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Sustainability Advice for Small Businesses

By: Guest Contributor, Hannah Corbett

shutterstock_120701584Generally speaking, people are getting better and better all the time at managing their own environmental footprints, and the effect that they have on the planet. But, as the world grows ever more environmentally conscious, and as sustainability becomes more a habit of everyday existence, it’s time for businesses – as well as individual consumers – to step up to the plate, too.

The larger corporations of the world may have more money and resources to invest in sustainability, and minimise the impact of their companies – but smaller business owners shouldn’t be disheartened. There are still a number of changes that even the smallest of businesses can implement in an effort to support sustainability – even if your business isn’t ‘green’ by nature.

 

Assess your Energy

Is there any way that you can reduce the amount of gas and electricity that your business consumes? There’s plenty of advice available out there on this topic, but some simple changes include turning off unused lights, reducing standby power loss, and investing in better temperature controls and meters.

Go Digital

You can seriously slash the amount of physical resources, such as paper, that your business uses by fully immersing in the latest digital technology. Use cloud computing and storage where possible, and reduce the need to print.

Consider your Supply Chain

Review your suppliers or other businesses that yours is associated, and how sustainable they are as a company. Don’t forget to do the same with your customers, and encourage them to go green, too. As an example, you could offer discounts to customers who reuse or recycle packaging from your products.

Get your Staff on Board

Make sure that your staff understand and abide by any sustainability changes you make in your business. You can even offer incentives to those who take steps to minimise their own impact, or even set up carpooling and cycle-to-work schemes for them to take advantage of.

 

Even for smaller business, there are a number of easily-implementable sustainability improvements to make, that don’t have to cost the Earth. Starting with the most simple and building up to the bigger ones is a great way to guarantee success and see your business really make a difference.

It’s important for small businesses to step up, take responsibility, and lead the way in sustainability. Small businesses are an integral part of the economy, and have the power pave the way and set an example for larger businesses and consumers alike.

This piece was written by guest author Hannah Corbett: an energy expert with a keen interest in the small business world. Click to find out more about small businesses energy from Make It Cheaper, or connect with Hannah on Twitter or Google+.

Sustainability Concept image via Shutterstock.

by Editor

Podcast Questions Efficiency of Energy Efficiency Policy

Lately, in the hopes of expanding my mind, I have been listening to podcasts instead of mindlessly listening to my favorite playlists on repeat. While listening to recent episodes of “Freakonomics”, I came across an interesting episode titled “How Efficient is Energy Efficiency?”, which questions the efficiency of energy efficiency policy.

For those of you unfamiliar with the Freakonomics podcast and brand, Freakonomics is the brain child of economist Steven Levitt and journalist Stephen J. Dubner. Based on a series of books by Levitt and Dubner, the Freakonomics podcast explores a range of issues that might not usually be studied using an experimental economist’s perspective. I remember reading the first Freakonomics book, “Freakonomics: A Rogue Economist Explores The Hidden Side of Everything” after it first came out back in 2005. I was amazed at how funny, interesting, and addictive the book was. Since then Levitt and Dubner have put out two additional Freakonomics themed books, “Super Freakonomics: Global Cooling, Economic Prostitutes, and Why Suicide Bombers Should Buy Life Insurance” and “How To Think Like a Freak”. The Freakonimcs radio show/podcast premiered in 2010 and airs biweekly on NPR.shutterstock_107372552(1)

This is not Freakonomics first time addressing environmental issues. In “Superfreakonomics” Levitt and Dubner address the issue of global warming and radical theories on how to address it, and in “How To Think Like A Freak” they discuss the impact of incentives on behavior relating to energy consumption.

In the podcast “How Efficient is Energy Efficiency?”, which came out on February 5, Dubner interviews Arik Levinson, an environmental economist at Georgetown University, who was a Senior Economist with the Council of Economic Advisors under President Obama. Levinson recently published a paper called “How Much Energy Do Building Energy Codes Really Save? Evidence From California”.

In 1978 the State of California enacted the United States’ first Energy Building codes which were projected to reduce residential energy use by 80% . The United States has since centered its environmental policy on emphasizing energy efficiency. In his paper Levinson analyzes the actual efficiency of these codes using a 3 tiered approach and has found that homes built after the codes were put in place do not use less energy than the ones built before.
Levinson questions the popularity of the stated effectiveness of California’s efficiency codes and the sources people use to the evaluate them. The statistics people use to declare the effectiveness of California’s energy code policy actually come from engineer estimates, not practice. It’s crazy to think that we are so many of our environmental policy eggs” in a basket that hasn’t been proven to work.

