A recycling bin in the corner and a company recycling policy are helpful ways to encourage eco-friendly habits at your business, but it is within virtually every business's ability to become a "zero waste business" today.
Not only are there real-world options that can provide your business with tangible green projects, but there are also several ways to employ principles that can ensure your business remains eco-friendly in the future.
Zero Waste Business: How Do You Begin?
You probably have a few ideas about how to go about creating a zero-waste business, but with organizations like the U.S. Zero Waste Business Council, you don't have to come up with those eco-friendly practices on your own.
In addition to receiving valuable insight on how to become a zero waste business, organizations like the U.S. Zero Waste Business Council and the Zero Waste International Alliance provide zero waste business principles that you can follow. Some of those principles include:
"We take financial and/or physical responsibility for all the products and packaging we produce and/or market under our brand(s), and require our suppliers to do so as well."
"We use recycled content and compost products in all aspects of our operations, including production facilities, offices and in the construction of new facilities."
"We redesign our supply, production and distribution systems to reduce the use of natural resources and eliminate waste."
There are a number of additional principles to follow, so the process of becoming a zero waste business will probably the average small business some time. However, even large companies would need to spend time implementing a zero waste initiative.
First Steps in Becoming a Zero Waste Business
Knowing the essential principles of zero waste businesses is a good start, but implementing those principles requires some work before the green-friendly operations can begin. Green Biz offers some excellent first steps, including a recommendation on "dumpster diving."
"To find out what you are throwing away means Dumpster diving. Get a sense of where waste is being generated and how often and where it ends up. Measuring both volume and weight of each material (paper, plastic, metals, etc.) that comprises the waste stream provides a window into the composition of your business’ discards."
For example, one of the largest sources of waste for many companies is cardboard, which can become somewhere between one-third and fifty percent of the waste for some businesses. What a business must understand is that becoming a zero waste business doesn't mean simply recycling the cardboard.
Rather, a zero waste business will endeavor to eliminate the waste in the first place by making purchases that reduce or eliminate how much cardboard the company buys. Keeping items out of landfills is important, but recycling takes energy, too, so it's essential to eliminate the need to recycle in the first place.
Encouraging Zero Waste Practices Outside the Business
A zero waste business can have even more of a positive impact on the environment by speaking to customers and creating awareness about eco-friendly and green habits. For example, a business can employ incentives to encourage customers to make a purchase that reduces waste.
For example, some businesses offer "green points" whenever a customer uses their own bag to complete a transaction. Those points are redeemable for various items in the store or can be used for discounts at other retailers in the area.
For example, California-based grocery store Ralphs has a rewards program that gives people fuel points whenever they use their own bag for their groceries.
"Remember to bring your reusable bags on your next shopping trip! You'll earn 5 fuel points for each reusable bag you use, up to 10 bags, every time you shop."
Considering Receipts: A Huge Source of Waste
Businesses can also encourage customers to adopt green-friendly habits by calling their attention to eco-friendly practices and the ease of adopting them. For example, a huge amount of waste in consumer transactions today comes from receipts. As standard practice, employees should ask customers whether they want a receipt.
Consider This: For particularly dedicated businesses, it's possible to switch completely from a paper-based receipt system to an electronic option. Many people just shove their receipts into a drawer somewhere and use their bank statements to keep track of spending. Other people who want to have the receipt on hand can choose to receive an email copy of the receipt.
The employees at nationwide coffee retailer Starbucks already asks every customer if he or she wants a receipt, and they don't print anything out unless a customer says they want a receipt. Similarly, delivery company FedEx operates a chain of copy/print stores and customers who use the company's machines to make copies are given the opportunity to receive an electronic (emailed) receipt rather than a printed receipt.
The Benefits of Becoming Recognized as a Zero Waste Business
Any business that adopts eco-friendly initiatives is taking a step in the right direction, but going the extra mile to become a "zero waste" company can have even greater benefits. The Zero Waste International Alliance shares:
"National Affiliate (see description on page 3) is authorized to publicly say 'The Zero Waste International Alliance has reviewed data provided by the business and determined that they are diverting over 90% of their discards from landfilling or incineration according to ZWIA Zero Waste Business Principles.'"
While it's essential for all businesses to strive toward zero-waste status for the health of the planet, engaging in a campaign to become a zero-waste business can also have a positive impact on how the public perceives a particular business.
According to statistics gathered by Environmental Leader, an environmental and energy management news site, customers enjoy buying products from green companies:
"More than half of global consumers (53 percent/representing 1.1 billion people) prefer to purchase products and services from a company with a strong environmental reputation, according to a new global survey released by video-conferencing company Tandberg."
Over time, your business can not only reap the rewards of becoming a zero waste business, but you can also enjoy an improved reputation with customers.
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