GREEN: Just Get Started

Column by K.J. McCorry

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By K.J. McCorry
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Sustainability is complicated. It has lots of big words, big concepts and big goals that might seem lofty and time consuming to get started. Many companies are hesitant to start sustainability initiatives because of time and cost issues. Although, ideally it is best to have a comprehensive sustainability plan, there are definitely things companies can do to get started that don't take a lot of time or money but starts the momentum forward.

The following are a few steps that are economical, easy to implement that every company can do just to get started.

Form a green team

Green Teams are usually selected staff within an organization who have been appointed or have an interest in the environment and social programs. Establishing a ‘green team' can start the process of generating ideas and gaining input from staff. Employees understand the company and its operations well and embedding ‘green teams' can be one of the best sources of innovation and starting to develop a plan, when a company is ready. Further, these ‘green teams' can be a catalyst within the organization to educate, build momentum and entice employee engagement within the organization.

Improve Recycling Efforts

Each of us generates on average 4.4 pounds of waste per day per person. In this decade, it is projected that Americans will throw away over 1 million tons of aluminum cans and foil, more than 11 million tons of glass bottles and jars, over 4 and a half million tons of office paper and nearly 10 million tons of newspaper. All of this material in Colorado can be recycled. Most companies could improve dramatically in their offices on waste reduction. Recycling containers are there just employees aren't doing it. Increase signage and engage in department-wide contests to improve the waste management area. The systems is already set up, it just takes reminders and incentives to make it happen.

Begin Tracking Consumption

Tracking information is a simple step but crucial information to measure and justify sustainability efforts in the future. Begin to track monthly use and consumption of energy, water, paper, waste, recycling, etc. If possible track per facility and department in order to start seeing trends. Start tracking type and quantity of disposable products. Never underestimate the power of knowledge to start to change behavior without even starting an initiative. Trimet, a transportation company based out of Portland posted their electricity bill in the elevator and the bill decreased by $17,000 over six months. 

Provide Education and Information

Begin to educate staff about sustainability. There are some fabulous free online newsletters such as Greenbiz.com (www.greenbiz.com) , Sustainable Business (www.sustainablebusiness.com) and Environmental Leader (www.environmentalleader.com) all which offer free information on business sustainability. More importantly they report on companies doing different initiatives that can start generating ideas and possibilities even before a plan has been established. Purchase a few books on business sustainability and pass them around the office. A recently published book entitled, A Simple Path to Sustainability: Green Business Strategies for Small and Medium Sized Businesses, was built around case histories showcasing 12 Colorado small to medium sized organizations that have outstanding records of sustainability. The book was designed specifically to help smaller enterprises gain knowledge on best practices as well as inspire owners and management to undertake sustainable strategies. 

Creating a sustainability plan does take time and money. It also is a journey and one that can begin right now. Small steps lead to larger steps. Instead of ‘waiting' for more time and money to get started, begin with a small step and start the momentum of going green in your business.