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How to Build a Green Business

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In: Articles

By John Reeve

Published on February 19, 2008

In an age of inconvenient truths, global warming, and “green is good” messages in the mass media, Sustainability has become a popular catchphrase and the new marketing must-have for many companies. But what does it truly mean? And how can it apply to your business?

In this article, I’ll discuss how our web design and development company incorporated sustainability into our business model, and how other development companies can do the same—I’ll examine several areas where we applied our efforts:

How do you define sustainability?

Type “sustainability” into any search engine and you’ll find hundreds of sites dedicated to the topic—and just as many definitions, ranging from environmental sustainability (protecting or improving the earth’s climate, agriculture or forestry) to economic sustainability (operating a business in a manner that allows you to stay in business over time) to social sustainability (investing in people and services that create a basic framework for society.)

We define sustainability as “decreasing your negative impact on your immediate and extended surroundings, whether that is the earth, your family or community.”

What does it mean to me?

Buzzwords and marketing trends aside, sustainability makes sense. Everyone wants their business, their community, and their world to improve, and nowadays there are many ways to contribute to all three without taking a hit to your pocketbook or radically altering your lifestyle. The bottom line is that by living and working sustainably you can save money, provide tax write-offs, improve your brand reputation, and attract better clients and employees.

Sounds great, right? But what steps can web development companies, small business owners, and freelancers realistically take? Here are some of the things we have tried, as well as some ideas and tips from others in the industry.

Environmental Sustainability: It’s Easy Being Green

We’re based in Santa Barbara, home to the nation’s first Earth Day festival, so perhaps it is no surprise that our company, employees, and clients are very open to ideas for reducing their environmental impact. Some of our first initiatives included:

Environmental Sustainability: Beyond Reduce, Reuse and Recycle

Reusing, recycling, and reducing can help save the earth, but a number of new services cater to companies that want to do even more for the environment. Luckily, they don’t all come with a high price tag. Some ideas include:

Environmental Sustainability: Questions & Quick Tips

Here are some questions to ask yourself to get started.

  1. What is my carbon footprint? Find out online with tools like Zerofootprint and Carbon Footprint.
  2. What can I use less of?
  3. What can’t I use less of, and are there greener/more affordable options?
  4. What can I reuse or fix instead of throwing away?
  5. What can I recycle?
  6. Do I have any clients, investors or partners who would support my company/help share the cost of green initiatives?
  7. Are there any governmental or non-profit organizations that will help support my green initiatives, either through supplies, services or tax incentives? Check out the Database of State Incentives for Renewables & Efficiency for information on incentives in your area.

Social Sustainability: Won’t You Be My Neighbor?

Contributing to the community in which you work can have far-reaching business effects, from positive brand recognition, to free networking and marketing, to a broader, better talent pool. Plus, it just makes for a better place to work and live. Here are some of the initiatives that we have undertaken:

Social Sustainability: Questions & Quick Tips

Here are some questions to help identify areas of focus for social sustainability.

  1. What’s going on outside my office? How can I contribute to that?
  2. What organizations do I care about? How can I help them?
  3. Where is my time going? (While trying to avoid a shameless plug for our time-tracking software, having a good idea of how you or your company spend time could help identify areas where you can devote extra time to philanthropic or community ventures.)

Organizational Sustainability: Your Other Family

Achieving the right work-life balance leaves both employees and company owners happy. At Pelago, we place a lot of importance on work-life balance—lifestyle is the powerful but quiet drive behind what we do, and we believe in a clear separation of work and free time. We have encouraged this with our staff in a number of ways:

Organizational Sustainability: Questions & Quick Tips

Here are some questions to ask yourself to get started.

  1. What is my company’s culture? What do we believe in, as a business?
  2. What kind of people work here, what do they care about? How can my business help them enrich their lifestyle?
  3. How can I attract more of the kinds of people we like to work with?
  4. If I cannot afford too many benefits for my staff, what else can I do to make their working environment enjoyable, and help them feel passionate about their employer?
  5. How can I get our clients, partners, and other external stakeholders involved in helping us grow and improve as a business?

In Conclusion

At Pelago we have done a lot to improve our impact and relationship with our community, but we recognize that there is always more you can do. We also recognize that it takes time and resources. You don’t have to do everything overnight—it has taken us several years to evolve to a place where we could support so many different initiatives. We are now starting to see the results of our efforts: less strain on our local environment as well as our expenses, happier employees, a positive work and community environment, and satisfied customers inspired not only to sign up with us as new clients, but also to join us in implementing their own sustainability initiatives.

What we remind ourselves, our clients, and anyone who asks us about our sustainability initiatives, is that just one change can make a difference. A lot of small companies and individuals think they can’t afford to do much. I hope I’ve convinced you otherwise.

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John Reeve works for Pelago holds a BS in Graphic Design and a minor in Computer Science from California Polytechnic State University in San Luis Obispo. When he’s not working or spending time with his wife and brand new baby boy, you’ll find John hiking the local mountains or pedaling around town on his bike.

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