Social responsibility is the watchword for the modern business. While profit, expansion, and other traditional goals will always be the major motivation behind any enterprise, more and more there is a sense that these goals need to be balanced against a broader respect for our environment and the communities we live in. As the effects of climate change become more apparent, and concerns about resource scarcity such as our diminishing reserves of fossil fuels mount, businesses can't just look at the bottom line anymore – they have to have an eye on the future as well.
Thankfully, running a profitable and efficient business is not incompatible with running a responsible and environmentally friendly one. Many businesses have realized the practical benefits of embracing an environmentally responsible outlook as both a way to reduce costs, expand their customer base, and future-proof their interests for long-term gains.
Going green isn't just the right thing to do from an ethical perspective, there is a business case to be made for it as well! We're going to look at a few ways you can run a leaner, greener business.
Conduct an energy audit
Consider how you use energy around your business. How you light and heat your building, how you make your products and deliver them to the customer, and so on. Look for ways to cut back on the amount of electricity and fossil fuels everywhere you can.
Don't be afraid to aim for the low-hanging fruit first. Going green isn't about re-inventing the wheel, it's about making smart, small changes where you can. For example, many businesses waste energy lighting rooms and buildings even when not in use. Installing some simple timers can save on your energy consumption over the year, lowering your costs while also resulting in a smaller environmental footprint.
It's easy to have waste built into your operations simply by force of habit. Thoughtless indulgences like machines left running out of convenience, or electronics plugged in at all times. It might not seem like much, but the power draw of these devices running 24/7 year after year adds up. Every watt of power has to be generated somehow. Recognize these opportunities to cut back where you can and make it policy to tighten things up around the building. Explain to your employees the importance and value of being more socially aware in how you run things and get them on board for making these changes.
There are a variety of provincial and federal incentive programs for businesses scaling back their consumption habits. Relatively low-cost changes such as investing in high-efficiency lights, triple pane windows, and fresh insulation can be further offset by government programs designed to help businesses become more sustainable. A few inexpensive changes now, eased with government incentive programs, can reap energy savings years into the future.
Reduce your employees commuter footprint
Being a socially responsible business isn't just about the changes you can make in the office or with your product, it's about changing your frame of mind to include the outside world. With that perspective, think about the amount of pollution and all the fuel burned by your employees traveling to work every day. Reducing that footprint is just another way to make your business a little bit greener.
Depending on the nature of your business, consider introducing some elements of remote work if you haven't already. The truth is, with advancements in technology and telecommunications, much of what gets done at the office can just as easily be done at home. Remote work not only gets commuters off the road, it's also been proven to boost, rather than hinder, productivity while also increasing employee satisfaction. Adding a few days of remote work to the schedule can result in less pollution, better productivity, and happier employees - what's not to love?
If remote work isn't a fit for your type of business, consider some of the classic methods of cutting down on commuter traffic. Encourage carpooling where possible (preferential parking for carpooling vehicles or some compensation of mileage can help spur these initiatives). Offer to help compensate or pay for transit passes for employees taking the bus, subway, or train in on a regular basis. And of course, offering bike racks or safe storage is always appreciated during the warmer months.
This might also be a good time to re-think your travel footprint as well. Asking "is your journey really necessary?” before setting up a distant appointment that will require significant highway driving or even air travel is a good idea for both your travel budget and the environment. While sometimes you just need that personal touch, many meetings can be handled with telecommunications, especially with advances in video conversations and desktop sharing apps.
Make "green” part of your design process
Going green isn't just about what you can trim today, it's how you can save tomorrow. When you make "green” part of your ongoing thought process and bring it into conversations about product design, service delivery, and expansion at the design level, you can build towards a more profitable and responsible future.
A great example of this kind of thinking can be found in Timberland’s "Drive. Recycle. Wear” initiative. In their continuing efforts to cut down on waste and their environmental impact, the boot manufacturer looked for ways to source rubber material from tire manufacturers. Their initial plan had them capturing waste material (cut rubber that never made it into a tire), a pre-consumer recycling effort. This was a good start, but Timberland thought bigger. They didn't want to just capture scrap to help support their material needs, they wanted whole tires that could be re-used at the end of their life cycle.
To that end, Timberland partnered with Omni United to create a specialized tire that could provide fantastic on-road performance, but had the proper composition and materials to be broken down easily and re-used after they did their time on a car. The partnership resulted in a new premium product line for Omni United that captured massive industry recognition and several awards, while also providing Timberland with a new source of low-impact rubber to sole their boots. It was a PR and product coup for both brands.
This is an example of green thinking in action. Timberland's efforts solved both a business problem for themselves, upheld their laudable commitment to the environment, and also provided Omni United with an exciting new product that quickly rose to critical and commercial success in its field.
Social responsibility and profit are not mutually exclusive. When you bring green into the design process, your business will grow in surprising and impressive ways.