Reduce. Reuse. Recycle. This mantra of the environmental consciousness movement can be traced back to the 1970’s. Today, the concept of waste reduction is more than a social cause; it has become an important factor in the bottom lines of businesses large and small.

You don’t have to be a multi-million-dollar company to afford to implement a waste reduction plan. No matter what the type or volume of waste your company generates, there are steps you can take to prevent or reduce it. From streamlining your operations to raising employee awareness, waste reduction can improve efficiency, increase productivity, and enhance your image in the community as well as save you money.

Here are a few cost-effective ways your small business can “go green”:

Perform a Waste Audit

In order to create effective waste policies, you’ll need to identify exactly where your small business is wasting energy and resources. In fact, waste reduction has become its own business. You can hire an outside firm to perform a waste audit. By studying the amount and type of waste that your company generates, a professional waste audit service can help pinpoint problem areas. This can be expensive, so if you are looking to cut waste to save money, consider conducting your own review. Focus on areas including supplies, production, unused materials, shipping processes, and what you spend on waste removal services.

Reduce Paper and Printing Waste

By some estimates, the average office worker prints out 10,000 sheets of paper a year, which is about two-thirds of a tree. Because paper and printing supplies are often among the biggest waste offenders, you can make an immediate dent in your company’s waste volume by implementing a few simple processes without spending a penny:

  • Distribute internal information via email instead of on paper
  • Print on both sides of the paper
  • Put paper recycling receptacles next to every printer and copier
  • Reuse incoming shipping boxes for future outgoing shipments
  • Avoid color printing whenever possible
  • Buy recycled toner and ink cartridges
  • Replace paper towel dispensers with air dryers

Streamline Your Supplies

From pens to paper cups, the supplies you use on a daily basis represent a serious financial investment. Make it a priority to evaluate where you are wasting money and come up with more economical and eco-friendly solutions. Something as simple as storing your supplies in one central location instead of various areas of the workplace will help you keep better track of inventory. This will allow you to avoid over-ordering or the need to make emergency purchases at retail prices.

Conserve Electricity

Small changes in the use of heating, air conditioning, and lighting can make a huge difference in your energy consumption. For example, set your thermostat a few degrees lower in the winter and a few degrees higher in the summer, and encourage employees to bring personal fans and sweaters to stay comfortable. Consider switching to compact fluorescent bulbs, which are more efficient and last much longer than traditional bulbs. Turn off lights when not in use, and ask employees to do the same. In places like the bathroom and supply areas, consider installing automatic switches that turn on and off when someone enters or leaves the room.

Improve Computer Efficiency

Like many appliances, computers can be major energy hogs. Improve your company’s computer efficiency by adjusting screen savers and encouraging employees to shut down when they leave the office for the day. Be sure to unplug computers when not in use for a period of time, and consider swapping desktops for laptops when making future purchases. Laptops are generally designed for greater efficiency and use less energy.

Focus on Being Eco-Friendly

There are countless ways your small business can show respect for the environment and conserve its natural resources. Challenge your employees to come up with ways to make your company more eco-friendly. Ask your maintenance crew to switch to “simple” cleaners like baking soda or vinegar instead of commercial products. Stock break rooms with reusable dishes, silverware and glasses instead of paper products. Reuse packing materials like Styrofoam peanuts and plastic air cushioned packaging, which can take decades to decompose in landfills. Install low-flow faucets and toilets to help conserve water as well as electricity by reducing your water heater’s output. Check out websites such as EPA Recycling and Conservation and Recycling for more ideas.

Remember that waste prevention is a business strategy from which any company, regardless of size, can benefit. Review your usage and strategies regularly to keep your business running as efficiently as possible. Over time, “going green” will come naturally to you and your employees, saving you money and helping save the planet in the bargain.

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