Article by Rick Leblanc | October 15, 2019
Cost reduction has always been a priority for business operators, but in recent times, sustainability has also become an urgent concern. There's a common misconception that these two goals are opposed, though. The truth is, many moves to green your business can also save money. Whether you operate a small business or work for a large corporation, finding measures that reduce costs and increase sustainability should be a big part of your business plan. Here are 29 ways to go green while also saving money.
Energy Cost-Saving Sustainability Ideas
1. Know the biggest energy costs: The U.S. Department of Energy has identified lighting, space heating, and cooling as the three most energy-consuming operations in an office. Whatever type of facility you operate, identify which equipment and operations are using the most energy. Then determine the most effective ways to cut that energy use without a negative impact on your business.
2. Understand energy bills: Don’t just blindly pay the energy bill that comes your way at the start of every month. Try to understand the invoice completely and consult your energy supplier for ways to reduce costs.
3. Implement a switch-off campaign: If you have a significant energy bill, implement a switch-off campaign. These campaigns raise awareness among employees and workers about the role they can play in reducing energy consumption. Start by designating a specific period—probably a week or month—for the campaign to run. Provide instructions to employees about switching off lights and energy-consuming appliances before leaving the workplace or when rooms are otherwise not in use. Use the intensive campaign to jump-start a new energy-saving culture.
4. Label switches: Labeling switches is a good way to ensure the employees don’t switch on unnecessary lights and appliances or turn off ones that should be left on.
5. Charge appliances overnight: If your utility provider offers a time-of-use plan, the costs of energy at night are cheaper than during the day. With this in mind, if your office or factory uses heating units and other appliances that need to be charged, charge those overnight. Consider other options to lessen energy use during peak hours and move that usage to off-peak hours, where possible.
6. Install only energy-efficient light bulbs: Instead of installing low-cost, energy-devouring bulbs, consider investing in CFL, LED light bulbs, and halogens for significant long-term energy savings. CFL and other energy-efficient bulbs use up to 75% less energy.
7. Run an energy audit: Many energy suppliers offer free energy audit programs for their customers. Consider making a call to your provider to request one. You can hire a separate energy audit company as well. Take the time to carefully analyze the results. Look for quick wins that won't require significant investment, and make plans to budget for more expensive solutions.
8. Be aware of over-lighting: Make sure your employees know the perfect level of lighting in a room. Just as insufficient light in a room can hamper the productivity of your employees, over-lighting can cause the employees headaches, eye strain, and glare. Eliminate unnecessary lights throughout the workplace.
9. Make use of natural light: If your office has an adequate supply of natural light, make use of it where possible by keeping blinds and curtains open. Installing light dimmers is a good way to compensate for varying levels of natural light in a room.
10. Consider installing solar panels: Solar energy is a renewable, clean, and free source of energy that you can use in your office. It requires a substantial amount of initial investment but cuts energy costs in the long run. While low-maintenance solar panels won't be the best fit for every business, they are well worth investigating.
11. Install occupancy-sensor lighting: Consider installing motion- or occupancy-sensor lighting in conference rooms, bathrooms, storage cupboards, the warehouse, the plant or other areas that are not used continually.
12. Keep windows and doors closed when running any HVAC: This is common sense. But sometimes people can get careless and keep doors or windows open, causing the heating or cooling equipment to consume more energy than necessary. Also, check doors and windows for leaks.
13. Avoid cooling or heating unused areas: Sometimes heating or cooling appliances are installed in a way that they heat or cool unused areas such as corridors and storerooms. Shut vents to unused areas, and condition only the areas that need it.
14. Use hibernation mode: When you are away from your desk, make use of the hibernation feature to ensure your computer consumes less energy. Printers, air conditioners, microwaves, and other appliances also have energy-saving features. Educate your employees about those features and encourage them to use them.
15. Unplug appliances after turning them off: Many appliances continue to consume energy even after they are switched off. So, consider unplugging the appliances before leaving the office. Similarly, unplug battery chargers when batteries are fully charged.
16. Replace desktops with laptops: Laptops consume considerably less energy than desktops. If a lot of desktop computers are used in your office, consider replacing them with laptops in your next computer upgrade.
Green Waste Management Ideas
17. Use both sides of paper: Use both sides of papers when printing, photocopying and faxing. You can cut your paper usage, costs, and waste nearly in half this way.
