Starting from Scratch—Five Steps Toward a Greener Business

Perhaps it’s not time to appoint a chief sustainability officer just yet, but you might be closer than you think. More than ever, companies are realizing that “going green” is not only cool and good for the environment; it’s also good for the bottom line.
By appealing to potential environmentally conscious customers, investors and reaping the benefits of lower bills, many companies want to take that first step. If the 6.5 million square foot Pentagon can develop a program, so can you. The New York Times’ columnist Thomas Friedman wrote in his article “The Power of Green”: “Pay attention: When the U.S. Army desegregated, the country really desegregated; when the Army goes green, the country could really go green.”

The first step is research. Understand how your business affects the environment. What is the life cycle of your products and services? What are you buying? Where is it coming from? These are all questions you should ask yourself when first devising a plan. Measure and track your business consumption and waste on a daily and weekly basis. What is coming in the door and where is going? This measurement can be as simple or as complex as you want to make it—from counting the garbage bags going out the door or comparing a year’s worth of energy bills to bringing in a professional environmental audit company for a full corporate work up. The bottom line is to do some basic research and have the facts in front of you in order to move to the next phase successfully.

Step two is all about the planning. Write an environmental vision statement for your company. Make sure to get top management involved at this initial level. Your vision statement could be as simple as affirming your company’s intention to respect the environment with regard to your services and products and commit the business to full compliance with all laws. Or it could be a more aggressive vision that puts you on path to significantly reduce your company’s environmental footprint. 
Set some clear, measurable and reasonably achievable goals that make sense for your business.  For example, you might set a percentage reduction target for your energy use, or seek a specific reduction in the amount of waste your company generates.  A written plan will show your employees, customers and investors that your company has a vested interest in the environment. And, it is much easier to gain buy-in when everyone understands the plan.  Build momentum from small successes and revise the plan periodically to gradually set the bar higher.

The third step is rallying the troops. Bring together a small cross-section of employees—your own personal “green team”—to develop an employee awareness plan.  Consider creating employee incentives —everyone loves to win—for those employees that do the most to help your effort. Post articles in your communal area or name a weekly “Green Star” to single out individual efforts. The key is to get everyone involved from the custodial staff to the CEO.

Step four is where the real works begins—executing your plan. To target energy reduction, for example, think about the broad range of approaches you might use.  Contact your energy company to arrange for an audit—often this is a free service. 
Look for help and ideas from sources such as EPA’s Energy Star program.  Examine your production processes and look for opportunities for significant energy savings.  But don’t forget about small steps that can really add up. Consider a switch to energy efficient compact fluorescent light bulbs. 

Encourage employees to turn off lights when they leave a room or turn their computers off, especially after hours and over weekends. Heating and cooling costs may be included in your rent, but they still affect the bottom line. Turn your thermostat up or down, depending on the season. Promote alternative transportation or car pooling—or even telecommuting. Subsidies like free parking for carpoolers or reduced price passes for public transportation can be a real incentive.

Green your meetings. Consider teleconferencing when you can instead of making that trip across town or across the country.  There are plenty of resources available to help you with ideas that match your business needs.  For example, download a business recycling guide, look to your state for an employee transportation commuter handbook, or visit the Environmental Protection Agency’s Web site for a great green meetings guide. It sounds like a lot of work, but once the system is in place, it can be a lot easier than it might appear. Take small steps that your company is comfortable with, measure and track your progress, and with each success add another step to help your company progress further.

Step five is a phase that too many companies forget—communicating with the public. Don’t forget the communications department—they can be invaluable at every step. From helping your prepare that first vision statement to letting the world know what your company is doing, your communications professionals know how to effectively promote the work you are doing. Tell your investors and potential clients what you are doing to help them and our environment.  Share information on the role that your efforts are playing in improving your environmental performance.

There are sound reasons why so many organizations are focusing more and more attention on “green” programs.  Beyond contributing to a better environment and making us all feel better about the products and services we are creating, at the end of the day a sound environmental program helps the bottom line.  And that’s enough to make even the most tightfisted CEO smile and consider a new office for that chief sustainability officer.
This article was written by Paul Carothers, senior vice president of FD Dittus Communications. It was excerpted from the PR News Going Green: Case Studies in Outstanding Green Business Practices, Volume 1. To order a copy, visit