10 Green Ways To Cut Business Costs

Last week BusinessWeek published an article: 10 Ways To Cut Business Costs and I was pleased to see that four of the 10 were also green.

It gave me the idea to write about green ways to cut costs in these difficult times. Starting with the four cited in BW, here are some ideas:

Reduce energy use. Energy is the number one expense for almost one-third of small businesses, and whatever your industry, increasing energy efficiency and reducing energy costs is good for business. ENERGY STAR for Small Business has free information, resources and technical advice on hundreds of energy and cost-savings practices.

Telecommute. Telecommuting is often cited as one of the most valuable benefits to both employers and employees. Telecommuting has been credited with improving work/family balance, supervisor-staff relationships, job satisfaction, worker retention, productivity and career prospects, as well as reducing stress, absenteeism, recruiting, office space and parking costs. It may also be one of the most effective greening practices you can embrace: The American Consumer Institute projects that telecommuting alone will cut CO2 emissions by more than a half million tons over the next decade.  Best Work Places has great tools for implementing telecommuting and other commuter benefits program.

Curb travel expenses. Airplane travel, lodging and rental cars can consume almost one-quarter of a business’ carbon footprint and as much as 3% of its revenue. So, reducing the number of business trips you take is an excellent strategy for greening and reducing expenses. (A friend who is an senior exec at a global liquor company told me it cost them $12,000 every time they sent her overseas.) Taking fewer, longer trips is one solution. Web conferencing is another. Its a win for productivity, expense reduction and the environment because not traveling means not having to postpone regular office work, saving the expenses of travel and eliminating the carbon output from that travel.

Buy secondhand. The idea of reuse is often associated with products that are passed on with little or no re-conditioning, repair or reprocessing. However, increasingly, reuse involves adding value back into used products and materials by taking steps such as cleaning, replacing worn elements or refilling consumable components. By collecting, processing and adding value to products, components and materials, and then marketing them to people who want them, reuse strategies can save money and keep used products out of the solid waste stream.

Reduce the amount of paper you use. Printing less is one of the most significant actions a businesses can do to have an impact on expenses and and the environment. By reducing the amount of paper you use, you’ll not only save money on paper—you’ll save on energy, ink, toner, maintenance and time. Strategies include: generally change the way you print and copy by not printing unless it’s essential, using scrap paper for notes and drafts, using electronic forms, sending holiday cards and invitations electronically, using online banking, use PDFs for record-keeping and allowing customers to opt out of receipts.

Keep clean lists. Cleaning mailing lists regularly and thoroughly is one of the cheapest, quickest and most effective ways to save money on and green your direct mail marketing. Verifying addresses will save you money (fewer undeliverables means less to print/mail) and can also lower mailing rates. Make it easy for customers to opt out of future solicitations. Don’t mail to weak prospects. Go a step further and use software for segmentation, targeting and predictive modeling to “select with care” customer names that should be mailed for differing promotions.  And, offer customers the option of receiving communications electronically (See paper reduction strategies above).

Eliminate disposables. Provide reusable mugs, cups, plates and cutlery in your break room and kitchen. If it’s not possible for you to eliminate these products altogether, try hiding them in cabinets (you’ll be astonished how much less people will use when something’s out of sight.) Consider using personalized mugs that can double as gifts.

Get rid of the fax machine. With technology today, you can save money and energy by ditching that fax machine—and the extra phone line it needs. Its easy and cheap to fax through the cloud and send and receive faxes directly from your computer. Alternately, use a multi-function machine so you don’t have to buy or lease multiple pieces of equipment (a multi-function device can reduce energy consumption by about 40%.)

Pool your resources. Pooling enables companies to maximize the use of resources, increase efficiency and save money. When a Seattle accounting firm and the non-profit organization next door joined together to replace their garbage containers with one shared recycling cart and a garbage bin, they saved $30 a month and enabled a waste management solution that would otherwise have been too expensive. Car-pooling, and buying groups are other examples of pooled resources.

Green your transportation. The kind of transportation you use and the number of miles your employees or goods travel per year will have a tremendous impact on your bottom line and on your carbon footprint. The EPA SmartWay transport program provides businesses (both carriers and shippers) with lots of good tools for reducing costs and emissions. Their advice includes using software, maps and Internet sites to plan out driving routes in advance; anti-idling strategies; and avoiding expediting/air freight whenever possible.  UPS also shares their tips for improving gas mileage (by redesinging routes and driving rules, UPS eliminated 28.5 million miles from delivery routes, saved 3 million gallons of fuel and cut CO2 emissions by about 34 million tons.)

