5 Ways Businesses Can Tap Into Sustainable Energy

A male construction worker monitors a row of windmills that are collecting energy for sustainable resources during dusk.

Today’s business owners are increasingly aware of their environmental footprint, but sometimes it can be difficult to figure out precisely how to turn good intentions into implementable strategies.

Don’t fret, though—we’ve distilled and collected 5 simple, effective ways for your business to tap sustainable energy practices today and align your company with a greener future.

Feel free to recycle when done!

1. Join a Community Solar Farm

Don’t own your rooftop? No problem! Your utility company may be able to put you in touch with a community solar farm that can produce energy on your behalf. In fact, at least 43 states have one or more community solar projects. Under this model, a local entity or utility develops the solar array—i.e., collection of solar panels—for others to tap into. With your utility managing the enrollment, the arrangement is seamless and requires no upfront outlay of cash, equipment installation, or maintenance—and you can save up to 20 percent on your electricity costs.

2. Reduce Waste at Work

Small changes—such as the following—can yield big results at a relatively nominal cost:

  • Add motion or occupancy sensors to your lights - Does the last employee forget to flip off the lights every night? It happens. And lighting those empty rooms is not merely wasteful—it’s expensive. The good news is there is already a solution: The Pew Center on Global Climate Change estimates that occupancy sensors can reduce energy use between 45 to 90 percent—and the solution may be easier and less expensive to implement than you presume. An analysis by the Department of Energy indicates an occupancy sensor that covers four workstations will cost approximately $250 with a savings-to-investment ratio of 2.2.
  • Invest in energy-efficient office machines - When it’s time to replace your office machinery, seek out ENERGY STAR certified equipment. You typically won’t pay a premium—energy-efficient models are no longer uncommon—but the ongoing savings can be significant. To find out just how significant, enter the details of your current usage and needs into this handy Energy.Gov calculator. The site also has details on local rebates available for ENERGY STAR products. It’s win-win: Lower your environmental impact while boosting your bottom line.
  • Reduce waste in office supplies - From single-serve coffee cups in the break room to overzealous document printing, offices tend to create a lot of waste. While recycling is important, it’s even more crucial to reduce your footprint in the first place. Remind employees to print only those documents they actually need. Switch your printers and copiers to the “double-sided” default setting. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimates a business can save 10 percent or more on energy costs just by educating employees on smart practices.

As for those coffee cups, purchase a set of logoed mugs to keep your company pride front and center—then feel free to run them through the dishwasher. Turns out an ENERGY STAR dishwasher can save up to 5,000 gallons a year and uses half the energy when compared to washing by hand.

3. Optimize Your Supply Chain and Logistics

Using recycled materials in your products can not only help the environment but also safeguard your supply chain. After all, relying on commodities like oil or other natural resources can put businesses at the mercy of fluctuating prices. In addition, many larger companies now require suppliers to provide details on any eco-friendly practices to satisfy their own corporate social responsibility reporting.

The top way to "green" your supply chain is to locally source goods whenever possible. Ordering online might appear to save time. The environmental costs—from packaging to transportation—can add up, however. So do a bit of research. See if a local supplier has similar options. Buy in bulk whenever possible. Further, if you use materials for manufacturing, talk to vendors about their own commitments in terms of their supply chains. Checking outDeclare” labels can be a great, transparent way to find out more about the products or materials you are sourcing.

Finally, consult with your city or state to see what resources they offer—simply search “your state” and “green business programs” online to see if what local contacts or other assistance may be available to help you create a smaller supply chain footprint.

4. Offer Telecommuting Options

What’s the best way to keep employees off the road—and thus reduce greenhouse emissions from transportation? Allow them to work from home. Telecommuting options are skyrocketing in popularity, with 43 percent of U.S. employers offering some type of remote work arrangement.

Of course, some businesses need employees on site. If that is the boat your company is in, consider providing transportation options as a benefit to employees: In 2018, 13 percent of employers offered transit subsidies, an increase of three percent since 2014. Any offset can be potentially significant. Remember, cars account for 20 percent of the total global warming pollution in the United States.

Other ways to combat single trips? Establish prime parking spots just for carpoolers. Offer bike racks and shower facilities to accommodate those who walk or cycle to work. Develop contests or rewards to incentivize behavior change. (Those who commute using alternative transportation, for example, might be allowed to wear athleisure each Friday.)

5. Communicate Your Commitment

Nearly 90 percent of customers prefer to purchase products from a given company when it advocates on behalf of an issue they care about. Environmental consciousness, for example. A socially responsible ethos can also help you retain workers: Almost half of millennials—the largest generation in the workforce today—describe themselves as “employee activists.”

Some ways to spread the word:

  • Consider becoming a “B Corporation.” This official designation, meant to signal a strong commitment to providing value to society overall and not just stakeholders, indicates you have undergone a certification process to verify your commitment to social and environmental causes and communicates your transparency to employees, customers and investors alike. Get started by taking the free B Impact Assessment.
  • Include eco-conscious messages on emails and in advertising. Do you support philanthropic environmental causes or use recycled materials in your products? Do tell! Don’t leave your employees and customers in the dark about your positive or impactful efforts.
  • Share progress results in terms of resources saved to keep interest high. If your employees—whether by committing to printing less paper, biking to work, or some other action—are making a real contribution to your sustainability efforts, be sure to recognize it. Track and share the results of any individual and collective efforts. Everyone likes to know they have contributed and made a difference.

Minimizing your footprint and tapping sustainable energy can yield dividends throughout your company and community. Yes, you can save green by going green. Equally important, however, is the goodwill you can potentially foster with both your employee and customer base as you do your part to save our fragile and wondrous environment.

The views expressed by the author are not necessarily those of Fifth Third Bank and are solely the opinions of the author. This article is for informational purposes only. It does not constitute the rendering of legal, accounting, or other professional services by Fifth Third Bank or any of their subsidiaries or affiliates, and are provided without any warranty whatsoever.