Customers respond to sustainability practices, and businesses have reacted to that with enthusiasm over the years, if not always with sincerity. There was a time when slapping green paint on the side of a traditional practice was enough to win the admiration of the market. No longer. Today, educated customers know true environmental responsibility when they see it, and businesses know that legitimately going green presents tangible benefits. These benefits are of course noticeable to customers, but adopting sustainable business practices can also improve business processes and help companies cut costs.
Green entrepreneurs gain numerous advantages in their markets. Below are a few of the ways in which environmental awareness and action contribute to business success.
Green buildings lower overhead costs.
Greening a building can include a wide range of actions. By moving to a virtual machine environment, companies can reduce computing power requirements. Passively cooled office buildings with cinderblock walls naturally maintain ambient temperatures for most of the year in many regions, decreasing the drain on heating and air conditioning systems. For the energy needs that cannot be reduced, companies can install on-site windmills and energy fuel-cell generators to create cleaner power themselves. Ideally, companies can reduce their environmental impact and achieve Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification for their office buildings.
Energy certificates can offset the power businesses use.
When businesses green their buildings, they can avoid a significant portion of their electricity, gas and water usage. For the natural resources they must employ, they can offset the environmental impact with renewable energy certificates. For example, a business could offset power used by its servers with wind-power certificates. These let entrepreneurs not only balance out their environmental impact, but also present a more compelling case to customers, investors and others about their dedication to environmental responsibility.
Composting and recycling reduce the cost of waste removal.
Composting and recycling can help a business significantly divert its solid waste. Achieving noticeable results requires businesses to work toward building an internal culture of sustainability. With employees on board for daily composting and recycling, companies gain a sense of cohesion and purpose among their teams that positively impacts other collaborative efforts.
Environmental action helps businesses celebrate their customers.
When a business involves its prospects in its sustainability practices, customers become part of the greater purpose of the company and feel more connected to it. A simple action like planting a tree in honor of every new customer presents only a modest cost and can help an organization increase loyalty and repeat business.
Paperless processes are faster, easier and cheaper.
Businesses are looking for ways to reduce paper use, and actions like switching to electronic contracting can help. The old-school process of getting a paper contract signed can cost millions of dollars annually in lost revenue. Rounding up physical signatures is expensive and inefficient, and the burden it creates grows along with the size of the business. Cloud-based contracts let companies close business deals faster. And since the passage of the ESIGN act in 2000, e-signatures are also as legally enforceable as their ink-on-paper predecessors. By moving to virtual Web-based contracting, companies can conserve resources and decrease the amount of waste they create.
For example, a well-known healthcare company turned to e-signatures when paper contracts grew to be too tedious a process. After adopting an electronic contracting solution, the company cut down greatly on wasted paper as well as the costs associated with paper products and postage. The company no longer needed excess paper for printed agreements or mailing envelopes and further limited its environmental impact because fuel was not wasted on transporting mailings by plane or truck. In addition to the green benefits, contract processing times shrank from three weeks to an average of just one day. Employees were able to complete the contracting process faster, so their focus remained on higher-priority tasks.
There is certainly an initial expense to pursuing environmentally aware business practices in a meaningful way. Companies who do it spend time and money implementing their efforts. However, those entrepreneurs who do it well find that their returns on investment are high during the first year, and the recurring savings in terms of energy use and government incentives make going green a business decision that pays dividends in the long term.
The payback in market response is harder to measure, but organizations report anecdotal support that a green business presents a competitive differentiator that is compelling to prospects. Superficial sustainability gestures no longer make good business sense; consumers are too well educated about green matters today to be fooled by false efforts. However, with carefully planned and directed actions, green companies can do well financially while also doing good for the environment.
Jason Lemkin is vice president of Web business services at Adobe and former CEO of EchoSign. His operational experience spans the business development, sales, legal, human resource and finance fields, and he is an acknowledged expert in the field of electronic signature and electronic contracting.