Going Green Business Ideas - Sustainable Business Solutions
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Sustainable Business Strategies
The following programs provide an overall approach and/or concepts for integrating sustainable practices into your business:
- ISO 14000: environmental management standards that help organizations minimize their impact on the environment; comply with applicable laws, regulations, and other environmentally oriented requirements; and continually improve on the above. See also British Standard 8900 and AccountAbility 1000.
- Natural Step: a science and systems-based approach to organizational planning for sustainability. It provides a practical set of design criteria that can be used to direct social, environmental, and economic actions. (video). Promotes four system conditions that lead to a sustainable society:
- nature is not subject to systematically increasing concentrations of substances extracted from the Earth's crust;
- nature is not subject to systematically increasing concentrations of substances produced as a byproduct of society;
- nature is not subject to systematically increasing degradation by physical means;
- people are not subject to conditions that systematically undermine their capacity to meet their needs.
- Natural Capitalism: a new business model that synergizes four major elements: radically increase the productivity of resource use; shift to biologically inspired production (Biomimicry) with closed loops, no waste, and no toxicity; shift the business model away from the making and selling of "things" to providing the service that the "thing" delivers; and reinvest in natural and human capital.
- B Corporations: a new type of corporation which uses the power of business to solve social and environmental problems.
- Climate Leaders: U.S. EPA program that works with companies to develop comprehensive climate change strategies.
- CERES Roadmap for Sustainability: designed to provide a comprehensive platform for sustainable business strategy and for accelerating best practices and performance.
- Cradle-to-Cradle (Closed Loop Systems): system in which all the things we make, use, and consume provide nutrition for nature and industry—a world in which growth is good and human activity generates a delightful, restorative ecological footprint. Also see Regenerative Design.
- Eco-Efficiency: to create more goods and services while using fewer resources and creating less waste and pollution.
- Environmental Conscious Manufacturing (ECM): focuses on the most efficient and productive use of raw materials and natural resources, and minimizes the adverse impacts on workers and the natural environment. In its most advanced form, a product's entire life cycle is considered, from design, raw material and natural resource use to end use and disposal.
- Environmental Management Systems (EMS) or Integrated Management System: a set of management processes and procedures that allows an organization to analyze, control and reduce the environmental impact of its activities, products and services and operate with greater efficiency and control.
- Environmental Profit and Loss: a company’s monetary valuation and analysis of its environmental impacts including its business operations and its supply chain from cradle-to-gate. PUMA released the first ever EP&L.
- Full Cost Accounting (aka True Cost Accounting): the process of collecting and presenting information — about environmental, social, and economic costs and benefits/advantages (collectively known as the "triple bottom line") - for each proposed alternative when a decision is necessary.
- Green Plans (a.k.a. strategic environmental management plans): comprehensive and integrated strategies for the deliberate pursuit of sustainable development. Government, business, and NGO sectors are all involved as partners in developing and implementing the plans.
- Precautionary Principle: states that when an activity raises threats of harm to human health or the environment, precautionary measures should be taken even if some cause and effect relationships are not fully established scientifically. In this context the proponent of an activity, rather than the public, should bear the burden of proof.
- Total Quality Environmental Management (TQEM): a management philosophy and a set of accompanying quality improvement techniques that has been adopted by many American corporations. By applying TQM philosophy and techniques, businesses undertake continuous improvement across all operations by seeking to discover the reasons for poor quality performance and customer service and implementing methods to reduce and/or eliminate the causes of poor quality. Waste or pollution can be viewed as an inefficiency or defect within a process that results in poor environmental performance for a company. With TQEM, the tools and philosophies of TQM are used to improve environmental performance by eliminating the waste or reducing its impact.
- Triple Bottom Line: accounting framework that goes beyond the traditional measures of profits, return on investment, and shareholder value to include environmental and social dimensions.
- Whole Systems Thinking: a process through which the interconnections between systems are actively considered, and solutions are sought that address multiple problems at the same time. Some refer to this process as the search for "solution multipliers."
Regulatory Concepts or Systems
- Product Stewardship: a product-centered approach to environmental protection. It calls on those in the product lifecycle - manufacturers, retailers, users, and disposers - to share responsibility for reducing the environmental impacts of products.
- Extended Producer Responsibility: environmental protection strategy to reach an environmental objective of a decreased total environmental impact of a product, by making the manufacturer of the product responsible for the entire life-cycle of the product and especially for the take-back, recycling and final disposal of the product.
- REACH (Registration, Evaluation and Authorization of Chemicals): legislation by the European Union that forces industries doing business in Europe to register chemicals and submit health and safety data, and replace the most hazardous ones with safer alternatives. The law, which took effect in 2007, is impacting businesses worldwide and over time will result in a significant reduction of toxic chemicals released into the environment.
- Emissions Trading: an administrative approach used to control pollution by providing economic incentives for achieving reductions in the emissions of pollutants.
The following resources provide information and directories for green product purchases.
Green Product Design
The following programs, tools and materials facilitate greening your product design process:
- Biodegradable Plastic: looks, feels and acts like traditional plastic, but breaks down later into organic components. Crops such as corn and potato have been used to make these non-petroleum alternatives.
- Biomimicry and AskNature.org: Biomimicry is a new science that studies nature's models and then imitates or takes inspiration from these designs and processes to solve human problems, e.g., a solar cell inspired by a leaf. AskNature.org is an online searchable database of nature-based solutions to common everyday problems. Biomimicry encourages sustainable design based on how nature operates:
Nature runs on sunlight.
Nature uses only the energy it needs.
