By Heather Haas, November 4, 2015
A recent Forbes article  discussed the United Nations (UN) Sustainable Development Goals  and laid out an argument that government alone could not reach the goals without the assistance of corporations.
The Forbes article examines how large corporations can use the UN Sustainable Development Goals to “pursue opportunity and innovation.” Small businesses can also do their part (especially since small businesses far outnumber large corporations in the United States).
For many small business owners, the thought of implementing sustainability practices into already tight budgets and schedules seems overwhelming, but it doesn’t have to be that way. By starting small and building momentum over time, small business owners can reap big rewards for little financial investment. Your employees, customers, the planet, and your bottom line can all benefit from good stewardship of resources.
Getting started is easier than you could imagine and begins with simply using less. Two areas that cost companies a bundle of money is paper and energy, and these are great for tackling early on in a sustainability plan.
Let’s talk about paper first. Encourage employees to print less. Providing dual monitors is one way to encourage people to reduce printing. If dual monitors for your staff are outside of your budget, try other tactics, such as allocating a set amount of paper to each employee, or making a competition up to see who can use the least. And there is always the simple ask. Just let your employees know that sustainability is important to you and ask them to use less paper (and encourage recycling of waste paper that is used). Another simple idea to reduce the impact your company’s paper use has on the planet is to buy recycled paper.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) completed a case study  on reducing paper usage within the U.S. Office of Personnel Management’s Chicago office. The case study utilized an awareness campaign to remind employees to “Think Before You Print.” The campaign also encouraged double sided printing. The result was a 28 percent reduction in paper purchased in one year, with an equivalent emissions savings of 22,000 pounds of CO2.
Now let’s move on to an even bigger money hog: energy! The National Small Business Association  completed a survey which found that 87% of small businesses struggled with high energy costs, and as a result many were taking steps to reduce energy use. You could cut down on the use of fossil fuels for energy by either building a brand new LEED certified building, or installing solar panels on your current building, but maybe you are not in a position to do that right now. Focus instead on reducing use in easy, low cost ways. According to the EPA, small businesses can cut energy costs by 10-30% without sacrificing anything! There are several simple things you can do today to reduce energy use, one is to check the settings on computer equipment for maximum efficiency, and a second is to have everyone turn off all computers and equipment at the end of the work day.
The EPA’s Energy Star program  completed a case study  with Yale University that tested turning computers off for energy savings. The test involved 105 desktop computers that were shut down at the end of each day. The savings added up to $4,700 per year, or $44.76 per computer. The case study noted that shutting off the computers prevented the emissions of 61,000 pounds of CO2 and saved enough electricity to power 34 homes. How many computers are left on each night at your business? Other inexpensive changes include installing programmable thermostats, and replacing inefficient lighting. Have employees keep lights turned off in areas that are not being used, or install motion sensors on light switches.
These simple steps don’t seem like much, but they add up to serious savings. And you don’t have to go it alone! Organizations such as the U.S. Green Chamber of Commerce, along with numerous green certification groups, can help by providing sources of information and connecting you with others that have achieved success with green business practices.
Remember, there is a reason that reduce is the first word in the Reduce, Reuse, Recycle mantra, and it is where you can find the biggest impact. Enjoy your savings!