Five Ways to “Green” Your Small Business

    By Environmental Law, Commercial

    Mention the word ‘green’ to most small business owners and they think dollars. But increasingly they’re also thinking about the environment.

    Today companies are finding that the ‘going green’ trend benefits not just the environment but also a firm’s bottom line. The question for many business owners then is how to get started.

    Marina Liacouras Phillips, an environmental lawyer and partner at Kaufman & Canoles, explains there is no universally accepted definition of ‘green.’

    “No standards have been created to apply the ‘green’ label,” Phillips said. “While the lack of an existing regulatory framework may be frustrating for some, it is actually an opportunity for the market to develop the response.”

    For small businesses, that means being able to choose where and how to reduce energy usage and become more environmentally friendly.

    Businesses account for a large percentage of the country’s total energy consumption and create a significant amount of waste that’s potentially harmful to the environment. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, commercial buildings currently:

    • Use 39 percent of all energy in the country.
    • Consume 12 percent of all water.
    • Use 68 percent of all electricity.
    • Produce 38 percent of all carbon dioxide emissions.

    Virginia, like most states, does not have a green standard that businesses are required to meet. However, Phillips points out that the state tax code does contain a few green-related provisions.

    “Certain municipalities, including Virginia Beach, offer tax benefits for businesses that have energy-efficient buildings,” Phillips said.

    If a business certifies as at least 30 percent more efficient than the Virginia building code, it can qualify for a lower tax rate and save approximately 17 percent on property taxes. Currently, Virginia Beach is the only locality to offer the tax benefit.

    While most business owners cite cost as the barrier to pursuing green initiatives, firms are discovering that becoming more environmentally friendly has revenue potential.

    “Business leaders need to be educated about the real potential here for cost savings,” Phillips said.

    For example, in 2010 the Virginia Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control reported that its green efforts resulted in a 4 percent savings in overall energy costs.

    If you’re interested in greening your small business, here are a few starting points:

    Shrink your energy usage. According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, lighting and office equipment combined account for 68 percent of all electricity usage in commercial buildings. To reduce your energy bills and shrink your company’s carbon footprint:

    • Use energy-efficient compact fluorescent bulbs in desk lighting.
    • Install motion-sensor lighting.
    • Direct employees to shut off computer monitors and/or plug computers at individual work stations into power strips and turn off each night before leaving the office.
    • Enable ‘sleep mode’ on all office copiers and printers after five minutes or less of inactivity.
    • Buy Energy Star appliances and program small appliances – i.e. microwave, coffeemaker, etc. – to shut off by timer.

    Evaluate vendors. Find out if your vendors are going green and how you could work with them to do the same. For example:

    • Ask your janitorial service if it uses – or would switch to – non-toxic cleaning products.
    • For events, choose a caterer or restaurant that offers locally grown or organic food.
    • Talk to your office supply company to find more sustainable products, such as paper with at least 30 percent recycled content or chlorine-free paper made from sustainably managed forests.

    Re-use and recycle. It’s one of the oldest, original forms of ‘greening’ the office, but it’s also one of the easiest ways to start. In addition to setting up a paper recycling bin in the copy room, you can:

    • Refill printer ink cartridges instead of always buying new.
    • Contact local businesses, the local government surplus office or search Craigslist to find reduced-price or even free furniture and office supplies.
    • Stock your office kitchen with dinnerware and utensils instead of disposable paper products.
    • Check out for the nearest location that offers drop-off or pick-up service for all types of recyclables.

    Try teleworking. Today 44 million Americans work away from the office. Technology enables off-site workers to maintain productivity; in fact, American Express reported that its teleworking employees were 43 percent more productive than their office-bound counterparts. If the work your small business does permits telecommuting, you may be able to save money on office space and be eligible for up to $35,000 in assistance from Telework!VA (, a program of the Virginia Department of Rail and Public Transportation. Telework!VA is offering the financial incentive to help businesses start and/or expand their corporate telecommuting program.

    Find Earth-friendly office space. If you need new office space, look for buildings that are LEED-certified or Energy Star-rated. LEED stands for ‘Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design’ and is awarded by the U.S. Green Building Council for the design, construction and operation of high-performance green buildings.

    As part of Liberty Property Trust’s strategic initiative to focus on such buildings, the company has nine Energy Star-labeled buildings in its portfolio in Hampton, Virginia Beach and Chesapeake, and two LEED-certified buildings in Chesapeake. Three of the company’s Energy Star properties in Virginia Beach have been approved for the lowered energy-efficient corporate tax rate; another two are pending approval.

    Senior Property Manager Dennis Skelly explained: “Energy Star has been a big push for us as part of our corporate goal to reduce our energy usage by 30 percent by 2012. Through our building-wide area network, we’re able to monitor real-time energy usage in all of the Hampton Roads properties where we control the electricity. So far we’ve been able to reduce our total energy usage by 18 percent since 2008.”

    Skelly explains that tenants realize a financial benefit from the company’s focus on being environmentally friendly.

    “By making sure that we’re operating as efficiently as possible, and qualifying for a lower tax rate whenever possible, we’re reducing the cost of occupancy for our tenants,” Skelly said.

    Another benefit of occupying green office space may be reduced sick time and increased productivity.

    According to a Journal of Sustainable Real Estate survey of CB Richard Ellis buildings, tenants of LEED or Energy Star-labeled buildings reported greater employee morale and fewer sick days; a 2003 study by Gregory Kats quantified that benefit to be equal to $37 – $55 of revenue per square foot of office space.

    “At the end of the day,” Skelly said, “it’s the socially responsible thing to do.”

    This article originally appeared in the April 15, 2011 issue of Inside Business and was reprinted with permission.

    The contents of this publication are intended for general information only and should not be construed as legal advice or a legal opinion on specific facts and circumstances. Copyright 2024.