One of the reasons Levinson gives for the ineffectiveness of the efficiency codes is ‘the rebound effect’. As the housing became more efficient with energy, using energy became cheaper, and therefore homeowners use more of it. I know that I am more likely to use turn on my AC earlier in the season if I know it will be costing me less.

I don’t think Levinson is actually saying that coding policies are bad and need to be gotten rid of. What I think he is saying is that they are not as effective as everyone says they are and we need diversify our environmental policy strategy if we really want to protect the planet.

For a better explanation of Levinson’s findings I suggest you listen to the actual podcast (which addresses additional environmental issues as well) or check out his paper!

radio waves via shutterstock

by Maddie Perlman-Gabel

Coffee Cup Horror Story : Attack of The Pod Creature

shutterstock_186889283It was just another day at the office. We were getting ready to wish “Kelly” a ‘Happy Birthday’ when suddenly we heard a loud noise and the ground began to shake. We ran outside to find that we were being attacked……  by single serving coffee pods?

This is the premise behind the horror short, “Kill the K-Cup”, recently released as part of the “Kill the K-Cup” Campaign, and gaining major attention across the internet. The campaign is a partnership between Egg Studios and the Canadian coffee shop, Social Bean, and is asking Keurig to make recyclable coffee pods immediately.

The popularity of single use coffee makers has grown exponentially since their introduction to the market in 1998. According to a survey by the National Coffee Association, nearly one in five people surveyed admitted to having drank single serving coffee the day before. Single serving coffee is now the second most popular way to brew coffee, after the good old fashioned traditional drip method.

The Company Green Mountain Keurig seems to have control over the market and is outlandishly successful. Single servings come in a plastic and tin foil and are affectionately referred to as K-Cups. In 2013 Keurig produced 8.3 BILLION K-Cups. K-Cups are popular because of their convenience and they give the user a choice of what kind of coffee they want.

K-Cups are not easy to recycle. Though Keurig has some reusable options they are not available for all models. Only 5% of K-Cups are actually made with recyclable plastic, everything else must be sent to the dump. According to “Kill the K-Cup” the amount of K-Cups discarded in 2013 could wrap around the equator 10.5 times. That is a lot of trash!

Personally I wonder what is so wrong about having only 1 flavor of coffee available in the office and having workers rotate making the coffee and cleaning the single drip machine. Is all this convenience really necessary?

Though the “Kill The K-Cup” video is complete fantasy it does make you question the impact of the popularity of the K-Cup. Asking Keurig to expand the recyclability of K-Cups is the least that can be done.

 

Coffee Attack via Shutterstock

by Maddie Perlman-Gabel

Stop Wasting Food!

shutterstock_169420184We have all done it many times, thrown perfectly good food into the trash. You might think this is not a big issue, just an unhappy accident of over consuming, but the problem is bigger than that.

According to the Food Waste Reduction Alliance 25 to 40% of food grown, processed, and transported in the United States will never be consumed. This waste is upsetting because 1 in 6 people in the United States suffer from hunger.

Food waste is also terrible for the environment. Most food waste finds its way to landfills where it will decompose and release the greenhouse gas methane. In the United States landfills are responsible for 1/3 of methane emissions.

Another environmental issue is wasted food is wasted resources, like the energy, and water used in agricultural practices.

Below I have put together some tips to reduce food waste in your daily life. Many of these tips may seem obvious but are often forgotten.

Use Common Sense Instead of Relying Solely on Food Packaging Dates
Labels on food are not USDA or FDA regulated and are mainly used to help stores maintain their inventory. These dates imply when the product is at its peak in quality, but the food may still be edible after the date. Use your best judgment and sense of smell instead of solely relying on the labeling.

Be Mindful of What Is In Your Fridge
Use what will go bad first, first. Be aware of what is in your fridge and how long it will likely last.
Be sure to check the contents of your fridge before you go food shopping.

Instead of Taking One Large Shopping Trip a Week Take A Few Smaller Ones
Perishables like fruit and vegetables have a short shelf life. Instead of buying a week’s worth of healthy goodies only to have a majority go bad before you get the chance to use them, go on smaller shopping trips throughout the week to ensure freshness.

Only Buy What You Will Use
Just because a larger size of a perishable is a better value doesn’t mean you should buy it. If you don’t plan on eating yogurt everyday do not buy a large tub that would take you months to consume.
On a similar note only put on your plate what you plan to eat, you are more likely to save the food for another day if you don’t feel like the food has been “tainted” by a dirty plate.

Bring Leftovers For Lunch
If you make too much for a meal, instead of throwing it out, save it for lunch the next day. Not only does this reduce waste but if you’re on a budget it will help you save money.
This is also true for when you go out to eat. There is nothing wrong with taking a “doggy bag” because if you don’t the food will just go in the trash.

