Experts weigh in on new, simple paths to sustainability that also help put your bottom line in the black
BY ERINN MORGAN
Is “Going Green” still an important initiative for small businesses? According to Scott Cooney, an adjunct professor of sustainability at the University of Hawaii, green business startup coach, and author of “Build a Green Small Business: Profitable Ways to Become an Ecopreneur,” sustainability is simply something that customers expect from businesses today.
Besides more expectations, there are more terms used to describe “green.” Because it’s been so over-used, “there is now this stigma around the term ‘green,’” says Julie Urlaub, author of “The Business Sustainability Handbook” and founder/managing partner of Taiga Company. “Today, we talk more about how can we be more ‘resource efficient.’”
TALK OR WALK?
When Shane and Amanda Palmer moved Green Eyewear Optical, their eco-focused business in Peterborough, Ontario, it was into a new building made of ICF, a super-insulated, eco-friendly material that conserves energy. The duo also designed a line of eyewear from a material that utilizes leftover organic cotton extract waste. “We did a line called Green Glasses that uses M49 Mazzucchelli,” says Shane Palmer. “We wanted something that didn’t use a lot of chemicals and they don’t add a lot of dyes.”
Looking for Change
Whatever you call it—greening, resource efficiency, or sustainability—“people are more aware now than they’ve ever been,” agrees Cooney. As such, more people are “voting with their dollars” than ever before, he adds. “And, perhaps even more importantly, pulling money away from companies they feel are not doing the right thing,”
He adds that with social media putting this information into peoples’ hands, the importance of doing the right thing is only going to increase for businesses. That means more money for greener companies and less for those that lag.
How can you become more sustainable—and attract business by doing so? It’s no longer enough to simply recycle, change to LED or CFL bulbs, and promote yourself as a green business.
Today, if you want a sustainable edge, you need to target efficiencies that can be benchmarked and tracked—and organize a “green team” to implement them.
They include “employee engagement, recruitment, and retention, free PR, customer loyalty, lower insurance premiums, lower financing costs—and the list goes on,” says Cooney. “All of these things are real, and they all contribute to the bottom line in very significant ways. In addition, of course, companies can cut spending significantly if they reduce energy, water, and paper use.” (See sidebar, page 76 for a step-by-step guide.)
Partnering for Power
Urlaub suggests looking into how you might partner with local government or a local nonprofit on eco-focused projects. “Look at how you can partner and make your contributions appear bigger,” she says.
At the eco-friendly Green Eyewear Optical in Peterborough, Ontario, for example, owner Shane Palmer partners with a local organization called Peterborough GreenUP that goes to schools and speaks to kids about important sustainability issues like recycling, composting, and energy use. “We donate a percentage of proceeds from the sale of every pair of glasses to that organization,” says Palmer.
Mike Vitale and Rick Clemente of The Vision Council suggest a few ways for ECPs to ensure their methods are more sustainable:
Ensure your in-office lens processing utilizes an edger with a water filtration system that recirculates water.
Daily maintenance of any in-office lens edging equipment makes it more efficient and longer lasting.
Separate all the paper products from the lens packaging. That is all 100% recyclable.
Recycle glasses by setting up a box for the Lions Clubs International. “That is sustainable—and a good cause,” says Vitale.
GREENING UP LENS PROCESSING
Lens processing produces an abundance of polycarbonate swarf. Though it can be recycled unless it gets mixed with high-index or CR-39 materials, too much of it has historically made its way down drains and into landfills.
The Vision Council has been looking at how to make this arena more sustainable. A task force was set up to find a way to better manage this issue at the lab level.
Michael C. Vitale, ABOM, a member of the The Vision Council’s Sustainability Committee, notes: “A lot of the large manufacturers, retailers, and labs are tackling the issues because of how big they are and they have folks to focus on it.” As an example, Walmart Optical went from a waste stream to a revenue stream by selling their recycling. “But, when you get to the lab and ECP level, we are still in the infancy,” Vitale says.
“Today, any time manufacturers change their edging models, they design equipment that is more conscious of sound, material, and odor containment, and typically have a water-saving re-circulating tank and pump,” says Rick Clemente, vice chair of The Vision Council’s Lens Processing Technology Division and executive vice president of sales and service for Santinelli International.
Spreading the Word
It’s important to get the word out about your green initiatives, but both the timing and your message are important.
“If you do it right, word will get out without much effort,” says Cooney. “The problem is when businesses put the cart before the horse and try to take credit for things that don’t hold much water. But, when a company makes a true commitment to global citizenship, their employees, their customers, and all other stakeholders take notice. That’s when companies get the one thing that all businesses seek: word-of-mouth.”
STEP BY STEP
Green business experts share their how-to tips for making sustainability a success
CREATE A GREEN TEAM
Leverage staff, says Julie Urlaub, author of “The Business Sustainability Handbook.” “Within their own job, each person can pinpoint areas that are resource intense,” she says.
Green business startup coach, sustainability professor, and author Scott Cooney suggests crowdsourcing, which can take the form of a company Green Team. “These are typically made up of motivated employees who know the business inside and out and who also try to implement sustainability initiatives from the inside out.”
Areas to focus on include:
Driving vs. carpooling/public transportation
Product packaging/shopping bags
Equipment purchases: The question…can they be Energy Star compliant?
BENCHMARK TARGET AREAS
ECPs can benchmark different targets in the areas where tangible rewards can be realized easily. “The most basic steps are to have professional energy, water, and waste audits done, and then put your plans in place to reduce each without changing basic business operations significantly,” says Cooney.
DOCUMENT EACH STEP
Benchmark where you are with each area and then document the action steps you’ll take. “Then you can show your results—how much waste you’ve diverted from the landfill, etc.—and explain to your customers why they should visit your practice vs. any other practice in town,” says Urlaub.
TRACK YOUR SAVINGS
“Identify savings in each area through a simple spreadsheet,” says Urlaub. “You can apply this to everything from recycling or commuting (e.g., employees using public transportation) to energy savings and having lunches made from local, organic food.
“I worked with a bike shop that did this to track trash savings,” she notes, adding, “They used a spreadsheet with metrics that mattered to them—and they went from utilizing the biggest trash dumpster available to the smallest.”
Erinn Morgan, EB’s market editor, is also author of the book, “Picture Yourself Going Green.”