Environmentally friendly companies

Posted on: 08 May 2014

Implementing eco-friendly principles doesn’t have to cost your business the earth.

Meet Peter. He is a small business owner, just like you. Peter wants to make his company more profitable by becoming more environmentally friendly. But can he do both?

In a recent Small Business Index from Office Depot, 39% of SMEs see concerns about cost as the main challenge of going green. However, M&S is proof that going green can make you money – its ‘Plan A’ sustainability programme was due to cost it more than £200m in the first five years. It actually generated £105m, mainly through improved resource efficiency.

You’ll learn how to apply some sustainable yet profitable business practices to your own business at the same time.

Reduce overheads
Be more competitive
Improve processes
Get staff involved with green initiatives


Running a business incurs inevitable office and administrative costs, particularly when it comes to utility bills, paper consumption and waste disposal. Becoming more eco-friendly can make all these significantly less costly.

Lower energy bills

  • By instilling the habit of turning things off when they’re not in use, Peter could significantly reduce his energy bills:
  • Photocopiers use enough energy to produce more than 1,500 copies if left on overnight
  • Leaving the lights on in the office uses enough energy to make 1,000 cups of tea
  • Vending machines that carry non perishables can be turned off overnight and at weekends, or set on a timer to do so, to reduce unnecessary energy usage
  • Turning the thermostat down by 1 degree C could save Peter 8% on his fuel bill. Turning the heating or air conditioning off in unused rooms and overnight will also save him money.

Cut paper and ink consumption

Depending on the type of business and the amount of printing it does, some companies spend up to 3% of their turnover on toner and ink. Peter could use less paper and ink by:

  • Printing double sided, in draft or in black and white and changing the font he uses (Verdana takes up fewer printed pages than Times New Roman)
  • Invoicing electronically and paying bills online.
  • Using the Cloud to reduce the amount of printing done to share documents (for example, Google Docs lets
  • Peter work on a document simultaneously with others). The Cloud also helps to lower the amount of hardware needed, thus reducing Peter’s carbon footprint further.
  • Storing files online rather than on paper in rows of filing cabinets. Dropbox and the like are free Cloud storage systems that could free up valuable floor space for Peter to use more productively.
  • Donating empty printer cartridges and toners to charity rather than paying to send them to landfill.

Decrease waste disposal charges

  • A simple waste audit will give Peter an idea of what his team are putting in the bin, how much there is and how often they’re emptied. Local waste management companies will provide advice about how to reduce his waste disposal charges as well as the number of collections they have to make. He could also talk to other local businesses about combining the collection of recyclables.
  • Assorted bins positioned cleverly around Peter’s premises, such as putting a paper recycling bin next to the photocopier, makes it easier for his staff to get into the habit of using the facilities.
  • If Peter produces large amounts of certain waste (like clean waste metal and large volumes of cardboard), he can list them on websites like WhyWaste.org who will come to him to collect them.
  • Asking suppliers to take back bulk packaging for reuse will reduce the amount of money he spends sending it to landfill.
  • Electrical items (Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment, WEEE) can be recycled for free. Peter can find out what services are available via his local council.


Lowering his operating costs gives Peter an opportunity to offer more competitively priced products and services to his customers. Achieving this at the same time as becoming a more environmentally friendly business can improve his sales figures and his reputation at the same time.

Reduce fuel consumption

Every business relies on vehicles to some extent. From the sole trader who uses their car to pick up supplies to larger businesses like Peter’s that operate a fleet of vans to deliver products.

Fuel consumption can amount to 17% of the total cost of owning a van for four years. For businesses like Peter’s that use vans to deliver goods, decreasing the number of times they have to fill up can help them offer more competitive delivery charges to their customers.

  • There are ways in which Peter can improve his mpg. He could improve fuel consumption by up to 3% by simply ensuring the van’s tyre pressure is right.
  • Eco-friendly models of the country’s most popular vans are not only good for the environment but also publicise reduced running costs too.
  • Better logistics scheduling is possible with tracking systems that analyse driving time and hours so that businesses like Peter’s can reduce their fleet’s overall fuel consumption. Not only does this save fuel but it also saves valuable time that can be used getting more products to more customers faster.

