|The following is a "reprint" -- an article I wrote for my November 2007 newsletter. Rather than archive some of these articles on my website as I have done in the past, I'm going to let Blogger do that and take advantage of the opportunity to revisit some ideas my newer readers may not have seen yet. It's also an opportunity for me to rethink those ideas and do a bit of editing. I have about a half-dozen, I'd guess, and I'll post them at intervals over the next few weeks.|
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"Sustainability" is a buzzword - one with all kinds of connotations about being "green" and "saving the planet." These ideas get embraced by some folks, and dismissed by others who say "there's no good science behind all this global warming stuff." To me, sustainability means something less fraught with political implications, but rich with implications for other aspects of your business and your life. Sustainability simply describes the capacity of your business to continue doing what it's doing.
An interesting statistic in a recent magazine article notes that Americans generate an incremental five million tons of trash between Thanksgiving and New Year's Day. Fortunately for people in the landfill business, this staggering spike in waste generation only lasts a few weeks. And as anyone who's ever breathed a heavy sigh of relief on January 1 can attest, the level of consumption and activity that generates all that extra garbage is NOT sustainable throughout the year.
Excessive consumption is a habit that is just as bad for the checkbook as it is for the planet. Even moreso now than in November 2007, people are paying attention to issues of consumption and waste in the context of "eco-friendliness," but for business owners, this issue shoots straight to the pocketbook. By taking a good hard look at everything you are using, you may be able to find ways to reduce your consumption while boosting your local economy (and by that, I mean the economy in your own office!)
What does your business consume? Where do you get it? How much do you pay for it, and how much of it do you throw away? Could you get a quality alternative for less money? Should you be buying a higher quality alternative, that would cost more, but last longer? What do you know about your suppliers' sustainability? Are you aware of, and do you agree with, their policies and behaviors regarding environmental or economic impact in their communities?
A large corporation might carefully track the usage rates of paper, pens, or staples when it would seem as though such things represented a minuscule fraction of their operating costs. That same corporation could then spend millions of dollars cleaning up the industrial waste it gets caught dumping into a nearby lake. (Just in case you didn't see a connection between environmental and economic impact....)
Small businesses tend to have the opposite problem. They rarely make million-dollar mistakes (other than opportunity costs - but that's another article). They do, however, sometimes waste money on small things. If you buy the "cheap" tool or machine and quickly break it or wear it out, it's likely to be more economical to spend for the good one than buy the cheap one multiple times. If you are getting a bargain price for items online, make sure the total with shipping is really still cheaper than it would be to shop locally. If you are sourcing "cheap" ink cartridges or office equipment, be aware that these items are sometimes "factory refurb" rather than new, and may not perform like a new one would. This does not make them bad choices -- as long as you know what you're getting, how long it is expected to last, and how the price/performance scenario stacks up against comparable items.
Last but not least, be just as aware of what goes out of your office as what goes in. A typical office environment goes through a lot of paper, and that is difficult to avoid. But there's no good reason for that paper to end up in a landfill. Many communities will recycle for free that which they would charge you to haul as trash. Recycling programs also exist for most types of electronics and office equipment - check with your municipal government or one of the national office supply store chains.
Sustainability is about being able to keep doing what you're doing. Take a few minutes every day to work on your business rather than in it, and always be looking for ways to improve.