Why greening your business makes sense

Why greening your business makes sense
Save the world and grow your business

Creating a green and environmentally friendly business might not save your bottom-line directly, but turning your business green might help your business grow.

Years ago – quite a lot of years in fact – someone thought computerisation would allow people to work in a paperless office. There would be no need for any of this clutter and we'd all end up a lot greener. Let's cut to the chase: this was baloney from the beginning, computers have if anything increased the amount of paperwork we all face and it's probably worse because people think they don't have to file any more.

By all means cut down on printing, it's a good idea – but don't expect to save a lot. Some people find this surprising. If you use less paper, it will cost you less. If you print less then the ink cartridges will need replacing less frequently too. Add the time and trouble spent ordering the replacements, probably online, and the time your staff spend reloading them and you'll realize you can save…pennies, frankly. Unless you're a huge corporation spending thousands on print, this isn't going to be an area of massive savings.

However, it's still worth doing. This is because there are a number of customers, corporates and in particular the public sector, who now insist on finding out a bit more about their suppliers.

On the one hand the Government is encouraging them to use a wide range of business suppliers to encourage the private sector to grow; on the other, the public sector are being forced to put up barriers because of green legislation – and if a small organisation knows the system these are barriers of which they can take advantage.

The idea started off because the UK came into line with Europe's Green Public Procurement initiative. This explicitly said, in 2008 when it came out, that by 2010 50% of all public procurement tenders should be green – and it's gone up since.

You will need a statement of your green intent

If your business intends to do any substantial amount of work in the public sector, or if it would benefit from selling to those organisations, you will need some sort of statement on where you are with environmental policies.

So, what do you need to know – what are they going to ask your business?

A lot of this is going to depend on the sector you're in, and Defra has published guidance on what you need to do. Mostly it involves cutting down the amount of raw materials you use, redesigning the packaging, rethinking the amount of power you use and how. It really will be tailored – and yes, recycling bins for your paperwork is certainly among the things you should do.

Think about manufacturing processes, travel and cutting down on it (which is where you can actually save quite a bit) and office processes. Lighting can use a lot of power when people aren't in the office – one business a few years ago discovered it could save a lot of cash by reminding the cleaner to switch the lights off when he'd finished in an evening.

The Defra guidelines on being green

The Carbon Trust points out that you can gain competitive advantage by publicizing your green credentials once they're established. Defra has published guidelines (Quick guide to making an environmental claim) on how to avoid looking as though you're green-washing your old business, aimed at people who are making environmental claims about their business, considering how to market themselves on this or who receives queries from customers on the green-ness of their business.

There is also an accreditation for which you can apply, the Environment Management Systems (EMS) accreditation. It has both BS and ISO numbers attached and will add credibility:

The carbon trust offers a few specific tips to people looking to sell on their green credentials (and there's no cynicism, the Trust thinks it's a good idea). Develop an elevator pitch in which you can summarise your ecological credentials in under a minute, train staff in it and use it, the organization says. Put about three PowerPoint slides on the subject into every presentation you make on behalf of your business.

Even consider putting something on your invoices – a statement about how much carbon you've saved, perhaps. It will all reinforce the image of a company that's doing something.

Shout loud about being green

Green operations, whether through a solid recycling scheme or quizzing your own suppliers, are going to grow. Legally they're going to have to, some organisations are going to have to ask about ecological credentials, others will do to impress their clients in turn.

Take the Lowry Hotel in Manchester; according to research from the Carbon Trust, it reduced its carbon emissions by 11% - then shouted about it a bit and found business increased as a result. The Trust also found that 65% of consumers think it's important to buy from someone who is considering their environmental impact.

The only question for a business, realistically, is whether you're in or out. And with the economy as it is, slamming as few doors as possible in your own face has to be a good idea.