19 Free (Green) Tools for Small Businesses
Another post inspired by a HARO request. This time it was an ask for low or no-cost tools used by small businesses. I did a quick search for the word “free” in my book and realized there are dozens. Here are my 19 favorites:
- Free energy-efficiency information, resources, and technical advice—ENERGY STAR for Small Business provides free information, resources, and technical advice on hundreds of cost-savings practices. Includes a downloadable copy of the free ENERGY STAR for Small Business Guide, “Putting Energy into Profits” and information about ENERGY STAR–labeled products.
- Free recycling and conservation signs—You can customize, download, and print free recycling and conservation signs at recyclereminders.com.
- Free control of your IT—If you run a network, software from companies like LocalCooling.com allows the settings on computers to be controlled centrally so you can automatically turn those babies off when no one is using them.
- Free Green IT for Dummies—HP sponsors a free, downloadable, condensed, limited edition of the Green IT for Dummies guide.
- Free recycling bins—The Coca-Cola/NRC Recycling Bin Grant Program provides recycling bins to selected grant recipients for the collection of beverage container recyclables in public settings.
- Free rideshare widget for websites— at GooseNetworks.com.
- Free carbon footprint calculator for commuting, vacation, and business trips—The Carbon Tracker for the iPhone is a free application that allows users to easily calculate their carbon footprint with a GPS feature that automatically determines the length of each leg of the trip. Users can set monthly “maximum emission” goals as well as monitor their progress.
- Free direct mail advice—The Direct Marketing Association (DMA) has an excellent free web-based tool for identifying and generating a green direct marketing program, the Environmental Planning Tool and Policy & Vision Statement Generator. Complete a best-practice, online checklist that includes over one hundred strategies to make direct marketing practices more sustainable and then the system generates an environmental vision statement to use in the future.
- Free online market research—While the days of printed questionnaires and in-store intercepts are not over yet, online questionnaires are proving to be just as effective in the vast majority of situations. In fact, there are many advantages to online surveys. They’re more convenient for respondents (and therefore may yield better response rates) and less expensive to create and manage. Sign up for a no-cost account with a company like SurveyMonkey, Zoomerang, or QuestionPro.
- Free teleconferencing— Schedule and manage telephone conference calls from any web browser at your convenience. With these free services, callers pay for the calls.
- Free expert buying advice—WebBuyersGuide.com provides access to thousands of white papers, case studies, and webcasts and detailed listings for over 40,000 products and 17,000 companies.
- Free automatic rebates—Ebates.com, a free and automated rebate portal, lists thousands of online rebates, coupons, and cash back offers as well as a “Shop Green” portal that takes you directly to the green section of retail web stores.
- Free eWaste Recycling—The Rechargeable Battery Recycling Corporation is a nonprofit organization that collects old cell phones rechargeable batteries. Their Call2Recycle program provides free collection boxes and plastic shipping envelopes.
- Free waste reduction technical assistance, seminars, networking opportunities and and educational materials—The EPA’s WasteWi$e program enlists partner companies to increase the overall recycled content in the products they purchase—by either buying more recycled products (and fewer virgin products) or increasing the level of recycled content in the products they already buy. WasteWi$e also encourages manufacturers to focus on producing greener products by incorporating a higher percentage of PCW.
- Interest-free loans for energy efficiency improvements—Through an On-Bill Financing (OBF) program, a utility company allows qualified commercial customers to pay for energy-efficient business improvements through an interest-free loan on their monthly bill. The energy savings are used to offset the loan, so the monthly expenses are lower than taking a conventional loan and will likley be completely offset by energy savings. When the loan is paid off, the utility bill stays lower permanently. As of now, OBF is only available in parts of California, Connecticut, Rhode Island, and Massachusetts—and programs are under serious consideration in New York, Pennsylvania, Nevada, Wisconsin, and Oregon—small business organizations are lobbying aggressively to make it available throughout the country. The DSIRE database has state-specific information about avialability of various loan and grant programs.
- Free energy audits—Energy Crossroads has a comprehensive state-by-state listing of utility-sponsored energy-efficiency audit programs available for small businesses. Small manufacturers interested in facility audits can check out three sites:
□ DOE Industrial Assessment Centers (IAC) provides eligible small- and medium-sized manufacturers with no-cost energy assessments.
□ DOE’s Save Energy Now initiative conducts free energy assessments to help manufacturing facilities identify immediate opportunities to save energy and money.
□ Department of Commerce’s National Institute of Standards and Technology’s Manufacturing Extension Partnership provide technical assistance to manufacturers.
- Free way to find reused building materials—PlanetReuse.com is a free-to-use website for architects, designers, contractors, and material reclaimers to connect, find, and source reused building materials
- Free financial calculators—Use them to calculate the returns for specific purchases you may be considering, such as for buying high efficiency light bulbs or web-conferencing services. ENERGY STAR makes two powerful, free calculators available online:
- Free stuff—Last but not least, the Freecycle Network is made up of thousands of groups with millions of members who exchange stuff for free.
□ The Financial Value Calculator measures the impact of energy investments on a company’s finances. To use the calculator, you’ll need an estimate of your utility bills and commercial building floor space as well as the initial costs of the investment you’re considering and the projected annual cost savings with respect to energy use.
□ Based on the assumption that the potential annual savings of an investment in energy efficiency equipment equals a defined cash flow opportunity, the Cash Flow Opportunity Calculator provides a simple payback calculator for evaluating energy efficiency investments. In other words, it helps you determine: (1) how much new energy efficiency equipment can be purchased based on the anticipated energy savings generated from the equipment; (2) whether the equipment should be financed now or would it be better to wait and use cash from a future budget; and (3) if money is being lost by waiting for a lower interest rate. If a google search doesn’t yield what you’re looking for, ask potential suppliers if they have ROI calculators. Many vendors make these tools available, because they know helping you make a business case for their products will help them make a sale. In any case, keep in mind that some investments also provide what are called soft returns on investment, such as improving customer satisfaction and brand building.
Photo courtesy of bingrant.org