting these projects to the rest of your employees.

3. Encourage continual education. Provide employees with the opportunity to attend environmentally focused events and to be a part of networks, such as Young Environmental Professionals, where they can learn about green workplace initiatives and develop connections among other business professionals and green leaders.

4. Create a space for employees to share ideas. Set up a company-wide listserve, or provide suggestion boxes, so that employees can voice their ideas and opinions on enviromental projects.

5. Recognize employee contribution. Make sure to establish a system for reward and recognition among those employees who participate in your environmental initiatives and offer helpful suggestions

and ideas.

Creating Green Space

Your physical surroundings can create a positive effect on the environment… and your mood.

1. Bring in plants and small trees. Adding foliage, such as spider plants, English Ivy, Warneki, and Ficus, to your workplace brings beauty while simultaneously improving the indoor air quality.

2. Harvest the sun. Where possible, configure your workspace so that the greatest number of people have access to daylight. You can do this be relocating private space to the interior and designating the space next to the windows as common areas.

3. Get LEED certification. The Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Green Building Rating System is designed to promote operations and maintenance protocols that reduce energy consumption and water usage, and improves the indoor environment. LEED certification also gives third-party recognition that sustainable results have been achieved.

Green Travel

According to the US Bureau of Travel Statistics, Americans make an estimated 405 million long-distance business trips each year. Fortunately, there are several ways to minimize the environment impact of doing business on the road.

1. Seek alternative means of transportation. Encourage employees to take the train or bus to work. If public transportation does not reach your business, then create a ride-share board so employees can carpool.

2. Allow for flextime. One way to save energy while keeping your employees happy is to be flexible with the hours employees come in to work. For example, by switching from an eight hours, five days a week to 10 hours, four days a week, commuting gets reduced 20%.

3.Use hybrids and biodiesal. If your business requires a fleet of vehicles, such as delivery trucks, vans or company cars, then purchase hybrids or use biodiesel instead of regular gasoline.

4. Encourage telecommuting and teleconferencing. Choose remote meeting methods and allow where possible for work to be done at home.

5. Frequent green businesses. Seek out and research green hotels, green restaurants (avoid take out and fast food packaging) green car rental agencies, and airlines that have economically friendly business practices that mitigate the environmental impact of traveling.

green business

Check out Rachel Walker’s response to this article.