Green Business Best Practices
Suggestions on How to Make Your Business Greener
There are many things you can do to make your business (and personal life) environmentally “greener.” The following information provide simple, yet often cost-effective, ways to reduce your environmental footprint:
- How to recycle better (with less contamination) so more of your material really ends up being recycled;
- How to reduce the amount of waste you generate;
- How to reduce your energy consumption; and
- How to make the energy you use greener.
At the end there are book suggestions and web links that provide additional sustainability information, including rebates, grants, and tax incentives that are available to businesses. A two-page handout is also available, summarizing the below information on ways to make your business greener.
If your business/building does not currently recycle, you may be missing out on an opportunity to reduce your environmental footprint.
- Recycling reduces the amount of material going to landfills.
- More importantly, recycled material replaces “virgin” materials, thereby reducing the large environmental impacts from mining, drilling, and logging, and then transporting and processing these raw materials into usable metals, plastics, and fibers.
- For example, it takes only 5-10% as much energy to make a ton of aluminum from recycled cans as it does to make a ton from bauxite ore, and it eliminates the tons of ore that must be mined and transported, as well as the waste material generated from converting bauxite into aluminum.
The cost to collect recyclables is often the same as for collecting waste, so if a business or building generates enough recyclables, the savings in reduced waste collection costs can pay for most or all of the cost of collecting the recyclables.
Contact your waste hauler or the Creve Coeur Energy and Environment Committee for advice on how recycling might work best for you.
Best Practices for Single-Stream (SS) Business Recycling
Many businesses are already paying for recycling services, but some or much of their “recyclables” may still end up in a landfill if there is too much contamination in their recyclables dumpster/cart. Single-stream recycling is only economically viable for recyclables recovery facilities if the amount of contamination is small enough.
Items or materials that may be “theoretically recyclable,” or recyclable at a scrap yard, may be contaminants in single-stream dumpsters. For example:
- Pieces of sheet metal (or a steel file cabinet) can be recycled at a scrap yard, but they are a contaminant, and a safety hazard, at a single-stream sorting facility.
- Plastic bags and shrink-wrap plastic are recyclable when collected at retail stores, but they are serious contaminants at sorting facilities because they wrap around machinery gears, which requires the machinery to be stopped to remove them.
Putting these “theoretically recyclable” materials in single-stream containers (sometimes called “wishcycling”) will actually reduce the amount of material recycled because the entire dumpster of material may be rejected at the sorting facility if there is too much contamination from these items. Below are some best practices that have been developed by single-stream sorting facilities in the area. Please follow them.
1. Make recycling convenient; put recycling and trash containers next to each other.
2. Put only the following items/materials in your single-stream containers/dumpsters:
- Clean/empty metal, plastic, and glass containers (cans, bottles, jugs)
- Clean and dry paper and (flattened) cardboard
- If recyclables are collected in plastic bags, EMPTY THE CONTENTS of the plastic bags into the recycling cart/dumpster
- Materials in a plastic bag that gets to a recyclables sorting facility will be sent to a landfill without being opened (even clear plastic bags). Your material will then be handled and transported an extra time, and still end up in the landfill.
- Food; forks, knives, spoons; plates, cups
- Plastic bags, film, and wrap; hoses, rope, textiles or other items that can tangle
- Yard waste; wood, concrete and other building materials
- Electronics of any kind (e.g., computers, holiday lights); furniture
- Medical waste, especially needles
- Paint, chemicals, oil or other toxic materials
When you put “contaminants” in the recycling stream, you:
- Contaminate good materials that would otherwise be recycled
- Endanger sorting facility workers and may damage sorting equipment
SO, WHEN IN DOUBT, LEAVE IT OUT (of the recycling bin).
5. Keep your recyclables dry; keep dumpster lids closed to keep out rain and snow.
6. Break down cardboard boxes to make them flat. This increases the amount of material that will fit in a dumpster, reduces the number of pickups required (and fuel used), and saves you money.
7. Use clear and easy-to-read signs inside the business for employees and customers to inform and confirm what items to recycle (and how) and what items not to recycle. If possible, display pictures of the exact items you want employees and customers to recycle. (Your hauler can provide printable posters with this information, or use the ones at www.crevecoeurmo.gov/129/Recycling or www.recyclingsimplified.com/business-resources/.
8. Have a designated person/team responsible for recycling. They should check recycling and waste containers and dumpsters to ensure people are recycling properly and correct problems.
9. Do contact your hauler or the Creve Coeur Energy & Environment Committee if you have any questions about what can or cannot be recycled.
- Joe Martinich, Energy and Environment Committee Chair: Joseph.Martinich@umsl.edu or 314-516-6145
Recycling is an important first step, but reducing the amount of waste generated is even better, both environmentally and financially. Below are a few simply things most businesses can do that will reduce the amount of waste generated and save money on the materials they buy.
1. Use coffee mugs and reusable food utensils and plates rather than “disposable” (single-use) plastic and paper products. Especially try to avoid polystyrene (#6 plastic) products.