18. Make use of reusable packaging: Packaging materials account for a significant portion of the waste we generate. Avoid using single-use paper or plastic cups bu substituting your office glasses or mugs. For office moves, take advantage of reusable moving crates. And in production and distribution, reusable transport packaging systems can offer whopping cost savings and sustainability benefits to supply chain stakeholders.
19. Use email or other communication software: When sharing information among employees, consider using emails or other digital communication instead of printed documents. Another simple change that can reduce waste is to proofread documents on the computer screen instead of printing them out.
20. Print only what is necessary: Many documents have little or no future purpose and should not be printed. As such, print only what is absolutely necessary. Decrease printing by making use of different online document sharing applications such as Dropbox or Google Docs. While a completely paperless office might not be practical for many businesses, you can probably digitize a lot of your document sharing.
21. Remove personal bins: Invest in quality bins and waste containers that last a long time. Reduce the number of bins in the office by placing a few centrally located bins and removing personal bins under each employee’s desk.
Water Consumption Minimization Ideas
22. Purchase water-efficient equipment: Some types of equipment consume a considerable amount of water. Often, more water-efficient models are available. The next time you upgrade any water-consuming equipment, consider water-efficient models that have a smaller water footprint.
23. Go low-flow: Make sure the showers, taps, and faucets are outfitted with low-flow technology wherever possible.
24. Install motion-sensor taps: Employees and workers can unintentionally leave taps running. Installing motion-sensor taps can solve this problem and reduce overall water consumption.
25. Put water hippos in the toilet cisterns: using water hippos in the toilet cisterns is a good idea to reduce flush volume and reduce water consumption.
26. Allow employees to work remotely: Allowing employees to work from home and away from the office can save costs in many ways. All you need to ensure is that they get the job done on time. You can also experiment with allowing staff to work longer hours in fewer days at the office.
27. Choose videoconferencing: Arranging meetings in your office incurs costs. Similarly, if you and your team travel to another place, it takes time and money. So, whenever possible, consider arranging videoconferences instead of having in-person meetings.
28. Buy used furniture: When decorating your office, consider buying quality used furniture. It enables you to save big without impeding the overall operations of your business. Commercial auctions can provide near-new office furniture at a substantial discount. Look for other recycled or used items as well.
29. Recycle and reuse: Identify recycling and reusing options in your company. Commit to a recycling program, develop a plan, assemble a team, and launch the program. Many items such as paper, file folders, cardboard, ink and toner cartridges, computers, and computer accessories can effectively be recycled.
Nothing can be achieved overnight. Commitment is the first step in converting your business into a green and sustainable one. Some cost-saving sustainability ideas mentioned above may require an initial investment but will yield a positive result in the long term. Try implementing the ideas one by one, not all at once. Who knows? One day you may be able to achieve zero waste in your business. Make your commitment today to reducing energy, water, and waste management costs. Cutting costs can deliver sustainability wins for your company while also helping create a competitive advantage in the marketplace.
The world is having to confront the toxic results of our love affair with plastic. Could nature offer some alternatives?
Article by: Adrienne Bernhard January 28th 2019
Drinking straws and polythene bags may be bearing the brunt of the backlash, but the true scourge of single-use plastics is our sheer overreliance on them. From transport to manufacturing to food services, plastic is everywhere, and combatting this “white pollution” will require a sea change in the material itself.
Fortunately, scientists, engineers and designers are shifting their focus to ecologically friendly alternatives that create circular, low-waste ecosystems – liquid wood, algae insulation, and polymer substitutes made from fermented plant starch such as corn or potatoes, for example.
These alternatives do more than stem the growing tide of plastics: they also address issues such as safely housing a growing population, offsetting carbon emissions, and returning nutrients to the earth.
To transform one of the world’s most abundant resources into something with utility and sustainability takes a special kind of alchemy. Stone wool comes from natural igneous rock—the kind that forms after lava cools – and a steelmaking byproduct called slag; these substances are melted together and spun into fibres, a little like candyfloss.
Unlike fibreglass insulation (made with recycled glass), or foamed plastic (the conductive materials often used to block heat transfer in attics, roofs and crawlspaces), stone wool can be engineered to boast unique properties, including fire resilience, acoustic and thermal capabilities, water repellancy and durability in extreme weather conditions.
Over the past few years, stone wool has gained traction with eco-conscious architects and designers as they search for more sustainable building materials that are still cost-effective and aesthetic. The Rockwool Group is a leading manufacturer of stone wool insulation, running production facilities in Europe, North America and Asia. The company has installed stone wool in commercial and industrial buildings across the globe, including London’s O2 Arena and the Hong Kong Airport.
