Running a ‘greener’ business these days is no longer just trendy – it’s very likely to also cut your costs and maybe even boost revenue. As a small business owner, an interest in the green economy can pay off in two ways: you can create a healthier workplace for yourself and your employees whilst playing your part in leading social change. Secondly, by exploring greener alternatives, you may well discover a new business opportunity.
Why should my business go green?
- Greener means leaner: Often when companies implement a programme to reduce waste, they end up improving their overall efficiency. Whether you invest in solar energy or embark on a mission to eliminate energy-zapping equipment, you will reap the rewards in the long run.
- Customers love responsible companies: See going green as a marketing opportunity. If you commit to certain green practices, you can talk about it on your website or mention it in an advertising campaign. Customers respect businesses that pro-actively try to make a difference.
- A happier workplace: Choosing healthier products and practices can improve working conditions for your employees. That could, in turn, improve morale and increase productivity. You are demonstrating to them that you value their health by making smarter choices and you will attract like-minded employees.
- Tax advantages: Speak to your accountant about the tax credits you can get for energy efficiency and be aware of tax penalties, for example for carbon emissions.
How to get started
- Take a close look at your operations: Every business is different – one might generate a lot of waste, another uses a lot of electricity. Look at the complete life cycle of your products or services. There are opportunities to make environmentally responsible choices at every stage.
- Educate yourself: Sustainable practices change all the time. What you may have thought was too expensive for your business might now be within your reach. Also take notes from larger companies and the practices they choose to implement.
- Start small: You can’t do everything right overnight but choose ways to cut your energy use that are achievable and build on that.
- Create a ‘green team’: Involve your employees in your green efforts. Often your workers know best which processes are using the most energy or creating the most waste so use their experience and ideas.
Green changes you can make
- Reuse water: Considercollecting rain water and using it for irrigation or manufacturing processes.
- Energy-efficient lighting: There are many smart changes you can make it terms of lighting, e.g. timers, energy-efficient exit signs, occupancy sensors for vacant rooms etc.
- Smart heating and cooling: It pays to have your air conditioning systems checked regularly to save on heating and cooling bills. Also make sure your buildings are properly insulated.
- Buy energy-efficient equipment: You can make substantial savings if you replace outdated electrical equipment with new electro-technology.
- Cut down on office waste: Paper is of course an easy place to start. Encourage employees to reuse paper, print on both sides etc.
- Green your purchasing: Use online directories such as the Green Business Guide to look for environmentally-friendly products and services. Where possible, try to buy products that have been recycled, refurbished, or reconditioned. Let employees and suppliers know you favour materials and products that meet environmental standards.
Assistance for small businesses
There are a number of government schemes that will assist businesses that are keen to make the most of green opportunities in sectors like manufacturing, construction, tourism and public transport.
You can get support through grants, concessional loans, tax incentives or technical assistance from various government entities, such as the Department of Trade and Industry, the National Cleaner Production Centre of South Africa, Eskom and the Industrial Development Corporation , or from privately-run schemes like the National Business Initiative.