2. When possible use both sides of paper when printing.
- Ideally, make double-side printing your default printer setting. This will typically reduce your paper purchases by 25-40%.
- Review how much and how often you purchase the materials/products you use, and track how much is being thrown away, especially because they become outdated (e.g., food products and chemicals).
- Work with suppliers to match your purchase quantities to your actual needs.
- Work with your suppliers to reduce the amount of packaging they use, without jeopardizing the products you are buying.
- Encourage suppliers to use packaging material that is easily recyclable; better yet, use re-usable shipping containers/packaging, rather than single-use ones.
- If you ship out material, follow the same guidelines.
- When you replace your furniture, equipment, clothing/uniforms consider giving it to a charitable organization, which may be able to resell it or provide it to people in need. Some businesses and individuals may even be willing to pay you for it (there are active markets in used furniture, business equipment, and electronics).
- Consider buying used or refurbished products rather than new ones. They are less expensive, and this helps to reduce the material going to landfills.
Improving your energy efficiency can be quite easy, and it is almost like finding free money. Many energy efficiency measures have payback periods of 1-3 years, and sometimes even less. Below are a few suggestions worth considering.
- Consider replacing incandescent and metal halide lights that are “on” more than 1,000 hours a year, with either high efficiency fluorescent or LED lights: the energy savings will often pay for the extra initial cost in 1-2 years or less, and they have much longer lives, which will save maintenance costs. Maintenance savings make LED lights especially compelling for high lights, such as in parking lot, high building lights, and lights in high ceilings, which require special lift equipment to replace them.
- Turn off lights, computers, and office equipment at night and over the weekend. Consider installing motion/occupancy sensors to turn lights on and off in rooms with many lights, such as meeting rooms.
- Install and use programmable thermostats. Check to make sure they are programmed correctly with appropriate temperature settings at appropriate times; set temperatures up/down appropriately when the building will not be occupied (overnight, weekends)
- Consider buying fuel-efficient vehicles (e.g., hybrids). For fleet vehicles consider CNG vehicles (notice that our waste and recyclables hauler, Republic Services, uses CNG trucks because they are less expensive and produce less greenhouse gasses than gasoline/diesel vehicles).
Both Ameren and Spire have rebate and other financial assistance programs that can make energy efficiency projects very affordable for businesses and NFPs. Sometimes these programs will cover more than half the cost of energy efficiency projects. These programs change regularly, so it is best to check the websites of those companies for the latest information:
Even the most energy-efficient businesses still need energy to run their facilities and operations. But the amount of air pollution and greenhouse gases produced and emitted depends on how that energy is produced. Approximately 70% of the electricity produced by Ameren MO is generated using coal-fired plants, which emit large amounts of sulphur dioxide, nitrogen oxides, and mercury, as well as carbon dioxide. Businesses can reduce their emissions by producing green energy directly or by participating in “green energy” programs through Ameren.
Direct Green Energy Production
Two green energy technologies that are being used by Creve Coeur businesses right now are solar photovoltaic (PV) electricity generation and geothermal heating/cooling. Currently there are federal tax credits and “bonus” depreciation benefits available for these types of green energy. These tax benefits will begin phasing out in 2020, so installing these technologies in 2019 have some added financial benefits. In addition to the federal tax benefits, Ameren currently has a rebate program for solar PV installations, but that program may also phase out after 2019.
If you do not wish to install green energy equipment, Ameren will soon be instituting a new green energy purchase program. You will pay a price premium for the green power, but that premium will support construction of wind turbines and other green energy. Consult Ameren for the most recent details.
If you are considering energy-efficiency or green energy projects, you should check the IRS website or check with your tax advisor for the current regulations and procedures for claiming tax benefits. A summary of some of the benefits can be found here: https://www.thebalancesmb.com/tax-credits-and-deductions-for-your-going-green-business-4052679.
Reputable contractors that specialize in energy-efficiency renovations and green energy installations can also provide good information on tax benefits, rebates, and other financial assistance programs for businesses.
There are many books on the market that address various issues related to environmental sustainability and businesses. The following are a few “classics” that are informative without being overly technical.
- Force of Nature: The Unlikely Story of Wal-Mart’s Green Revolution by Edward Humes, Harper Business, New York, 2011. This is a very interesting story about how and why Walmart began its sustainability program. It includes many examples of its early, and very successful, efforts.
- Business Lessons from a Radical Industrialist by Ray C. Anderson, St. Martin’s Press, New York, 2011. This book was originally published as Confessions of a Radical Industrialist, St. Martin’s Press, New York, 2009. Ray Anderson was the founder of Interface Inc., a billion-dollar carpet manufacturer. This is the story of his environmental epiphany and how he made Interface an environmental leader in the carpet business.
- Let My People Go Surfing: The Education of a Reluctant Businessman by Yvon Chouinard, Penguin, New York, 2005. This is Chouinard’s story of how he founded his company Patagonia, and the role sustainability has played in its overall culture.
