As environmental sustainability takes on greater importance in the business world, it’s also getting more complex. Lots of small businesses are looking to conduct life-cycle analysis, recycle more unusual kinds of waste, and install renewable energy.
Yet many business owners simply don’t have enough time to spend thoroughly investigating all of these opportunities and figuring out what’s right for them.
Thankfully, there’s plenty of help out there.
Here’s a rundown of where small business owners can get help with their sustainability endeavors, and what to expect:
Nonprofits. A variety of state- and locally organized nonprofits help businesses stay abreast of the latest in sustainability. Offerings can range from executive networking groups on sustainability best practices to workshops and webinars to programs focused on a particular type of sustainability concern (such as water conservation or recycling) or industry. The Alliance for Sustainable Colorado, for instance, offers “action plans” for several different industries that can be downloaded off its Web site, along with a sustainable business network. The best part: Much of the assistance offered by nonprofits is free or available for an annual membership fee of $300 or less.
Utility Companies. You may not consider the electric company a go-to source for energy advice. (Don’t they want to sell more energy, not less?) But many states now require utilities to allocate funds toward helping customers reduce energy consumption. These utilities may offer rebates for businesses that make upgrades, such as installing energy efficient lights or putting solar panels on the roof. And many offer free or low-cost energy audits and other services to help businesses estimate the payback and make wise energy decisions. Check your local utility’s Web site or make a quick call to see what’s offered.
Green Consultants. A whole industry of sustainability consultants has sprouted up in recent years. These consultants are hired to help businesses evaluate their environmental impact and develop programs to reduce it. They can provide customized assistance and analysis and lots of hands-on help. The price isn’t necessarily cheap, however, as consultants may charge $50 to $150 per hour. Before writing a check, make sure to check a consultant’s professional background and credentials and talk with other clients.
Certification Organizations. A popular way to dole out green advice is through programs in which businesses get “certified” as green businesses. The idea is that businesses like to receive recognition for their environmental good deeds, and providing clear steps for how to be more sustainable simplifies the process. UPonGREEN, a Minnesota-based group, walks businesses through a 14-step process for achieving greater sustainability — such as using post-consumer recycled paper and using a programmable thermostat to reduce heating and cooling usage in the office. Businesses that achieve the certification then pay a $125 annual subscription fee and get a window decal and an emblem to put on their Web site. Again, do some research and know the level of service and information you will get before forking over any money.