By Craig Mellow

4 Fashion Must Haves  -- - and How to Care for Them

AJ Auto Repair of Salem, OR burns used fuel oil for heat, saving up to $10,000 a year. Picture Graphics of Minneapolis saves $20,000 annually in dumpster pickups by following a fanatical recycling plan that includes the cardboard, aluminum and plastic materials used in its billboards and displays.

Small business can go green without large capital investments or high-tech gadgetry, and it can pay off on three fronts at once: shrinking costs with more efficient use of materials and energy, reducing your business's impact on Mother Nature, and strengthening your reputation with customers who are increasingly shopping with green concerns in mind (and often don't mind paying a premium for it). A survey by the Environmental Protection Agency found that nearly three-quarters of all consumers consider an environmental record an important factor in choosing where to spend their dollars.

The best way to make a green business plan is to look carefully at what resources you use every day.

For many businesses these include paper, water and electricity. Here's how to reduce your use (and cost) of each resource as well as how to use those reductions to fuel a green reputation.


Despite decades of rhetoric about the paperless office, paper still accounts for one-third of all waste dumped into U.S. landfills, according to the EPA. That can easily be shrunk by painless commonsense measures. For example, tech giant Hewlett-Packard recommends printing documents on both sides of the page. Taking away personal printers in favor of one group printer also reduces the temptation to hard-copy every document, which also serves to increase employee productivity along with using paper more efficiently.

Then there is recycling. According to Xerox, half of all office paper is thrown away after a single use. For retail-oriented businesses taking a lot of deliveries in cardboard boxes, the EPA suggests reusable wooden crates instead. This plan may take some arranging with suppliers, but will pay back handsomely in reduced disposal costs.


To save water, look to your bathroom. A single dripping faucet can waste 3,000 gallons a year -- as much water as the average individual uses in a month. For restaurants and other businesses with highly-trafficked restrooms, a dual-flush toilet is a great investment for more efficient use of water.

The grounds surrounding your place of business are another opportunity to go greener, EarthShare points out. The classic manicured lawn is a water hog, and demands superfluous carbon emissions from constant mowing and leaf removal. It's more planet-friendly to plant native shrubs and trees that can look after themselves with a bit of weeding and rainwater.


A survey by green group EarthShare found that half of all U.S. office workers leave their computers on when they leave at night, wasting a collective $2.8 billion a year in power. Luckily, you don't have to hector employees to hit the Shut Down icon: Various reasonably priced software options can manage the office network while they are peacefully asleep. Alternatively, the last person out in the evening can simply unplug all the computers and printers, saving “vampire voltage.”

A more proactive way to green your business is to buy renewable energy credits (RECs) through the EPA's Green Power Partnership. The government recognizes that few small business owners can invest in their own solar panels or wind turbines, so an REC allows you to purchase renewable energy without having to create it yourself. The price for RECs has come down by a factor of five since 2008, according to the Department of Energy, and the premium over conventional power can be as low as 2 percent depending on the region. In return for this outlay, your business gets a compliance certificate from the EPA for your collaboration in their efforts to reduce carbon and use energy more efficiently.

Turning Reduction into Reputation

Once your business has established its green credentials, social media offers broad possibilities for letting customers know about it. Both government and private organizations offer a plethora of certifications to bolster your own PR. The EPA pins labels like WaterSense, BurnWise, or Design for the Environment on products and processes that fit its qualification. Outside of Uncle Sam, you can get approval from organizations such as Ecologo, Green Seal, Greenguard and more.

What can a little label do for your small business? Well, one pointer is organic food sales in the U.S., which have nearly tripled over the past decade to $30 billion a year, according to the Department of Agriculture. Even a fraction of that surge in green products could repay your investments handsomely.


Craig Mellow is a freelance journalist in New York City, specializing in financial markets and energy.

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How to Build a 'Green' Reputation for Your Small Business & Save Money at the Same Time