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Make your startup sustainable at (almost) no cost

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When your company‘s a start-up, you care a lot about economy and simplicity. And when rapid growth kicks in, for many businesses, the amount of attention paid to energy efficiency and maintaining a small carbon footprint drops in priority.

I’ve held positions at startups and large corporations, including a non-profit arts organization where I was employee # 1 (of 2!) and an energy utility where I was one of 20,000 people. From this wide range of experience I’ve found that there are many ways to make your business sustainable. The good news, for bootstrappers and Fortune 500 corporations alike, is that sustainable practices can cost your company very little, or nothing at all.

Here are 5 Ways to Make your Business Sustainable at (virtually) No-Cost:

1. Transportation – Skype, don’t fly, to participate in that out-of-state meeting. To get to and from work, simply take public transit, walk or bike. Not only are you saving money and the environment, you’re saving reducing stress, and improving your fitness and health. And if driving is your only option, carpool. Or, invest in a high-performance hybrid like the Toyota Prius or Honda Civic hybrid. You’ll save money at the pump while minimizing your impact on the environment.

2. Lighting – Any lamp or light fixture that takes a threaded light bulb operating more than 2 hours a day is a candidate for an Energy Star-rated screw-in compact fluorescent (CFL). Not only are Energy Star CFLs selling for a little as 25 cents apiece now at grocery, pharmacy, and home improvement stores in many states with utility energy efficiency programs , they last 4 times longer than standard incandescents. This means that the savings on your utility bill runs the total cost of a CFL down to less than zero in no time..

3. Equipment and Supplies – If it plugs in, insist on the Energy Star label. For desktop PCs, Energy Star now incorporates 80 Plus™ power supplies and other features that reduce standby and full-power energy consumption. And when you order supplies, deal with sources that provide sustainably produced, green office supplies. By partnering with other green businesses, you create a multiplier effect for your climate-neutral stance. Strictly speaking, green office supplies may cost a little more, but the green branding and good will – including employee good will – that come out of this more than offset the cost.

4. Meals – Eat lunches that are low on the food chain, seek out locally produced items, and stay clear of farmed seafood. Have you tried a filtered water system instead of bottled water? No plastic waste, no carbon-burning transportation to bring it to you. Your body and your planet will thank you. The cost is $35 for a Brita water tank, filter, or pitcher in the break room. The payback comes with the first couple of cases of bottled water or the Alhambra water delivery service you don’t need!

5. Tracking – Monitor your company’s progress towards meeting its sustainability goals. Hold a contest among your staff to meet and beat these objectives, or better still, hold a competition with other companies. Push the envelope and see how low you can go.
Taken together, these ideas will contribute to your company’s profitability and success. Just think, not only does you establish a green profile from the beginning, you also save on operating costs and improve your employees’ health, satisfaction, and productivity.
And did I mention saving the planet? It’s up to you.

Jonathan Livingston

Jonathan Livingston is Vice President of Product and Service Innovation for San Francisco, CA-based Ecos Consulting. You can reach him at:[email protected]

7 Responses to “Make your startup sustainable at (almost) no cost”

  1. Not only do these suggestions guide good steps to setting up a virtual office in a start-up, but also touch on some of those nicer benefits.

    However, before seeking out all the ‘good stuff’ that can be gotten from some of these gains, it is important to consider the challenges you are likely to encounter.

    Take a look at my latest blog post on this very topic…
    http://tpgblog.com/2007/12/10/real-virtual-office-challenges/

    Jeremy Horn
    The Product Guy
    http://tpgblog.com

  2. I think many of the initial commenters are missing the fact that in the long term many of these will reduce costs. I’m sure that using a tap filter is cheaper than getting water cooler deliveries and that taking steps to reduce energy costs will lower energy bills.

    One thing this article fails to mention is turning down the heat, this reduces energy and has shown to boost productivity, in addition to the things Mahesh mentioned.

  3. Mahesh R S

    Loved this list. I especially liked the “use Brita” instead of that giant water bottle. I would add a few more:

    * Judge for yourself: do you really need your desktop pc and/or test machines on all the time? If not switch them off before you leave.
    * Switch off lights that are not needed anymore for the night

  4. haha! I scanned the article for tips on how to sustain my business, not sustain the planet!

    My chain of thought,
    “skype, fine… lightbulbs, what?! who buys lightbulbs for the office?! … meals, yeah, I scrimp on food… locally grown?! That’s way more expensive! What is this guy talking about?!”
    Go back and re-read the headline. ahhh. “sustainable” in the greenie sense.

    The problem is it ain’t sustainable, if it ain’t first sustainable. If you know what I mean.