Thursday, June 9, 2011

Greening Your Business

My business is already pretty green.

For those who don't know, I have owned and operated a (home-based) virtual office service since 1998 - starting my business at roughly the same time as we bought our house. In fact, when the decision was made that one of us (me) would be a full-time, stay-at-home parent, we also realized that being a work-at-home mom (WAHM) would be even better, as that extra income would come in handy (and it has). So, I became a WAHM.

As a home-based business, my job is already more energy efficient. I didn't need another building (which required massive energy inputs just to build). There are no additional costs for utilities - no second building to heat/cool and keep at a constant temperature to avoid things like burst pipes.

In addition, because I work from home, there is no cost to me or the environment for my travel. While I do have to go to my client's office three times a week, I can pair those drive times with other errands/appointments I'm doing, and instead of making a trip to work, and then, doing additional driving to run errands, I do it all at the same time, which saves gasoline.

As a home-based entrepreneur, I have a lot of control over the resources and equipment my business uses. Most of the work I do is on the computer, and over the years, my computer has gotten more and more energy efficient. These days, I have a laptop, which uses about half the power of a comparable desktop (in memory and hard-drive space). When I'm in my office, I plug in an optical mouse, an ergonomic keyboard and a LCD monitor, and so, for the most part, it has all of the feel of a desktop with considerably less power usage ... and if I have to be on the road, my laptop can come with me.

In addition, when I have to use paper supplies or other office supplies, I get to be in charge, and it's been interesting to watch the different choices as they appear at the local office supply store. For example, for a long time I was completely enamored of those plastic-coated paperclips. One day, I realized, plastic-coated = bad, and I started looking for different options. When I have to use paperclips, now, they are all metal, no coating, and I buy them in bulk, the largest quantity with the least packaging.

Paper is another office supply that has caused me to take pause and look at my choices. There are several brands, all different weights and brightnesses. I used to use a very fancy, heavy-weight linen paper, which is mostly used for resumes. This paper was really expensive, and sometimes the print looked fuzzy (my client told me). So, I switched to a regular copy paper, and then, I discovered that for about the same price I could buy copy paper that is made from 30% recycled consumer waste. SCORE! The recycled paper, even the store-brand, is slightly more expensive that regular copy paper, but sometimes it's better to spend the extra and keep true to one's values. In short, it's not always about the money.

The whole "green movement" has created a slew of new products, and some of them are really not very useful, but for eco-conscious business owners, some of them are very welcome. Recyclable ink-jet printer cartridges are pretty awesome, especially considering I can donate them to my library, and they can get cash-credits to buy supplies they need.

Then, there are other, necessary products like the ones I found at a recent trip to the office supply store.

The envelopes are 100% recycled, and the pens are made from plastic bottles. I love the idea of being able to buy a product I'm going to use anyway that has been made using resources that would have just ended up as garbage.

We are moving into an energy-poor society and making new stuff will become more difficult. While it's true that recycling, repurposing, and reusing also require some energy inputs, it just makes good sense to reuse these things, remold them, and make something out of them that we would otherwise have wasted precious resources making. It's a win-win for all of us.

Some day doing the job I do may no longer be possible, but while I still have this job, the very least I can do is to make the impact of my work as small as possible.


  1. So if you cannibalized any door-to-door salepeople who came by as practice for a McCarty "The Road" scenario, that would be repurposing. Right?

  2. russell1200 - I think that might actually be considered a public service :).

    We probably won't have to resort to that (at least for this year), as we just picked up a side of pork, and the freezer is pretty full ;).

  3. I took your advice - actually talked to some friends about a small start-up loan of $500 to get a home daycare off the ground. My friends were willing to do it too - they just came into a small inheritance. But their 13 year old son burned his stomach leaning too close to the stove while cooking, and now they have to hire a lawyer because Child Protective Services is accusing them of child abuse. So no start-up loan.

    ARG it's so frustrating! I'm THIS close to being able to restart my daycare, and the only thing holding me back is finances. I'm going to keep asking around, though - someone out there will be willing to give me a chance, I'm sure of it.

    In the meantime, I found another infographic that may or may not interest you. It's about home gardening in America:

  4. This reminds me of when I worked for Fidelity Investments, a financial services firm. I'd read on a green website somewhere about how important it was to switch to recycled paper for your office usage, and how it was particularly a good idea to encourage your office or employer to make the switch. So like a good environmentalist I talked with our office secretary about who ordered our printer/copier paper, and she gave me her superior's name. It turned out to be someone relatively high-up in the company, with a lot of office managers and secretaries reporting to her. So I forwarded to her a link to the article about how important it was to use recycled paper, and how many of the brands had been certified to be usable in laser printers with no ill effects, and asked if she'd consider looking into using one of the recycled brands. I didn't hear back. A few weeks later I re-sent the message and asked if she had any thoughts about it. About a day or two later my manager took me aside into his office and explained that he'd been contacted by said office manager VP about "my behavior," and that I was being paid to be a programmer and not an environmentalist, and that I'd best get back to being a programmer.

    This at a private, family-owned company in 2002 that was making incredible amounts of money hand over fist, with profits in the billions (with a B, not an M), and they couldn't be bothered to consider using environmentally-preferable paper in their printers because of the slight increase in cost.

    That was perhaps the seminal event that convinced me corporate America is corrupt and incorrigible.