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  • 22 April 2014
  • Dr Billy M.

Small business Earth Day ideas: Environmental leadership activities

Earth Day dates back to April 22, 1970, when over 20 million Americans rallied for a cleaner environment, leading to the creation of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Decades later, companies and individuals alike have become conscious of sustaining a pollution-free environment by changing their habits and business practices. If your business is socially and environmentally responsible, the holiday gives you the opportunity to make your eco-friendly practices known to your customers.

In-house activities

To encourage your employees to follow eco-friendly practices, your management should engage and educate workers to develop and meet sustainability goals. Your environmental efforts will invariably lead to improved community ties. For Earth Day, you will have to determine:

Your employees should make environmental protection a personal goal and put it into practice.

  • What the focus of your efforts should be. Should you work toward a greener workplace, community service, or employees practicing personal sustainability at home?
  • What kinds of activities you would like to encourage, such as a specific campaign, an eco-fair/event, or an educational seminar with invited speakers.
  • What specific commitment to action you will require of your workers, like having an employee-driven environmental challenge for the week — for example, going car free, drinking from reusable cups, or avoiding bottled water.

Your employees should make environmental protection a personal goal and put it into practice. Here are some activities that will get your company on the eco-friendly track.

Energy use

Determine your energy consumption. Benchmark your current energy and raw-material consumption to establish how "un-green" you really are before launching initiatives to optimize energy use. Make use of the Portfolio Manager, a set of tools provided by EPA's Energy Star program to help gauge your energy and water use.

Turn out the lights. The biggest electricity hog in your company is likely overhead lighting. Typical fluorescent tubes generate heat that takes a toll on your building's cooling system. Encourage workers to flip the switch when they are not using the lights. Consider installing daylight dimming controls and occupancy sensors that will automatically turn the lights on and off based on the amount of movement in a particular area.

Computers

Your employees should adhere to the energy-management policies on their computers. Placing machines in "hibernate," "sleep," or "standby" modes when not in use significantly reduces their energy consumption, minimizing waste. Or switch to laptops. They are more energy efficient, are produced with fewer materials, and allow for flexibility — and mobility increases productivity.

Paper-free for the day

Designate Earth Day as a paper-free day at the office to remind staff that electronic communication and archival of documents is just as effective as hard copy prints, if not more so. Documents that require signatures, such as contracts, can still be signed electronically, thanks to the law passed by Congress in 2000. Pushing an "Accept" button, typing your name on email communication, or scribbling on an electronic pen and pad will be just as binding as the time-tested pen-and-paper John Hancock.

The basic premise here is to begin using less paper every day, not just on the one day of the event. Use other filing and storage media, such as your hard drive, thumb drives and cloud storage. Companies like Iron Mountain can help streamline your document storage electronically for more green business practices.

If you must print, use both sides of a sheet of paper and set "duplex" as the default printing format on your copier. Shrink image sizes and set controls on copy machines and printers to print out multiple pages per sheet of paper. Reset printers to avoid printing a test page every time they are turned on.

At seminars, conferences, or trade shows, hand out your marketing and business materials on memory sticks rather than printed brochures. Provide a URL where people can access the material. On your emails, include tag lines advising and encouraging recipients not to print out messages unless necessary.

Office equipment

Some equipment may contain non-biodegradable components, non-recyclable plastics and/or dangerous chemicals. Disposal of used equipment in landfills often leads to toxic elements seeping into the ground and spreading into the ecosystem. For example, computer hardware contains several toxic substances, including mercury, lead, nickel, cadmium, cobalt, arsenic, germanium, and zinc. Minimize the potential for environmental degradation by purchasing equipment that contains low levels of pollutants.

Purchase equipment that is energy efficient, as well. Most manufacturers follow the Energy Star program — a certification system for energy-efficient electronics set up by the U.S. government. Look for the Energy Star logo that certifies the equipment meets low energy consumption requirements.

Use rechargeable batteries, like the nickel metal hydride variety that contain almost no toxic heavy metals, rather than the disposable type that are expensive to recycle because of their lead, silver, mercury, cadmium, and chromium content.

On Earth Day, purchase a carbon offset to make up for the greenhouse gas emissions, or GHGs, your business creates during the other 364 days of the year. The essence of carbon offsets is to fund reductions in GHGs through projects that displace energy from fossil fuels, such as wind farms.

Alternatives to driving

Design a rewards program that awards points redeemable for, say, transit vouchers or gift cards for those employees who walk, bike, or take public transportation. Set up a dedicated carpool group for employees. These are simple activities, yet they have a wide range of powerful financial and environmental benefits.

Community involvement

Since volunteerism on Earth Day will often be tightly coupled with most of your in-house activities, volunteering in your community will help communicate the message to your customers that your company is environmentally responsible. Here are some things you can do to help out your community:

Garbage collection

Target organized groups for direct involvement, such as scout troops and Rotary clubs. Clean up litter from parks, roadways, highways, and neighborhood streets. Donate gloves, garbage bags, and refreshments for the event.

Plant trees

Ask your employees to lead in tree-planting efforts that involve the community. Educate the public about the role and benefits of the event, including reducing GHGs, cleaning pollution, securing soil to mitigate erosion, and providing habitats for a lot of local wildlife.

Hold an Earth Day fair

This could be in conjunction with a school or your local neighborhood, and the fair may include demonstrations of environmentally friendly products, environmental organizations presenting their issues, children's artwork, games derived from recycled products, or musicians and actors performing environmentally themed music and skits. Proceeds would go toward an environmental cause agreed upon by participants.

Charitable contributions

Raise money to donate to an environmental group active within the community. Your company can offer to match employee donations.

Commitment to environmental sustainability goes beyond going green for one day in a year. On this day, remind your employees of your company's green programs and accomplishments.

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