As wildfires and floods increase in frequency and severity, Stone Wool may also give homeowners an extra measure of safety in natural disasters.
Mushrooms aren’t just a flavour-packed addition to ravioli or ragu (or a sparkplug to the occasional psychedelic adventure); soon, tree-hugging fungi and forest-floor toadstools may replace materials like polystyrene, protective packaging, insulation, acoustic insulation, furniture, aquatic materials and even leather goods.
MycoWorks, a team of creative engineers, designers and scientists, is working to extract the vegetative tissues of mushrooms and solidify them into new structures, curating fungi as one might other organic materials like rubber or cork. Another company, New York-based Evocative Design, uses mycelium as a bonding agent to hold together wood paneling, as well as for flame-retardant packaging.
Mushrooms consist of a network of filaments called hyphae. When growth conditions are suitable, fruiting bodies – the structures specialised for the production of spores – make an often sudden appearance; so-called mycelial products are thus easy to culture and germinate.
Mycelium can be grown in almost any kind of agricultural waste (think sawdust or pistachio shells); mushrooms grow together within the material, which can be configured into any shape, forming natural polymers that adhere like the strongest glue. By baking the fungi at precise temperatures, they are rendered inert, thereby ensuring that the mushroom doesn’t suddenly sprout again in a rainstorm. While chanterelles, shiitaki and portobello may go better with pizza than mushroomy plaster, one thing is clear: the future is fungi.
Cement, concrete’s primary ingredient, accounts for about 5% of the world’s carbon dioxide emissions. Researchers and engineers are working to develop less energy-intensive alternatives, including bricks made with leftover brewery grains, concrete modelled after ancient Roman breakwaters (Romans made concrete by mixing lime and volcanic rock to form mortar, a highly stable material), and bricks made of, well, urine.
As part of his thesis project, Edinburgh College of Art student Peter Trimble was working on an exhibit that was supposed to feature a module on sustainability. Almost by accident, he created “Biostone”: a mixture of sand (incidentally, one of Earth’s most abundant resources), nutrients, and urea – a chemical found in human urine.
Pumping bacterial solution into a sand-filled mould, Trimble devised hundreds of experiments over the course of a year until he tweaked the recipe. The microbes eventually metabolised the mixture of sand, urea, and calcium chloride, creating a glue that strongly bound the sand molecules together.
Trimble’s design offers an alternative to the energy-intensive methods with a low energy biological process of microbial manufacturing. Biostone produces no greenhouse gases and uses a widely available raw material. While Trimble's material would require reinforcement to be as strong as concrete, it could become a low-cost way of building temporary structures or street furniture.
At the very least, Biostone has spawned a discussion on ways in which industrial manufacturing can be made more sustainable, particularly in Sub-Saharan Africa and other developing countries where sand is readily available.
These bio-bricks do have an environmental downside, however: the same bacterial metabolism that solidifies them work also turns the urea into ammonia, which can pollute groundwater if it escapes into the environment.
A greener particleboard
Despite what it sounds like, particleboard – those rigid panels made of compressed and veneered wood chips and resin used in furniture and kitchen cabinetry throughout the world – hasn’t actually a place in the green-building pantheon. That’s because the glue that binds particleboard’s wood fibres traditionally contain formaldehyde, a colourless, flammable, strong-smelling chemical and known respiratory irritant and carcinogen. That means your faux-wood Ikea shelf is quietly “off-gassing” toxins into the air.
One company, NU Green, created a material made from 100% pre-consumer recycled or recovered wood fibre called “Uniboard”. Uniboard saves trees and avoids landfill, while also generating far fewer greenhouse gases than traditional particleboard, and contains no toxins. That’s because Uniboard has pioneered the use of renewable fibers like corn stalks and hops, as well as no added formaldehyde (NAF) resin instead of glue.
It’s no secret that petroleum extraction, which is required to produce plastic, has devastating environmental consequences. Worse still is disposing of the plastic itself: the toxic chemicals contained in plastic often leach into foods, beverages and groundwater.
Shockingly, recycling merely slows down the journey of plastics to landfills or oceans, where the material simply fragments into smaller and smaller bits that never completely biodegrade. Some reports predict that, by 2030, 111 million metric tons of plastic will wind up in landfills and oceans . Recycling is a step in the right direction, but to truly reverse course, we need to look toward plastic alternatives and renewable resources for a sustainable future.