Responsible Growth and Your Small Business

Responsible Growth and Your Small Business

Every small business struggles with the best ways to grow, and many of us are mindful of the carbon footprint we’re leaving as we use up energy and resources. But fortunately, it’s easier than ever to stay environmentally sustainable.

Every small business struggles with the best ways to grow, and many of us are mindful of the carbon footprint we’re leaving as we use up energy and resources. But fortunately, it’s easier than ever to stay environmentally sustainable.

The Retail Industry Leaders Association’s Retail Sustainability Report for 2013 identified five key elements that help sustainability programs in the workplace become successful.

  • Executive engagement. Leaders are in charge of the budget and can clearly understand cost-savings, but also that sustainability measures lead to innovation and strategic growth.
  • Investment in people and systems. The “train the trainer” approach is successful when applied across an organization. There’s also value in reporting platforms, decision tools, calculators and IT solutions to help further sustainability measures.
  • Measurement and tracking. Not only do these help your company understand where it’s being effective and how much it’s saving, but it also helps to set goals and tell stories about their efforts.
  • Goal setting. When you set a concrete goal, it’s something everyone can get behind and it helps to get efforts back on track if they veer off course.
  • Storytelling. Whether it’s in a casual break room conversation or a formal case study on your website, stories of successful sustainability help to galvanize commitment, generate new ideas, and spread best practices.

“The good news is that businesses can be responsible corporate citizens and also environmental leaders,” said Clark Reed, ENERGY STAR national program manager at the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).


The first thing to look at is energy use when analyzing your sustainability—especially if you’re looking to move, expand, add equipment or retrofit what you have. “When you save energy, you not only reduce greenhouse gas emissions, but you also save significant amounts of money,” Reed said. It always helps to check with your utility first, because sometimes they offer are free and low-cost ways to upgrade your energy profile, plus expertise and consulting services.

Reed laid out the EPA’s “Five Stage” approach, which saves up to 30 percent in energy costs. It includes:

1. Lighting: Good design can cut lighting costs by up to 6 percent in most buildings without compromising light quality. These designs typically pay for themselves in energy savings alone within two to three years. Also, when you improve the efficiency of your lamps, you’re spending less on cooling because newer LED and CFL lights create little or no heat.

2. Fixing equipment: Using what you already have is considered the “low-hanging fruit.” When you retro-condition, say, an HVAC system by fixing leaky ducts and making repairs, you’re maximizing the machine’s efficiency and saving on your energy bill, and keeping parts out of a landfill. There are relatively quick paybacks—about 8 to 9 months with an average 15 percent reduction in operating costs—for fixing existing problems, Reed said.

3. Reducing your load: Look for ENERGY STAR labels on every part of your operation possible: Computers, printers, TVs, cooking, refrigeration, and more. These items cost less to operate and deliver the same or better performance than non-ENERGY STAR-labeled equipment.

4. Fan system upgrades: Make sure your fan systems are sized right, have variable speed drives and other efficiencies.

5. Heating and cooling system upgrades: There are smaller, cheaper alternatives to the older systems that cost less to run and work more effectively.

Reed also encouraged owners of small businesses to consider the reputational gains of being green by joining the ENERGY STAR program — which is free. “They can send a public symbol that they are committed to reducing greenhouse gas emissions by managing the energy use in their buildings,” he said.

If your expansion plans include moving to a new building, look for one certified by the ENERGY STAR program. “The most energy efficient buildings in America have earned EPA’s Energy Star, and they use 35 percent less energy than typical buildings without any sort of trade-offs in performance or comfort,” Reed said. “We know that tenants across the board want lower utility bills, and more and more organizations are implementing all kinds of leasing policies mandating environmentally friendly spaces. Consumers and employees report a desire to affiliate with organizations that they perceive to be environmentally responsible, and earning the Energy Star is a really great way to demonstrate that.”


Reducing waste is an all-hands-on-deck situation. The EPA’s small business guide for waste prevention says that to get started, determine what waste you generate. What are you throwing away, recycling, and pouring down the drain? What can you re-use, eliminate, sell, or recycle? One newspaper found a new revenue stream when it stopped throwing out the ends of big rolls of newsprint and started selling them to a ceramics company for packing material.

The EPA also advises to evaluate all wastes and purchases for possible reduction, and look for opportunities to divert items from the landfill. Sometimes trade associations and local waste agencies have programs that can help.


Chemicals are not only toxic for the people close to them, but also costly and dangerous to dispose. No matter what your industry, there’s always, likely, a less-toxic option—even for something as chemically dependent as dry cleaning.

Check with your city or county to find out the safest ways to dispose of chemicals.


There are plenty of resources available online for your specific industry and situation. See:

Vanessa McGrady

About the Author


Vanessa McGrady is an award-winning communications expert skilled in creating content for national publications, Fortune 200 corporations and small businesses.

Sign up for new articles and updates on events

Follow us on