Five Lessons Business Can Teach You to Be Greener

Tuesday, November 9th, 2010

I spend a lot of time thinking about how we can run a business that has as little impact on the natural environment as possible. And there’s much more to sustainability than just recycling. In fact, efficiencies (reducing waste), long range planning (avoiding the “disposable” mentality), and better use of technology have done more to make our business sustainable than our comprehensive recycling program.

But these lessons don’t just apply to business. They’re also applicable in our homes. Here are five lessons business can teach you to lessen your impact on the environment:

Veto Unnecessary Purchases

Successful businesses buy only what’s necessary, whether it’s office supplies or product inventory or capital assets. Businesses take these decisions very seriously, and in many cases establish a purchasing committee to review all potential new items. Now, I’m not saying that every home should establish a purchasing committee (I can already tell you, that would not go over well with my wife). But the lesson still applies: is this purchase a smart allocation of resources to meet our families needs? Smart buying makes your household more sustainable by cutting back on stuff. You know what I’m talking about — that stuff that gets used once, then is set aside in your basement and eventually gets thrown out.

Sustainability lesson: Reduce demand on natural resources and lessen the burden on landfills by not making unnecessary purchases.

Avoid Carrying Costs

Even if you buy only what’s necessary, you’re still bound to accumulate stuff. Stuff that was once useful may have lost its utility for your household. If something has been sitting around long enough to gather dust, it’s probably time to get rid of it. Smart businesses evaluate their stuff all the time, since inventory that sits in the warehouse for too long incurs high carrying costs (costs associated with storing and handling goods such as rent, insurance, labor, spoilage, etc.). The same is true for your home.You are paying rent and heat on that extra square footage in your basement that is filled with dusty old relics. You’re probably insuring it too (just think about that for a minute, paying insurance on something you wouldn’t replace if it were destroyed).

So what do you do with stuff once it’s no longer a useful asset in your household? Donate it, sell it, or give it away. Three great ways:  Goodwill, Craigslist, and Freecycle, respectively.

Sustainability lesson: turn idle goods into productive ones by transferring them to those who need them.

Get Rid of Unused Space

Now that you’ve gone through your closets, emptied out the guest bedroom, and sorted through all the junk in your garage, what should you do with all that unused space? Do what businesses do: take it off your balance sheet! When businesses have a surplus of space, they have two options: they can sublease it or they can vacate it. Subleasing makes sense for business when the space may be needed again in the future or in the case of a long term lease contract. Vacating is the better option when long term plans or the location no longer make sense. In the case of your home, the same rules apply. And subleasing could take on many forms–maybe you put up a foreign exchange student or host visiting relatives (instead of putting them in a hotel) or list your extra bedroom on Maybe you’re kids have flown the coop and you’ll never need the two or three extra bedrooms again. It’s time to downsize. Move into a condo downtown and make room for that burgeoning young family looking for a home just like yours.

Sustainability lesson: recycling unused space back into the marketplace prevents unnecessary new construction and reduces ongoing costs.

Don’t Make Unnecessary Trips

Businesses spend a great deal of money each year finding the most efficient routes and schedules for their vehicle fleets. (One of the more interesting examples is UPS eliminating left turns from its routes. Full story here.) The lesson is simple: don’t make unnecessary trips. How many trips to the grocery store do you make each week? Could you cut that number in half? Are there goods or services you could order online rather than drive to the store to purchase?

Sustainability lesson: reducing trips cuts down on energy consumption and pollution.

Go Paperless

One of the most significant changes in the office environment over the last two decades is the reduction of paper. Email has replaced faxes and letters, handhelds have replaced pickslips, and websites have eliminated catalogs. What paper can you eliminate in your home? Here’s an easy one: sign up for the Do Not Mail registry for junk mail ( Or how about the phone book or your morning newspaper? Both are available in full online.

Sustainability lesson: reducing the use of paper in your home reduces energy, transportation and raw material consumption.

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