What are the benefits of “going green” for a small business?

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Sustainability graphic on Performance.gov

A Johannesburg home owner has saved electricity through use of LED (light-emitting diode) globes, a variable-speed pump for the pool, a solar geyser and a closed wood stove. The home owner won an award for saving electricity.

The other day I heard an ad on a radio station for a plumbing service that offers water efficiency, solar geysers and help for home owners to harvest rainwater and cut back on wasteful water practices.

As costs of electricity and water rise consumers are increasingly under pressure to use less especially when their salary increases are minimal or non-existent. More home owners and businesses are “going green” not as a fashion statement but for real monetary savings.

What exactly is “going green”? What is “sustainability”? Why do these terms matter?

The term “green” has come to mean anything that has to do with saving the environment as well as reducing impact on the environment. The problem is that the word “green” has got negative attention because it has become almost like a buzzword. But the real issues that people, in their enthusiasm, have made claims of being environmentally-friendly while they have simply been practising green wash. Products claim to be green but there is no universal law or standard that can verify such claims. The problem also is that one aspect of a system such as in a home can be changed without a systemic and holistic consideration of the entire system … yet the home owner can claim that their home is “green”.

The word “sustainability” is meant to refer to something that’s long-lasting and self-sustaining. But this word to has become tarnished and corroded with superficial attempts at trying to achieve the aim of self-sufficiency, renewable and long-lasting long-lasting impact. I’ve even heard a CEO of a large non-governmental agency organisation (NGO) say that he rues the day that he came up with the term “triple-bottom-line” because it has placed emphasis on a monetary status or business efficiency rather than its original intention to reduce impact on the planet, improve conditions for people as well as increase returns for business. Cthers say that sustainability is really “common sense” and should be seen as such.

Sustainability seminars, workshops, presentations and conferences go around in circles trying to decide what the “value” is in sustainability. There are really only four main things that create value in sustainability. These can also help your business:

  • increase revenues
  • build brand and reputation
  • reduce costs
  • reduce risks

I’m sure this isn’t the last word on what constitutes value in sustainability but if you look at those four main aspects, you will see that unless everything you do in your small business provides one of those benefits, don’t waste your money.

The ultimate benefit of sustainability is when you are able to create “shared value” a term that has been popularised by the imminent Harvard professor Michael Porter. All shared value really means is creating benefits for your customer, your business and your community. One example that stands out is that of the Prius. This car creates shared value in that it is a product born out of the environmental movement that reduces impact on the environment, is therefore better for the health of community and planet and is providing returns for the company. There are many other such examples from Nestlé, Philips, Marks & Spencer that small business owners can look at for ideas.

Those who practice green initiatives may be frustrated by the economy not being on track and because of this not making much progress. But as more work is done to create an enabling environment and as resources become more expensive and scarce there are bound to be more opportunities for environmentally friendly and sustainable business strategies.

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