Going green in business without going into the red

Questions & answers for businesses looking to embrace best practices for environmental sustainability

Phoebe Krueger

As a company working diligently toward environmental sustainability, we often get asked about how to begin a green program and how to successfully engage employees in the program. Below are some of the questions we get asked, along with the answers we provide to help clients and vendors better understand our journey toward environmental sustainability.

Why is it important for a business to consider environmental sustainability and to adopt green business practices?

Incorporating sustainable practices makes sense financially, enhances reputation and of course, recognizes our responsibility to use our natural resources wisely in the short-term and long-term so these resources are available for future generations. Consumers, especially millennials, are inclined to support companies that are taking measures to protect environmental resources and ensure the well-being of both employees and those who supply the company. Additionally, many employees value sustainability and want to work for companies that incorporate environmental stewardship into their business practices. Strong environmental sustainability helps with both employee and client attraction and retention.

The greening of businesses is important for the environment and is impactful in helping reduce the world’s carbon footprint. One simple guideline for success is following the traditional three R’s: reduce, reuse and recycle. In addition, being aware of what your competitors are doing is important, though this is one area where businesses should think about collaborating to help each other for the greater good of the planet. Becoming green as a business is not a one-off change; it’s an ongoing endeavor that requires constant learning and revising, along with a willingness to fail and adapt. Ultimately though, your business’s bottom line will be better for the changes.

What is the best way to begin a green program?

Start slowly and create a sustainability strategic plan. You need to know where you are now and where you want your business to be in the future as well as what resources, tools and approaches will be used to get there. Your plan can be as simple or as complex as you want, but it needs to be workable and based in reality. Your strategic plan will serve as a roadmap to evaluate the wide variety of tactics available for making your business more environmentally friendly. While there are many worthwhile books and websites containing great resources, networking with other sustainability-minded companies to share goals, strategies and lessons learned is invaluable.

How do you engage employees if you are in a leadership role and want to start a green program?

Successful green programs often contain a balance of top-down support from senior leadership and passion from employees at the grassroots level. Staff engagement is vital for long-term success and can help to build enthusiasm internally as well as to clients and other networks. Encourage and incentivize participation. Show that you care for the right reasons. Create time, space and resources to support the initiative. Demonstrate that your company’s sustainability initiative is a corporate priority and is just as valid as other business endeavors. Explain to staff what is hoped for by way of continual improvement and make sure they understand the commitment to this improvement.

Consider creating a committee for greening your business; we’ve had success through building a diverse green team. Encourage people to join the charge who are already interested in this change along with those who have the power to implement changes (whether or not they’re convinced yet). Ideas need to be tested in this environment, so even a few naysayers can be useful as sounding boards! Further, collaborate and share best practices and innovations with other green teams and sustainability networks. These connections can provide fresh ideas to advance your initiatives, can help you stay up-to-date on new developments, and can help you stay motivated when obstacles or setbacks are incurred along the way.

What are some of the common missteps that businesses make with regard to green business programs?

The first mistake is to do too much. The second mistake is to do too little. Some businesses try to implement every new or exciting green practice in a mad rush to become the world’s most “green company.” This can quickly burn out resources and staff.

Then, when resources and staff are thoroughly depleted, the entire program gets scrapped. The best approach is to be slow and deliberate, and follow your strategy. Finally, leadership engagement is important. Many green teams fail when management does not show support. The most successful sustainability initiatives I have witnessed have been employee led, management supported and had a thoughtful plan to ensure continued success.

How do you celebrate green business practices and share with a broader audience?

In the same way you celebrate other business success. If your company marks an important business achievement, you often send out a press release or communicate via social media. The same is true for implementing a new green practice or hitting a milestone for efficiency. Tell the world, celebrate with your employees and congratulate yourself on helping to save the planet and the bottom line.

Phoebe Krueger is vice president for Pacific Continental Bank and proud member of their green team. She can be reached at Phoebe.krueger@therightbank.com.