The Many Payoffs of Green Business

In my job as a communications expert for an energy efficiency nonprofit, I get a lot of questions about payback: How long will it take for this or that energy upgrade to pay for itself through energy cost savings? This is an important question for any business trying to be fiscally responsible in this shaky economy.

But the straightforward financial return on investment of sustainability measures is only part of the reason businesses should be committed to reducing their environmental footprints today. There are a host of compelling long-term benefits that businesses reap once they embark on sustainability initiatives –and many of these benefits are ones they often didn’t initially bank on. Here’s a look at four “fringe benefits” of green business:

The Many Payoffs of Green Business

1. Opportunities for great publicity. Face it: As “green business” becomes more ingrained and trumpeted in the business world, more bloggers and mainstream media are covering it and looking to feature real-world examples.  Companies that take on ambitious sustainability endeavors  – whether it’s going “carbon neutral” or starting an ambitious recycling initiative – can earn positive PR. Green start-ups also generate great coverage. On the flipside, all this coverage of green practices today also means companies that ignore their environmental impact or engage in “greenwashing” are more likely to attract bad publicity.

2. Better employee engagement. Young adults today are paying more attention to the social and environmental responsibility of their employers or prospective employers. It’s cool to work for a company trying to change the world. Green practices are a way to engage employees in a good cause and help them feel more connected to the business.  Read this recent blog post by Taiga Company, a green business consultant, on how to bolster employee engagement by tying it to the company’s energy efficiency initiatives.

3. Healthier, more comfortable workplaces. Reducing a company’s carbon footprint often goes hand-in-hand with improving the workplace environment. New high-efficiency furnaces, for instance, burn cleaner than older inefficient ones.  Replacing gas-guzzling SUVs with a fleet of hybrid vehicles exposes your employees to less carbon emissions on a daily basis. Using less-toxic materials in your products means everyone will be healthier.

4. Time saved in the long run. Sure, putting together a full-blown sustainability plan – as I recommend businesses do – and putting together the research to do it takes time, commitment, money and thought. But once those plans reach fruition, the outcomes often save the company time. New equipment requires less maintenance than older equipment.  Less waste means less time collecting and hauling it away.


Kelly Spors Kelly Spors is a former small-business and entrepreneurship reporter and blogger for The Wall Street Journal who has also written for Yahoo!, Entrepreneur, NFIB's MyBusiness magazine and The New York Times. Kelly is now a freelance editor and writer based in Minneapolis and has previously managed communications for an environmental non-profit that helps businesses find ways to be greener.

10 Reactions
  1. Kelly, I enjoyed your article. However, that said your four points were just qualitative in nature. Where is the ROI? What about all the jobs at risk in West Virginia, Pennsylvania, Colorado, Texas and the

  2. Tynnisha Hamilton

    Great post, Kelly. Now that you’ve mentioned it, I’ve found myself interested in the average time it takes for these green investments to pay for themselves. I was hoping you were going to answer this question in the article, but for the life of me, I couldn’t find it. 🙁

    Working for a energy efficiency nonprofit, you probably know how long, on average, it takes for business owners to see a return on investment. Would you happen to know?

  3. Hi Tynnisha,

    It’s hard to generalize on ROIs and payback times of green initiatives. It totally depends on the type of upgrade/investment you’re making and the business’s operations and usage patterns. For instance, high-efficiency lighting upgrades can payback in less than two years and lighting is known to have comparatively fast payback times. But they’re less likely to payback quickly if the business is open only 30 hours a week (compared with, say, 70 hours). If the facility gets substantial daylight and typically only needs lights when it’s dark outside, that will lengthen the payback time, too. It also depends on the efficiency of the equipment you’re replacing.

    So, there are lots of factors that come into play!

    Hope this helps –


  4. Hi,

    I found the article interesting and the views to green business is great. Keep giving us posts like this so that we can improve the business in a better way.


  5. Very nice post highlighting key benefits.
    It’s important for businesses to be involved in helping the environment, and having short-term and long-term benefits helps to make the decision on investing toward that end.

  6. Your article sums up key advantages for green business. I would add, one just feel better about doing the right thing for ones great grand kids.
    In my experience, the greening of business is not a trend, it is a sea change. With diminishing resources and increasing population, and new generations that are more conscious of how our actions effect future generations, how could it be otherwise?
    In terms of ROI, that seemed pretty clear to me in your 4 points. One could also look at it in terms of preventing LOI (LOSS of inestment). Just look at what happened to GM and Chryster (in part) when a company does not pay attention to the public’s concern for innovation in environmental areas. Look at companies like Stonyfield, and many others who have built very successful businesses based on addressing that concern.