Sustainability: the practice of achieving the needs of today without jeopardizing tomorrow. There can be no doubt that the building industry has taken this standard to heart.
The United States Green Building Council hopes to increase the number of commercial LEED-certified projects from just 600 at the end of 2006 to 100,000 projects by 2010. American homeowners also have been going green—nearly 2.5 billion Energy Star-certified products have been purchased since the program began in 1992, according to the Environmental Protection Agency, and more than 70 percent of all Americans recycle as a habit, according to a 2007 study by Harris Interactive.
In spite of the groundswell of support for sustainable practices, it may be difficult for companies to understand their own "green-ness," or to take the initial steps toward becoming a greener business. There can, however, be significant benefits to doing so. A "greening" plan may lead to more cost-effective operations, higher morale and even new marketing opportunities.
As with many things, the key is to develop a clear plan and to avoid procrastination. Here's how:
Companies should identify their motivation to go green. Pragmatically, conservation makes economic sense. As a company reduces its use of electricity, water and other resources, it reduces its overhead, thus improving its bottom line. Ethically, the concept of environmental stewardship is not simply a grand idea associated with the ozone layer, rain forests and polar bears; conservation and the wise use of the earth's limited natural resources should always help guide a company's day-to-day activities. Professionally, businesses have a responsibility to show their dedication to these practices to their vendors and customers and to be advocates for sustainability. Businesses don't have to make a choice between these reasons, but they do have to articulate their own strategies for being green.
Before making practical and operational changes, it pays to develop an environmental policy for your business that will serve as the foundation for your efforts. The policy should include a mission statement that explains the rationale for, and the intended effects of, a company-wide green program. This statement should also be forwardlooking; it should underscore the commitment to sustainability and outline goals for the green program when possible. The idea behind this written policy is to define the principles that will guide all greening efforts and tactics.
Next, develop a plan and timeline for implementing practical steps toward sustainability. Start by detailing any green approaches your company already has adopted. These may involve a wide range of practices, from reducing waste material on a job site to trimming the use of electricity in an office setting. Then, consider what actions you can take to improve the sustainability of your company. These, too, may vary widely. Review any and all industry-specific and operational possibilities along with commonplace—but effective—ideas. Here are just a few.
Processes that reduce waste in your office:
Sustainable manufacturing or construction processes:
There are many options available. Start by selecting tactics that your company has the capability to achieve. Over time, initial success will breed even greater success.
As you implement your green program, continue to keep yourself educated about green trends and issues. When your company becomes a resource for customers, vendors and others in your sphere of influence, you differentiate yourself from your competition. In addition, by embracing sustainable practices, your company can recast itself as a forward-thinking, environmentally conscious organization. It's an image that can both boost company morale and create marketing opportunities. Here are a few practical steps:
Educate your team. Take time to train employees, sale representatives and business partners about your green program. Speak of your key messages and why green is important to growth. Educating your team is an inexpensive, effective way to build momentum and create interest and excitement for a program.
Review communications. Step back and assess all of your marketing communications: ads, brochures, direct mailers and other materials. Consider including messages and images to reinforce your company's embrace of green practices.
Focus on your Web site. Be sure your Web site's content and design reflects your company's sustainability efforts. In addition, review your search engine optimization (SEO) program. Be sure all key words, links and other SEO tactics work to boost your site rankings for Web visitors using green-related search terms.
There's no longer any argument to take a wait-and-see attitude toward the concept of going green. Take the first step by identifying the green practices you already employ and look more closely at places where you might improve or add green practices. Then, simply build from there. Companies that carefully orchestrate a green marketing approach will be poised to take fullest advantage of this growing market.