Easing into green: businesses must know what they want

Installing programmable thermostats can be one of the baby steps towards greening your business.

Nina Winham

If you're starting down the path of greening your business, you might find yourself in a quandary. From water to energy to supply chain, there are dozens of places to start. That's why one business advisor says she tells managers to focus on what's important to their company.

"If they want to reduce costs, then energy efficiency and waste reduction solutions are great places to start," explains Maureen Cureton, Green Business Manager with Vancity. "If they say they want to understand green markets and consumers, I tell them to explore the products they make, and the suppliers they're buying from."

"Then there are the business owners who don't understand my question, 'Why do you want to go green?'," she says. "For them, it's just the right thing to do – they're coming at it from a company values point of view. There are all sorts of opportunities, but people have to do what's right for their company – whatever the owner and staff and partners and stakeholders really care about."

Baby steps at first

Once you've started with something that makes sense, Cureton suggests you start to put a little more structure around your efforts. "Baby steps are okay at first," she says. "Start with low hanging fruit and get comfortable. Then, you might want to start to measure, and set some targets – for example, how much paper and energy you use, how much greenhouse gas you produce.

"It's good business to know how much energy you're consuming, how much fuel you're using in your vehicles. Reducing that consumption isn't just an environmental solution – it's a good business solution too."

Small Business BC seminars can help

Cureton offers regular "Greening Your Business" seminars through Small Business BC, which are open to any small business owner for a nominal fee. Vancity also provides green business advisory services, workshops, and eco-efficiency loans to members.

There are also plenty of places online to learn about sustainability first steps, including tips available in BC Hydro Power Smart's Green Your Business Guide and from Vancity.

All of these offer great ideas for getting started.

Does green change excite your staff?

Over time, Cureton says companies can start to grapple with larger questions, such as locating near transit so employees don't have to drive to work, reducing greenhouse gases, or making capital investments in significant technology improvements. But these things only come after the people in your company are engaged.

"At the end of the day, people get busy, and work on "going green" can drop off the side of the desk," she says. "If it's something that people get really excited about, it's less likely to be forgotten. And if it does fit with your strategic brand alignment and it excites staff, then it's something that can become embedded.

"That's the hope – that this isn't a side project that you do now and again, but that it just becomes part of the way you do business."

Nina Winham is a Vancouver-based sustainability consultant and writer.