A couple more technical books are:
- Reinventing Fire: Bold Business Solutions for the New Energy Era by Amory Lovins and the Rocky Mountain Institute Staff, Chelsea Green Publishing/Rocky Mountain Institute, 2011. This provides a data intensive study of how businesses can profitably reduce greenhouse gases and reduce global warming.
- Cradle to Cradle: Remaking the Way We Make Things by McDonough, William and Michael Braungart, North Point, New York, 2002. This is the initial book promoting the idea of replacing the linear economy (take-make-waste or cradle-to-grave) with a “circular economy” by making products that are designed so they last a long time, and when they reach their end of life their materials can either be recycled or returned to the environment without doing any harm.
Useful Websites and Organizations
Energy-efficiency technologies, local recycling “rules,” tax benefits, and rebate, grant, and loan programs are changing constantly. There are many online resources that can help answer your questions and provide reasonably up-to-date information (but check carefully, some online information is sometimes several years old and may be out-of-date). Doing an online search using key words specific to your situation and questions is likely to produce a treasure of information. But below are some websites, especially for local organizations, that might be good starting points.
City of Creve Coeur Recycling Information: www.crevecoeurmo.gov/129/Recycling
This recycling information was prepared for Creve Coeur residents, but the information applies to business single-stream recycling as well.
City of Creve Coeur Green Business Certification: www.crevecoeurmo.gov/1052/Green-Business-Certification-Program
If your business has instituted several environmental sustainability actions, you can received public recognition for those efforts through the City’s Green Business Certification program.
OneSTL is a regional sustainability planning group. Their website provides a gateway with links for many sustainability resources. For recycling, see: www.onestl.org/get-involved/regional-working-groups/materials-recycling/recycle-responsibly. For the Recycle Responsibly Toolkit, see: http://www.onestl.org/media/site/documents/committee/materials/Recycle%20Responsibly%20Toolkit.pdf
Ameren Missouri: www.ameren.com/missouri/energy-efficiency/business
Ameren provides many financial incentives for energy efficiency and green power, but they change regularly. This website can give you current information.
St. Louis Green Business Challenge: http://stlouisgreenchallenge.com/
The St. Louis Green Business Challenge is a great program that assists businesses, NFPs, and municipal governments in becoming “greener.” For a modest fee organizations receive good technical assistance and sustainability tools, monthly networking opportunities, and public recognition for their efforts. Creve Coeur itself has participated in the past.
Spire (the St. Louis area natural gas utility provides energy efficiency rebates; this site can provide the latest information.
Tax-related government sites: www.energy.gov/savings/business-energy-investment-tax-credit-itc
This provides a summary of the Business Energy Investment Tax Credit opportunities
Other good summaries of federal government assistance programs are at https://blog.constellation.com/2018/02/13/small-business-energy-tax-credits/ and www.thebalancesmb.com/tax-credits-and-deductions-for-your-going-green-business-4052679
St. Louis-Jefferson Solid Waste Management District: https://www.swmd.net/grant-program/
The local solid waste management district has an annual grant program that supports projects that divert solid waste from landfills (e.g., recycling and waste reduction). Both for-profit and NFP organizations are eligible.
St. Louis County: https://www.stlouisco.com/Portals/8/docs/Health/Waste/Recycling%20Guide.pdf
The County has several programs and informational resources supporting recycling, including a grant program, which is open to both for-profit and NFP organizations: https://www.stlouisco.com/Portals/8/docs/health/recycling/2017%20Waste%20Reduction%20Grant%20Instructions%20final.pdf
St. Louis City Recycles: http://stlcityrecycles.com/
Although this is a St. Louis City website, it provides good recycling resources for the entire St. Louis region.
RMI (Rocky Mountain Institute): www.rmi.org
The Rocky Mountain Institute is a/the leading organization in helping organizations/ businesses reduce their greenhouse gas emissions through energy efficiency and sustainable energy production. It provides many free publications and an excellent newsletter.
This is an excellent, free website that provides both original articles and is a portal to other articles that focus mainly on energy efficiency and green energy for businesses. It provides many brief cases every week of actual projects by organizations.
U.S. EPA: https://www.epa.gov/energy/energy-efficiency-program-best-practices
The US EPA website has a wealth of information, but finding it from the homepage has become difficult. The webpage listed above is a good starting point for energy issues.
U.S EPA Energy Star Program: https://www.energystar.gov/
Excellent portal for energy efficiency suggestions and product ratings.
Energy Star Portfolio Manager: https://portfoliomanager.energystar.gov
This is the best known (and free) tool and database for benchmarking building energy and water use and solid waste generation.
U.S. Department of Energy: https://www.energy.gov/eere/office-energy-efficiency-renewable-energy
The US DOE provides a lot of free publications, which can be accessed via this website.
Energy Information Administration: www.eia.gov
International Energy Agency: www.iea.org
These two organizations are good starting points for energy data. Unfortunately funding cutbacks seem to have reduced the number of reports they now prepare regularly.
The Recycling Partnership: www.recyclingpartnership.org
Some good resources for starting recycling programs.