Expert Advice on Being Green and Profitable


Writer, speaker and consultant Shel Horowitz is passionate about the environment and he wants businesses to know that implementing sustainable practices doesn’t mean sacrificing profits.

On his website, he throws out names like Wal-Mart, Ben & Jerry’s and Marcal as businesses that have found tremendous success because of their green initiatives.

The author of “Guerrilla Marketing Goes Green: Winning Strategies to Improve Your Profits and Your Planet” offers advice to business owners about going green and marketing their green initiatives to both green and non-green customers alike.

“Here’s the wonderful truth,” he writes. If you understand that profitability is a key objective, going green should MAKE you money and SAVE you money.”

Since 2004, Shel has been blogging about the intersections of ethics, politics, media, marketing, and sustainability on GreenandProfitable.com. He took some time to answer some questions for Business.com about how to make money while being sustainable.

When did you become so passionate about environmental issues?

All the way back in the early 1970s. In fact, much of what I know about marketing and messaging stems from volunteer work with various environmental and social change organizations.

How long have you been educating businesses on the benefits of going green?

As a major part of what I do, back to around 1999 or 2000. Dribs and drabs before that; back at least as far as articles I published in 1977 on why nuclear power was a bad business decision.

Why do you think it’s important for businesses to work toward more sustainable business models?

First, catastrophic climate change is approaching a tipping point. If we wish to have a planet to pass on to our children and grandchildren, we can’t continue as we’ve been doing. And second, even if climate change weren’t an issue, it is just foolish to consume nonrenewable resources; you’re depleting your capital. When you switch to renewable resources, you avoid the problems of scarcity, environmental destruction in extracting the tougher, harder-to-access raw materials, etc.

What is the biggest misconception about going green in business?

That it has to be expensive or difficult.

How have you combated that misconception?

In my writing, speaking and consulting, I focus on the “low-hanging fruit” with low cost of entry and/or high payback: the easy and affordable steps. For instance, if you need a new laser printer, it’s a no-brainer to pay the same price and get one that prints both sides. I cut my paper bill by about 40 percent when I made the switch. The Empire State Building did a deep energy retrofit that was not cheap, but it has a 33 percent annual ROI and saves more than $4 million every year — so it was well worth the $13 million cost.

Why do people equate high costs with going green?

Because they’ve been fed that myth, and because some green companies have made a practice of charging more. But we’re seeing that shift a lot in the last few years, as people realize they can still go green without spending a fortune.

What are some easy, low-cost, environmentally-friendly practices a small business can implement?

  • Most businesses leak huge quantities of heated air in the winter and cooled air in the summer. Simple and very inexpensive measures like insulating outlets and switchplates on outside-facing walls with foam gaskets (and plugging unused outside-wall outlets with baby outlet protectors) can make an immediate difference. So can making sure windows are properly caulked. And ensuring that doors to the outside close tightly and have weatherstripping and heat-trapping rubber sweeps.
  • Install programmable thermostats to stop heating/cooling air when the building is shut for the night — and program them properly: no more than 68° F/ 20° C in the winter, no lower than 75° F/24° C in the summer during working hours, and perhaps 55° F/13° C in the winter and 85° F/29° C in the summer, from half an hour after the end of the workday until half an hour before employees start arriving in the morning.
  • Plug computers, machinery and appliances into smart power strips that eliminate “energy vampires” by cutting power to the device when it’s not in use — and train your people to flip the power strips off if they’re the last to leave at night.
  • As noted above, cut your paper costs by 40 percent or so by switching to duplexing (two-sided) printers and copiers, setting them to default to two-sided, and training your employees to use that setting when possible. Have a goal that the only single-sided copies are the last pages of documents with an odd number of pages. The amount of paper that can be saved will shock you.
  • Encourage employees to do more on screen and print less in the first place. Demonstrate the computer settings that display larger print without changing the actual document (for instance, the View-Zoom feature in Microsoft Word and most Internet browsing software) — this makes reading on the screen a lot more comfortable, and printing a lot less necessary.
  • Recycle all the scrap paper in your office. Recycle plastic and metal as well. And switch to recycled copy paper, toilet paper and paper towels; these days, the latter two don’t have to cost any more than non-recycled, and copy paper is only a bit more.
  • Change your break room and lounges around with a goal of sustainablity: Get rid of disposable cups and buy each employee a personalized coffee mug, plus a few for visitors. Use reusable rags and sponges instead of paper towels. Switch to organic fair-trade coffee, tea, and cocoa. If your business is in a place where the water is drinkable, add a water filter to the sink and educate your employees that using filtered tap water is much greener than bottled, as well as much cheaper for them.
  • Partner with a local organic farm to offer a once-a-week farmers market in your parking lot or on a lawn, where employees can stock up on fresh organic veggies — this costs you nothing, and your people will love it (especially if they live in cities).
  • Switch to natural/organic pest control and landscaping.
  • Install an aerator on every faucet.
  • Prohibit smoking on your campus — but first, announce the deadline, and in the meantime, provide smoking-cessation assistance for employees who need it. (You’ll pay for the program through savings in reduced absenteeism for health reasons, and possibly lower insurance costs. You may also be able to get grant funding or tap into no-cost quit-smoking programs.)
  • Next, look at steps you can take to make your employees more comfortable and happier, which in turn will make them more productive. Bring houseplants into work areas — they chew up carbon dioxide (a major greenhouse gas) and turn it into oxygen. Provide natural lighting where possible. Use fresh air from open windows during the spring and fall, if your building is set up with windows that open. Use curtains and drapes to let in sun in the winter, block it out during the hot summer — and to keep heat in during winter nights, while releasing it in summer.

These, of course, are only the tip of the iceberg. We can all cut energy, water, and waste in thousands of ways, many of which, like the measures above, cost little or nothing. Set aside the money you save from these measures to look at more complex steps, outlined in the answer to the next question.

And don’t forget to start talking about all the green things you’re doing in your marketing, on your website and in your press releases. In some cases, the marketing benefit alone can be enough to cover the capital cost of the next round of improvements.

What are some worthwhile long-term investments in sustainability a business should consider implementing?

Add more insulation, audit your manufacturing process for energy savings, switch to low-water or even waterless toilets, plant an area of your roof and/or add solar panels, go through the LEED or EnergyStar certification process.

How can you remain profitable while being environmentally friendly?

First, if you go for the inexpensive ways to go green, you save money. And second, if you use your green commitment effectively in your marketing, you make money. Just ask Walmart: they have not only slashed their fuel and energy costs, etc., but are selling vast quantities of organic food and CFL light bulbs to people who would never ever go to a Whole Foods.

What’s the best way to market your company’s green practices?

Use different messages for different audiences. Play to people’s individual hot buttons, which might be health, planetary survival, economy, comfort, etc. This is ethical as long as everything you say is actually true.

Any last piece of advice for business owners?

Go green now, because if you don’t, your competitors will get the advantage — and eventually, if you’re not green you won’t be in business.

Learn more about green business practices on Business.com.


Business.com Editorial Staff

Business.com Editorial Staff

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The Business.com Editorial Staff writes on topics relevant to small and medium-sized business (SMB) owners. Posts cover best practices, top tips, and studies that deliver insights specific to SMBs.

Our team has backgrounds in journalism, English, philosophy, marketing, entrepreneurship and management, providing us the opportunity to share unique viewpoints on all things affecting small and medium-sized businesses.

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