Let's be honest: If you run a business, reducing your carbon footprint might not be your top priority. But going green can actually save money for you and your business — and improve your workplace culture in the meantime.
For example, one report from 2012 found that hospitals that reduce energy consumption and waste produced could save $15 billion over a decade.
Another study that year, by UCLA and the University of Paris-Dauphine, found that employees at eco-friendly companies are 16 percent more productive than average. The authors wrote that these workers were more motivated, better trained and formed more interpersonal relationships, which in turn increased efficiency.
Helping your company become more environmentally conscious can be a lot easier than you might think: A move as simple as installing solar panels can cut your taxes by nearly a third of the installation cost — and could cut your energy bills in half.
From conserving water to tax incentives, here are seven ways to a greener and more profitable business.
Light emitting diode (LED) bulbs can use 25 to 30 percent less energy than incandescent light and last 25 times longer — which means big savings.
"LEDs are the most efficient lighting technology on the planet," said Josh Gehly, vice president of Green Lighting LED.
Some LEDs can last 20 years or more. While they are slightly more expensive upfront than incandescents, these bulbs and others like it (such as compact fluorescent lights or CFLs) pay for themselves in saved energy and replacement costs. Depending on the size of your company and where it is located, you could save hundreds or even thousands of dollars annually: Switching out 100 bulbs turned on for eight hours each day could save more than $1,000 per year.
In fact, the Department of Energy projects that widespread use of LEDs could save the U.S. more than $30 billion overall by 2027.
Some people may not enjoy the idea of buying second-hand furniture, but used items can cut furniture costs in half and reduces landfill waste.
"The greenest thing you can do is buy re-used furniture," said sustainability expert Jennifer Schwab.
In the wake of the recession, purchases of second-hand furniture rose as many failed businesses were forced to sell their furniture to other operations, she said. If the pieces you buy are high-quality or collector's items, the furniture can even retain its value, she said.
Those shopping for new chairs, tables and other items should consider furnishings made of green materials. Wood pieces certified by the Forest Stewardship Council, for instance, come from trees grown in sustainable and socially responsible conditions. Bamboo is also considered by some experts to be eco-friendly, since its fast growth avoids the need for pesticides.
New eco-friendly furniture might not be cheaper upfront, but good-quality pieces last longer and can be more intelligently made, said Schwab. For example, Herman Miller designs modular furniture with easily replaced sections, so you can spend less if only one part of a piece breaks.
By allowing employees to work remotely, you can reduce your carbon footprint and paper waste, and cut down on costs required to light, heat and cool your office.
More people working from home also cuts down on carbon emissions from commuting. The federal government seems to support the shift toward more flexible policies: A 2013 report found that 47 percent of EPA employees were working remotely or "teleworking."
Companies can reap big financial benefits from letting workers go remote, according to Global Workplace Analytics: IBM has cut down real estate costs by $50 million, and overall the average real estate savings for a full-time teleworker is roughly $10,000 per employee per year.
Healthier employees means lower health-care costs.
If you have a company cafeteria, consider creating incentives for employees to purchase heart-healthy, nutrient-rich foods. For example, General Mills subsidizes its salad bar and has removed junk food from vending machines. And encouraging people to eat more produce (and less beef) isn't just good for them: It can cut your company's carbon footprint in a big way.
Finding smart ways to manage food waste is another move that can pay off for the environment and your bottom line: Wasted food is the biggest component of garbage in our country, and contributes to methane emissions. Uneaten and discarded food makes up 133 billion pounds of the 430 billion pounds of the available U.S. food supply.
Businesses should consider taking leftover or uneaten cafeteria food and turning it into rich compost. Airline Jet Blue, for example, takes food waste from JFK International and gives it to McEnroe Organic Farm, where it is turned into soil that Jet Blue buys back to use in a sustainable rooftop garden at the airport.
The government offers free webinars and reports for businesses that take part in the "Food Recovery Challenge," which helps reduce your environmental footprint and nets you some positive PR.
By using water- and energy-efficient appliances, you can save about $300 annually for a small office.
Plus, by using inefficient toilets and heaters, your company might be having a bigger impact on the environment than you'd think: Businesses and public institutions consume more than 25 percent of the water used in metropolitan areas, according to NASA.
Simple ways to conserve water in the workplace abound, with several great ideas listed at treehugger.com. One easy step? Fix a leaky faucet or toilet, which can save up to 90 gallons of water a month.
Going digital can save you serious cash: One report found that businesses like Lockheed Martin and General Electric estimated savings of $250,000 to $10 billion just for digitizing paper manuals and processes that used to require paper.
If you absolutely must print that 50-page report for the afternoon meeting, make sure you are printing on recycled paper.
"It's a no-brainer to buy recycled paper," Schwab said, since the cost today is comparable to that of traditional paper.
Other ways of cutting down on paper waste include asking employees to print double-sided documents and take messages on scrap paper.
While investing in things like sustainable energy to power your office can snag you generous reductions in your federal tax bill, there are other tax rebates, credits and deductions that vary from state to state.
In California, for example, you can get rebates of $50 to $500 for installing energy-efficient refrigerators, air conditioners and heat-pump water heaters.
Vermont Gas provides rebates ranging from $100 to $1,000 for installation of high-efficiency equipment in existing commercial buildings. Eligible energy-efficient technologies include steam boilers and certain commercial ovens, among other equipment.