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News and Resources

Benefits of Sustainable Business Practices - November 8, 2015

A sustainable business is broadly defined as a business that incorporates principles of sustainability into its business plan and supplies environmentally friendly products and services that replace demand for non-green equivalents, while making a commitment to environmental principles in its business practices. The concept of sustainability is based on the premise that communities consist of social, economic, and environmental systems that are in constant interaction and must be kept in harmony if the community is to continue functioning for the benefit of its inhabitants. Unfortunately, in many businesses the myth that “going green” requires additional expenses endures despite abundant evidence to the contrary. Sustainable businesses do take work and creativity to ensure that the changes made are both business savvy and smart financial decisions. If sustainable business practices are put in place with long term goals in mind, they actually cut spending by reducing the environmental footprint through minimizing waste, increasing energy efficiency, conserving resources, cleaner production processes, and improving environmental stewardship.


Industrial companies and their 20th century pollution-producing processes caused significant harm to the natural environment. As these effects started to be seen in the late 1960s and early 1970s, the government began to push businesses to reduce their environmental impact, particularly in regard to air quality and human health implications. The current trend, especially for small businesses, is to go beyond these minimal environmental requirements and be sustainable. Changes often start small with low cost alternatives, such as going paperless and using energy efficient and natural lighting. Transitioning to larger-scale changes, while possibly more costly initially, produce a high return over time by reducing production waste and switching to renewable energy sources. Some companies are reviewing every aspect of their products’ lifecycles and applying green supply chain management practices on all levels of production. Green supply chain management reduces waste and increases efficiency by examining a product from raw material purchasing, design, planning, management and use of materials, through to shipping and distribution.


These practices are not only beneficial for the environment but also save your business money! Having an energy efficient business, whether that means driving a fuel-efficient vehicle or lowering the heat on your thermostat, reduces energy use and saves money. Renewable energy such as wind, solar, geothermal, hydro, and biomass are great alternatives to energy produced from the burning of fossil fuels. Incorporating renewable energy into a business is an easy way to reduce your carbon footprint. This may not be realistic for small businesses but positive change can occur if green power is requested for a slightly higher cost than regular electricity.


Another way to make your business more sustainable is to reduce paper use. This sounds easy, and it is! Paper manufacturers consume a significant amount of energy in production each year. Consider the energy costs it takes to cut the trees, ship the wood, process it, and then distribute it to individual companies. Easy paper reduction tips include printing and copying double-sided, distributing documents electronically, selecting paper products with a high-recycled content, or going completely paperless. Another alternative is to reduce waste through elimination, reuse, and recycling. Water conservation leads to financial benefit - by fixing leaky pipes and installing water-efficient appliances, water-efficient landscaping, and energy-efficient water heaters, energy used to heat water and the cost of water itself are reduced.


Many customers now demand green products and services, and often these individuals are willing to pay higher prices rather than spend money on the unsustainable equivalent. By going through the green certification process to become a sustainable business, loyalty and trust of the products are increased for customers and stakeholders. A 2014 Nielsen survey on corporate social responsibility taken by 30,000 internet users found that 55% said they would put their money toward their principles by supporting sustainable businesses. In some socioeconomic areas it is not advantageous for a business to sell a pricier environmentally-friendly alternative, but even in these businesses, energy consumption and waste production could be reduced to become more sustainable. Another affordable way to incorporate sustainable practices into a business is to hold educational workshops. Staff and community members can come to the business and learn about small changes they can make in their everyday lives to reduce their carbon footprint and save money, all while helping the environment! To truly be a sustainable business one must consider planet, people, and profit, and how to make a positive impact on all three.


Sustainable businesses are typically socially responsible in addition to being environmentally conscious. These businesses value the wellbeing of employees, society, culture, and future generations. The current focus on environmental empowerment, ethics, and education is not a passing fad but an understanding of the need to alter our practices. Research reveals that companies and businesses with accountability systems such as board oversight, human rights policies, environmental management, active stakeholder engagement, and overall transparency have positive results on reduced greenhouse emissions, use of renewable energy, and sustainability into products and services.


The Maryland Coastal Bays Program is creating a sustainable business guide for the holiday season to aid customers in making environmentally friendly purchases while supporting local businesses in the Coastal Bays’ watershed. If you are a part of or would like to nominate a local business you believe has minimal negative impact on our environment, please go to www.mdcoastalbays.org and click the sustainable business guide button on the homepage.

 

Emma Rice is the Chesapeake Conservation Corps Volunteer for the Maryland Coastal Bays Program.

 

 



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