Use grants and reduce fines

By improving productivity, cutting waste and meeting environmental regulations, businesses can be eligible for grants, awards and other funds. These can provide valuable resources to invest in solutions for improved product performance at the same time as making them more sustainable. As a result, customers can expect better products at better prices.

For more information, Peter can visit The Green Grants Machine and read their case studies for inspiration on how much he can earn as well as save by going green.

In addition, the Environment Agency is clamping down on failures to meet their environmental regulations. With a 96% success rate in prosecutions and fines, Peter would be wise to keep up with the regulations that affect his business. This will help him to direct hard earned funds away from paying penalties and into meeting his customers’ needs better than his competitors.

Get a green reputation

According to Nielsen, the number of UK shoppers who would buy products that are fairer and greener goes up every year. Many will pay more for eco-friendly products too. So having a reputation for being green can help businesses like Peter’s beat the competition by appealing to those buyers for whom green credentials are important.


Businesses such as wholesalers, distributors and manufacturers can involve processes that generate a lot of waste and use large volumes of water. Peter’s business includes some manufacturing, which is particularly notorious for both. Even if your business doesn’t include a factory or machinery, you will still be able to apply some of the following principles.

Reduce waste

Overall, waste costs UK industry about 4.5% of turnover. If Peter takes a look at how he uses and disposes of the materials that form part of his manufacturing process, he could significantly improve his factory’s efficiency. Some ways to do this include:

  • Reviewing his product design and identifying areas for reduced materials usage and waste. He may wish to do this in partnership with his suppliers or some key customers
  • Re-using packaging where appropriate and returning it to his suppliers for re-use if not.
  • Reviewing his waste transfer notes to see how to minimise what leaves the site. Peter can discuss this with a local waste management company who will also offer ideas that are specific to his manufacturing processes.
  • Finding ways to reduce the time it takes to process and handle waste, such as relocating specific types of bin to where that waste material is most often produced.
  • Avoiding spillages of widely used products such as lubricants and improving the storage facilities of bulky items to reduce the frequency of supplier deliveries (thus lowering his carbon footprint and delivery costs).

Peter can measure the savings he makes from these achievements quite easily. He can monitor the number of skips that leave his site per month, he can analyse changes in his waste transfer notes and he can assess the impact on his overall factory direct costs and overheads.

Ease water usage

The manufacturing sector is the largest user of water outside homes (accounting for between 45% and 55% of the volume of water used in England and Wales). Reducing the amount used as part of Peter’s manufacturing process may be complex, but by spending some time thinking about how to use less water, Peter might find some valuable cost savings across his whole manufacturing facility.

There are also several simple ways that he can lower his overall water usage too, including:

  • Post signs reminding staff to turn off taps and regularly check for leaks in the water system
  • Fix constantly running toilets (which lose 200 gallons a day) or a dripping tap (which wastes 3,000 gallons a year if it drips once a second)
  • Fit time switches to immersion heaters
  • Ensure hot water is not above 60 degrees C.

Frequently reviewing his water bills and acting on any sudden or unexplained increases in usage could help Peter identify where there is wastage or the impact of new manufacturing processes on the amount he’s charged for water.


If people feel a match between their own and their employer’s values, they are more likely to stay. This helps Peter be more profitable by reducing his recruitment costs and helping him keep his most valuable members of staff.

Here are a couple of ways for Peter to get his team more involved:

  • Regularly communicate how everyone (from management to the most junior members of staff) is committed to being environmentally friendly.
  • Offer the bike to work scheme, which not only incentivises staff to leave their car at home but supports them in their own objectives of getting fit.
  • Inspiring colleagues to share their journeys to work by making sure management do so where possible.
  • Use environmentally friendly detergents and hand soap in the workplace. It’s all part of showing staff that the business cares about the environment, even when it comes to the little things.


www.uel.ac.uk/greenthing/energy/energymythsandfacts/ www.greengrantsmachine.co.uk/default.aspx blueandgreentomorrow.com/2013/08/21/one-in-four-people-happy-to-spend-more-on-ethical-products

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