Photo by neil hoskins at sxc.hum

About the Author

Jennifer Kaplan writes regularly about sustainable food and wine, the intersection of food and marketing and food politics for EatDrinkBetter.com and is the author of Greening Your Small Business (November 2009, Penguin Group (USA)). She was been named one of The 16 Women You Must Follow on Twitter for Green Business. She has four kids, a dog, a hamster and an MBA - find her on .
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  • One option is to shut down the high priced downtown office and move workers to remote offices located around the city and suburbs. Remote Office Centers lease individual offices, internet and phone systems to workers from different companies in shared centers located around the city and suburbs.

    ROCs cut the commute for workers, open up hiring to a larger candidate pool, provide tech support for network issues and provide improved infrastructure over many home offices.

  • @aullman – that’s actually a great idea regarding the Remote Office Centers. I’m sure many employees would be willing to work closer to their home, with the occasional trip to the corporate office for meetings or to get together with their complete team. GoEverywhere would be a great application for these employees, as it provides single login access to files and documents they might need at any location.

  • Another cool way is to keep scraps of one-side sheets. Like some xeroxed paper which is used on only one side; can be reused.
    Going for online products so reduces packaging costs

  • One option is to shut down the high priced downtown office and move workers to remote offices located around the city and suburbs. Remote Office Centers lease individual offices, internet and phone systems to workers from different companies in shared centers located around the city and suburbs.

    ROCs cut the commute for workers, open up hiring to a larger candidate pool, provide tech support for network issues and provide improved infrastructure over many home offices.
    BTW I love your blog!

  • @Priyanka D, using scrap paper is an excellent way to reduce paper use. I know of companies that dedicate copiers for drafts and stock them only with scrap paper. Thanks.

  • Jennifer,

    Thanks for the plug in this post on reusing mugs. Our starter mug deal is a http://www.proformagreen.com/eco-mugs.shtml.

    Other green office items could be uniforms (organic cotton, bamboo, recycled poly), pens (recycled and biodegradable materials), 2 pocket folders(recycled and FCS), binders (recycled and FCS), computer cases and totes (PET materials), Post-it notes (from 30-100% recycled content), water cooler cups (corn and potato starch), etc.

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  • Excellent suggestions! I’m implementing at least 5 of these ideas for my webhosting company.

  • Great article! Currently, our company is already using a lot of these suggestions. We are a document imaging company. We take paper documents from companies and convert them into a digital format. The digital documents are put on a custom content management system created specific to the company’s needs. The paper is then recycled. We’ve recycled tons and tons (literally) of paper documents, which helps out the environment. Majority of our employees are remote workers who telecommute and work from home. This saves travel expenses, and eliminates the need for office space. All this saves money, electricity, and time.

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  • Hi Jennifer,

    This is a good post!

    Green is a very hot topic these days (though not as hot as it was early last year). I did publish an article on Green Project Management essentially defining the concept. The problem is, even at this very moment, the “green” concept for businesses is not standardized (I’ve discussed this in my article).

    Thanks for sharing.

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  • Definitely, i really that if such smaller steps are really taken by us then we can have a safer Earth and make others stay here safely.
    We have been polluting our environment, by utilizing its resources without any thinking, but now i think each and every individual will do something by himself, where in he can stay with clean environment.

  • Implementing almost all the suggested ways to cut the costs is the easiest for an internet company… They don't waste paper, hardly ever use faxes (there is an email!), there's no need for traveling as all the business can be done virtually. The only problem I would see lies in the energy use.. the computers must be on almost 24/7…

  • Great tips. My business has recently been looking to switch our processes around to be more eco friendly AND save money. We have been adapting a lot of these tips into our business and I will have to suggest some others. We also recently switched to using a telephone answering service and its been a great way to cut costs and be green.

  • Hello,
    I like some of the suggestions you have made in reducing the cost . I feel that some of the travels can be avoided by web conferencing.
    Phone and web conferencing slashes your travel costs whilst helping to reduce carbon emissions. Meet by phone and web. Don’t travel, just connect.
    I was able to cut down my business travel by 40 percent after getting Ozone conferencing. In case any body is interested here is the link to the website