Improving businesses

Posted December 2005

Business owners and managers are examining the concepts of environmental responsibility and sustainability more closely. Some companies sincerely wish to operate in an environmentally friendly manner, and are willing to look at any way this can be accomplished. Others would like to, but do not know where to start. Still others believe they cannot change their operations because they think it will cost too much.

As consumers begin to demand environmental responsibility from suppliers of goods and services, the companies that respond positively will have a competitive advantage over those that do not. The result is increased revenues. But can businesses incorporate sustainable operating practices without greatly increasing costs? The answer is yes. In fact, by increasing eco-efficiency, costs can be significantly decreased. Increased revenues and decreased costs, together with sustainable, environmentally friendly business practices, add up to a win-win situation for all concerned.

The World Business Council for Sustainable Development defines eco-efficiency as, “creating more goods and services with ever less use of resources, waste, and pollution.” By using water, energy, and materials more efficiently, reducing waste, and utilizing renewable resources and non-toxic materials, businesses can: decrease costs; improve corporate image; increase investor confidence; improve competitiveness; reduce risk and liability; increase revenues; and increase employee morale and productivity. In addition, the reduced environmental impacts benefit everyone.

How Can Businesses Become More Eco-efficient?

To help put businesses on the path to sustainability and eco-efficiency, the Greater Vancouver Regional District (GVRD) has developed a program entitled SmartSteps. They outline the program as follows, “SmartSteps is a program of tools, technical assistance and information to help your business become more eco-efficient and more competitive. Our goal is to help you find specific, cost-effective actions you can take to reduce the amount of materials and energy your business uses.”

Along with the wealth of information available on the SmartSteps website, the program can provide business advisors for workshops, demonstrations, and technical advice. They will also visit individual businesses to determine how eco-efficiency can be improved with a company’s existing setups or offer advice on new systems.

SmartSteps incorporates a ten-step program called “10 Strategies” that is designed to “maximize efficiency and improve profits and competitiveness.” The steps are as follows:

  1. Engage your employees;
  2. Maintain or upgrade process equipment;
  3. Start or improve your recycling program;
  4. Conserve water;
  5. Be energy efficient;
  6. Reduce single-occupant vehicle trips to and from work;
  7. Purchase products and services that have reduced environmental impacts;
  8. Manage your supply chain;
  9. Consider the total cost of your investment decisions; and
  10. Put policies and practices into place.

One can look at the 'conserve water' strategy as an example of the good information available for businesses. By reducing water usage, companies can save money on their water and sewer bills. Energy bills can also be reduced if smaller amounts of water need to be heated. The SmartSteps website recommends that a leak detection and maintenance program be put in place. It is important to note that a one-drop-per-second leak can waste 10,000 litres of water per year. An inexpensive repair would therefore reduce costs considerably.

The SmartSteps program advises businesses that they need to closely examine their water usage over a period of time to determine where, when, and how they are using water and in what quantities. Wastewater production should also be carefully scrutinized. Once these baselines have been determined, they can be used to monitor conservation efforts. The website gives a number of suggestions to help conserve water. By utilizing these suggestions, some businesses have managed to cut water usage by tens of thousands of litres annually.

Additional Resources

The SmartSteps website also includes a number of other useful resources. The “Industry Specific Information” section provides advice specially adapted to different types of businesses. One has only to choose an industry category from the drop-down menu to obtain advice on improving the eco-efficiency of that particular business. Other business tools are also available to help companies develop eco-efficient operations. For example, there is a listing of products and services businesses can use to lessen environmental impacts.

The “Case Studies” section of the website helps encourage businesses to take SmartSteps by providing real examples of companies that have significantly improved their eco-efficiency. The numbers speak for themselves. In addition to the substantial environmental benefits obtained through participation in the SmartStep program, these companies have managed to cut costs by thousands, hundreds of thousands, and even millions of dollars.

Eco-efficient business practices benefit the environment, community, and businesses themselves. With lower costs, higher revenues, and environmental responsibility as incentives, there really is no reason for not embracing these initiatives. It truly is a win-win scenario.

For more information, click on SmartSteps