Compost
Composted food can be used for gardening. Give your food the second life it deserves instead of sending it to the landfill.

shutterstock_156586097For more information and tips check out this article  at Clean Techies on Food Waste which includes a helpful/education graphic by fix.com.

landfill via shutterstock

stop wasting food via shutterstock

by Maddie Perlman-Gabel

How To Offset Your Printing Footprint

I Have A Dream

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Though Martin Luther King Jr. may be best  known for his influence on the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and The Voting Rights Act of 1965, he was also an early leader in the Environmental Justice movement. Before his untimely death Martin Luther King was protesting basic enviromental issues like poor housing conditions in Chicago, Illinois and Sanitation conditions in Memphis, Tennessee.

Martin Luther King Jr’s pursuit of justice for all is a presiding theme in the environmental rights movement. In fact, I remember seeing his quote “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere”  as a battlecry at the  “People’s Climate March” last fall.

Today, in honor of Martin Luther King Jr. Day, ENN has decided to share some of our favorite nature and justice themed quotes from the great civil rights leader.

“From the prodigious hilltops of New Hampshire, let freedom ring. From the mighty mountains of New York, let freedom ring. From the heightening Alleghenies of Pennsylvania, let freedom ring. But not only that: Let freedom ring from every hill and molehill of Mississippi.”

“Never, never be afraid to do what’s right, especially if the well-being of a person or animal is at stake. Society’s punishments are small compared to the wounds we inflict on our soul when we look the other way.”

“We must rapidly begin the shift from a ‘thing-oriented’ society to a ‘person-oriented’ society. When machines and computers, profit motives and property rights are considered more important than people, the giant triplets of racism, materialism, and militarism are incapable of being conquered.”

““Only in the darkness can you see the stars.”

“It really boils down to this: that all life is interrelated. We are all caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied into a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one destiny, affects all indirectly.”

 

Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial via shutterstock (for editorial use only)

by Maddie Perlman-Gabel

Paper or Plastic?

shutterstock_145228456I recently came across the following video from DNews (Discovery News) briefly addressing the age old grocery store bag question of ” paper or paper?. It’s quite educational and entertaining, and I suggest anyone with a spare 3 minutes to take a peak.

Though the video is not up to date on the newest ordinances banning plastic bags in the United State (think California) it is still worth watching.  The video  highlights global plastic bag ban successes like Rwanda,  but it also “attempts” to be “balanced” as well and questions the sourcing of recycled bags and the landfill impact of paper bags.

A ban on plastic bags will not just impact “grocery store decisions” but all shopping decisions that result in the receipt of a one time use bag. Banning plastic bags forces people to become more organized and think more sustainably.

 

bag tree via shutterstock

“Paper or Plastic: Which Bags Hurt the Environment More?” via DNews

 

by Maddie Perlman-Gabel

The Ultimate Tree Care Guide

Guess Which Countries Rank the Highest in Energy Efficiency

Give Your Christmas Tree A Second Life!

shutterstock_120988276Just because Christmas is over doesn’t mean your tree has outlived its usefulness. Give your tree a second life by recycling it.

Many towns and cities have Christmas tree pick up recycling programs. If your area doesn’t have one you can deconstruct the tree for personal use or identify a nearby tree recycling drop off site.

Here are some “second-life” options for your beloved tree:

Use Your Excess Tree Parts to Improve Your Garden
There are many ways that a deconstructed pine tree can get your garden into top shape for the spring. Heavy pieces can be used in compost and tiny branches can be used as mulch, or to protect you flower beds from the winter. Pine needles will also help the soil retain moisture.

Use Discarded Branches To Make “Natural” Bird Feeders
Coat a branch with peanut butter and bird seed to make a simple feeder for flying winter residents.

Use Trees To Improve Your Fish Pond
A sunken Christmas Tree provides excellent hiding habitat for fish in a fish pond.

Feed The Goats
Goats can “clean” a Christmas tree at an alarming speed!

Donate Your Tree To A local Mulching Program To Improve Local Parks
Many US cities ( like NYC, Chicago, Atlanta, and Los Angeles) have programs where you can drop off your unwanted trees and the city will reuse them to mulch public parks.

Discarded Trees Can Be Used To Prevent Erosion
States like Louisiana and New Jersey use discarded trees to prevent erosion from the Ocean.

PS. Make sure to remove all decorations before recycling your tree, there are no environmental benefits to tinsel!

Recycled Christmas Tree via Shutterstock

by Maddie Perlman-Gabel

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