How Sustainability Really is Good for Business

Switching to a paperless office might save the rainforest, but outfitting every employee with a computer can cost quite a bit. Eliminating paper plates and plastic flatware in favor of reusable dishes in the breakroom is another minor, but nonetheless costly, green move. What’s more, some businesses are opting for substantial shifts toward sustainability, incorporating features like photovoltaic cells (which can cost upwards of $19,000 to install and use), gray water systems (more than $20,000 for an automated pump), and innovative architecture (more than $5 per square foot). The economy might be recovering, but can businesses really afford to go green?

In a word: yes. Though initial costs of sustainable building features and office practices may seem untenably high, the truth is that green choices pay businesses back over time. Any business can benefit from becoming more sustainable, and taking small steps can lead to big rewards, like these.

Energy Savings

American businesses spend an absurd amount of money on energy. Nearly 30 percent of all operating expenses, which totals more than $30,000 for the average office building, is devoted to utilities, including electricity and natural gas for lights, appliances, and temperature control. Commercial buildings are the most energy expensive structures in the country, eating up 17.3 kilowatt-hours of electricity and 31.8 cubic feet of natural gas every year.

Businesses can cut the budgets for these expenses ― and help the environment by limiting their energy consumption ― with a handful of quick fixes. For example, businesses can request employees to do the following:

  • Turn off lights and electronics when not in use. Every 1,000 kilowatt-hours of electricity consumed adds $100 dollars to the utility bill, and even in idle mode, tech can draw 140 Watts per hour.
  • Set temperatures lower. HVAC systems draw 28 percent of a building’s electricity and 86 percent of its natural gas, so relying less on temperature control and more on warm clothing can cut costs.
  • Choose renewable energy and materials. Using daylight through windows, post-consumer waste paper and packaging, recycled fabric structures, and other renewable, reusable resources are less expensive than buying new.

Brand Value

Image-TwoThe relationship between brands and consumers is one of mutual influence: Consumers tell businesses what is important, and in turn, brands inform consumers what is relevant. It is impossible to source where the sustainability trend started, but it is undeniable that being eco-friendly is both important and relevant to today’s culture. Most consumers are searching far and wide for brands that respect their desires to leave a diminutive carbon footprint, so integrating environmentalism into the brand is essential to a modern business’s success.

Consumer and Employee Loyalty

While the most obvious benefit of developing a strong, green brand is increased revenue, a perk that is just as vital to business success is loyalty. Retaining a reliable customer base is much less expensive and much more rewarding than finding all-new customers all the time ― and the same is true of employees. Consumers and workers want do good in the world, and the possibility of supporting businesses that are proud to be green will keep them coming back.

Industry Recognition

The possibility of standing out amidst a business’s competitors and peers is another major advantage to going green. Several organizations provide awards to companies that adhere to the tenets of environmentalism and make strides toward a sustainable future. Recognition from groups like the U.S. Green Building Counsel, the Sierra Club, PricewaterhouseCoopers, and more can produce international acclaim that will certainly lead to better business.

Risk Management

Additionally, doing good works like going green helps to balance out potentially detrimental business decisions. For example, industrial businesses that could cause environmental devastation, like mining enterprises or construction firms, would do well to be as green as possible to limit the risk of contaminating water and land, polluting the air, or producing untenable amounts of waste. If disaster strikes, the ramifications on the environment ― and on the brand’s reputation ― will not be nearly as devastating if the business already upholds strong sustainable standards.

Moral Correctness

Perhaps most important of all, businesses should act sustainably because it is the right course of action in this day and age. Though acting righteously will provide a number of benefits, including increased customer attention and loyalty, doing good in and of itself should be enough to get businesses to go green. If everyone chose what was right ­― instead of what was easy or cheap ― we would not be suffering our current environmental and economic woes, but it is never too late to make a change for the better.