3 Ways Fortune 500 Businesses Have Taken Steps Toward Sustainability
For big businesses, going green isn’t just about saving the environment. Nearly half of Fortune 500 companies have incorporated sustainability goals and initiatives in the workplace, not only helping to save billions but also improve public perception. Here are some of the steps that the most successful companies are taking to work towards a greener future.
Switching to Solar
Many companies are cutting back on the amount of energy and fossil fuels used in the workplace in an effort to curb their carbon footprint. Embracing renewable energy is perhaps one of the most effective ways that businesses can reduce their emissions within a relatively short time frame. Some companies can take advantage of wind, geothermal, and hydroelectric energy, but only in areas where these power sources are readily available. In addition to being eco-friendly, solar offers a number of benefits for companies located throughout the States.
While solar energy used to be an unrealistic option for many smaller companies thanks to associated costs, these days it’s often cheaper than less eco-friendly alternatives. Solar energy helps companies to reduce their monthly energy bill while also locking them in at a low rate. While most states have fluctuating electric rates, solar costs tend to remain relatively stable without rising from year to year. Installing solar panels can also benefit businesses in the long run by improving the property value of a commercial lot. If a company decides to move to a new location, they have a better chance of making a profit on the sale of their property. Conversely, if a company fails, they can regain some of their losses when selling their lot.
Though solar panels may seem like a steep initial investment, they’re easy to install and operate. It doesn’t take long for most businesses to recoup the costs of switching to solar. Solar panels can easily be installed on-site, either on the roof of a building or in a nearby empty lot. Many customer-driven enterprises have taken to installing solar carports in the parking lots to save space, generate plenty of power, and accommodate guests driving electric or hybrid vehicles.
Solar panels are relatively low-maintenance, especially for businesses that require large amounts of power for day-to-day operations. After the panels are installed, they typically last at least twenty-five years. With proper care, though, they may last as long as fifty years. Many solar systems even come with a full warranty thanks to their reliability.
Beyond the reduced operating costs, a solar system can save businesses cash through government reward programs aimed at encouraging companies to go green. There are both state and federal programs that benefit businesses taking steps towards sustainability:
- Investment Tax Credit (ITC). This federal solar tax credit allows companies to deduct up to 30 percent of their solar costs from their yearly taxes. The ITC makes it more affordable for small operations to make the switch to solar.
- State Tax Credits. In addition to saving on federal taxes, businesses in some states may be able to save on state taxes through solar credits. The amount a company can deduct varies from state to state.
- Cash Rebates. Some states offer cash rebates for solar installations that can significantly reduce the cost of installation for businesses. Municipalities and local utility companies may also offer rebates to solar-powered companies.
- Solar Renewable Energy Certificates (SRECs). In certain states, utility companies have to prove that they generate a certain percentage of their energy from solar. Businesses that use solar power can sell SRECs to local utilities, helping to pad their bottom line.
- Performance-Based Incentives (PBIs). In some states, utility companies pay the owners of solar energy systems a certain amount for each kilowatt-hour of energy produced. Rates are usually determined when the system in installed rather than by the marketplace.
Photo by Ian Lamont licensed under CC BY 2.0
In the era of modern technology, the need for paper-based support systems is dwindling. Faxes and snail mail are giving way to easier and faster forms of communication such as email, while obsolete filing systems are being transferred to the cloud. This is good news for the environment since about 50% of the waste businesses produce comes from paper products. The move towards a paperless future means healthier forests, fewer delivery trucks on the road, and less waste in landfills. Getting on board with the digital revolution is helping companies to reduce their impact on the environment, but there are also plenty of other reasons that more and more companies are choosing to go paperless.
Switching from paper to digital helps to streamline even large or complex business operations. It helps to save time for workers at all levels. Managers can easily monitor and communicate with their department, while employees can more easily stay on top of their responsibilities. Instead of wasting time searching for paper documents, workers can easily look up the information they need in a fraction of the time. Going digital also makes it easier to quickly communicate with customers, many of whom prefer to communicate via phone or email.
Though a sheet of paper may seem irrelevant in the grand scheme of things, companies often spend a significant sum of cash on paper products. The average office worker uses $10,000 sheets of copy paper per year, which can add up in the long run. Not only that, but companies need to spend money maintaining and upgrading expensive equipment such as printers, copiers, and fax machines. What’s more, paper files take up space, costing money in rent and lost productivity. Going paperless eliminates most, if not all, of these costs. Businesses can save on office supplies and equipment over the course of the year by instead providing each employee with an Internet-capable computer or mobile device. The cost of keeping up with a physical filing and communications system far outweighs the cost of investing in new paperless technology.
Going digital can revolutionize the way a company works, helping it to grow and thrive. By embracing paperless filing and communications systems, companies make it easier to access vital information from anywhere around the world. This opens the door to growth on a global scale, giving small companies and startups the unprecedented opportunity to succeed–even without physical headquarters. Digital systems also allow companies to take advantage of the growing trend of telecommuting. While working from home used to be reserved for select occupations, now, many employees can perform their office duties from the comfort of their living room. Not only does this result in more productive workers, but it also helps to reduce emissions from commuters.
While news of recent cyber-attacks might make electronic communications and filing seem less secure, storing information in a digital space is often a safer option than keeping paper files. With tight digital security protocols in place, it’s much less likely that a thief is able to steal sensitive data such as bank account information or credit card details. Unlike paper files, online data can be protected using encryption and password protection.
Starting Recycling Initiatives
Photo by University of Scranton Weinberg Memorial Library licensed under CC BY 2.0
Each year, Americans throw away over 250 million tons of trash, only about a third of which ends up being reused. The rest ends up in landfills at best, but much of it also ends up in our oceans and other bodies of water. It’s crucial that we as a society take steps to reduce our production of non biodegradable trash, especially at the corporate level. Starting a workplace recycling program can help to cut back on waste company-wide. Not only can workers recycle paper office supplies, but also packaging materials, cartridges, and even used lunch containers. The more that employees are able to recycle, the better. Businesses can place clearly marked bins in each department to encourage workers to make quick and convenient deposits. Recycling programs in the office don’t necessarily need to be limited to just paper and plastics. Companies can also benefit from programs that offer safe recycling for materials that are potentially dangerous for both employees and the environment, such as electronic devices and batteries. Many computer vendors offer asset recycling programs for workplaces that decide to replace or upgrade their machines. Office supply chains may also provide e-waste recycling services for local businesses. Encouraging recycling can help to boost the morale of a company’s employees while also impressing customers and shareholders. What’s more, recycling can help companies to save money on waste management and taxes. There are several government incentives that reward companies that recycle, including:
- IRS recycling tax credits
- State tax incentives for recycling programs
- State rebates for recycling equipment
- Department of Energy grants
- Low-interest loans
The Future of Corporate Sustainability
While progress towards a greener future might be slow, even small steps can have a considerable impact on the environment. Many Fortune 500 corporations are setting an example for other businesses by implementing eco-friendly initiatives designed to promote a more sustainable future. What’s more, environmental programs can also help companies of all backgrounds and sizes to improve their bottom line and their public image. Small businesses and startups can learn a valuable lesson in success by following the sustainability practices of larger corporations.
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