Nature fits form to function.
Nature recycles everything.
Nature rewards cooperation.
Nature banks on diversity.
Nature demands local expertise.
Nature curbs excesses from within.
Nature taps the power of limits.
- Dematerialization: to identify opportunities to provide equal or greater functionality to consumers while using less energy and material per unit function.
- Design for Environment (DfE)/Design for Sustainability: supports product developers in reducing, already at the development phase of a product's life cycle, the environmental impact through enhancing the product design. This includes reducing resource consumption, both in material and energy terms, and pollution prevention.
- Eco-Efficiency: to create more goods and services while using fewer resources and creating less waste and pollution.
- Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) Standards: the FSC standards represent the world's strongest system for guiding forest management toward sustainable outcomes.
- Green Chemistry: the design of chemical products and processes that reduce or eliminate the use and generation of hazardous substances. See also Green Chemistry Resource Exchange, Univ. or Oregon, and EPA.
- Industrial Ecology: focused on optimizing the use of energies and materials, minimizing wastes and pollution, and creating an economically viable role for every product of a manufacturing process. The end result would be that industrial activity would be environmentally sustainable on a global level.
- Life Cycle Analysis and Assessment: involves making detailed measurements during the manufacture of the product, from the mining of the raw materials used in its production and distribution, through to its use, possible re-use or recycling, and its eventual disposal. Enables a manufacturer to quantify how much energy and raw materials are used, and how much solid, liquid and gaseous waste is generated, at each stage of the product's life. See also ACLCA and ISO 14040.
- Life Cycle Thinking: addresses life cycle generated impacts through the use of different approaches aiming at minimizing them such as: Life Cycle Assessment (LCA), Life Cycle Management (LCM), Life Cycle Costing (LCC) and Design for the Environment (DfE).
- Service or Functional Economy: at a company level, a structure where revenues come from leasing of equipment with long-life; continuing maintenance and service; major upgrading of systems; parts and supplies; service provider training and licensing. Or the company might simplify the transaction by offering one, use-based fee. If the company is compensated on the basis of service provided, its employees will have strong incentives to minimize materials and energy used in the systems that deliver the service to the customer.
- Sustainable Packaging (aka Responsible Packaging, Eco Responsible Packaging): the development and use of packaging which results in improved sustainability. A number of organizations and programs, such as the Sustainable Packaging Coalition and UPS' Eco Responsible Packaging Program, have formed to support companies in transitioning to sustainable packaging. Example of compostable packaging from Eco Vision.
Green Product Labels
Green label programs to help design and promote your green products:
- Eco-Labels Directory: the Consumers Union's useful guide to environmental labels across a wide variety of industries. Examples of labels: GoodGuide, Design for Environment, and Green Seal.
- C2C Certification: Cradle to Cradle Certification provides a company with a means to tangibly, credibly measure achievement in environmentally-intelligent design and helps customers purchase and specify products that are pursuing a broader definition of quality.
- Environmental Technology Verification: Environmental Protection Agency program which verifies the performance of innovative technologies that have the potential to improve protection of human health and the environment and provides a list of verified products to the public.
- Fair Trade Labeling: a brand designed to allow consumers to identify goods which meet agreed fair trade standards. Typically standards cover labor standards, environmental standards, and stable pricing.
The program is overseen by an international umbrella organization, the Fairtrade Labelling Organizations International (FLO).
Zero Waste and Pollution Prevention
Tools and information for creating a zero waste, non-polluting business.
- Zero Waste: expresses the need for a closed-loop industrial/societal system. Waste is a sign of inefficiency. Includes "Zero Solid Waste", "Zero Hazardous Waste", "Zero Toxics" and "Zero Emissions". The London store Unpackaged is a great example of zero waste-inspired business. Here are Four Steps to Get You on the Path to Zero Waste.
- Zero Waste Business Principles
- Zero Waste Benefits: identify specific benefits (also see WasteWise and Zero Waste Alliance) to your company of reducing waste. If needed, the EPA provides the Waste Reduction Model (WARM) tool to determine GHG emission reductions from waste reduction.
- Zero Waste Success Stories: learn about success stories at other businesses (WasteWise, Zero Waste Network, StopWaste.org, GrassRoots Recycling Network, CalRecycle and Sustainable Connections).
- Waste Audit: conduct a waste audit (see also WasteWise and sample forms). Follow the flow of each type of waste from source to landfill and the business need behind each type of waste. The better each process is understood, the more likely improved, zero waste solutions can be found.
- WasteWise: EPA program which provides great online resources. Also see Pollution Prevention Plan which could be applied to all types of waste.
- Reducing Specific Types of Waste: Specific solutions at Zero Waste Network and Substitution Support Portal (to find alternatives to more toxic chemicals).
- Material Exchange: a network "service" that helps to redirect unwanted equipment, overruns, rejects, and other materials from businesses to other businesses, not-for-profits, schools, community groups, and others that need the materials. These material exchanges usually have a catalog or computer listing of materials wanted and materials available and often have a staff available to help facilitate the exchange of materials. This term is often used synonymously with "waste exchange."
- Pollution Prevention: a strategy of material use, processing, and management that reduces or eliminates the creation of pollutants and waste at the source--prior to recycling, treatment or disposal. Also referred to as source reduction.
- Reusable Transport Packaging: replaces one-time (and limited-use) pallets and boxes with reusable totes, bins, and pallets.
- Recycling Program: information on how to start a recycling program. Find local recycling services through Earth 911, Environmental Yellow Pages and e-Stewards.
- Industrial Materials Recycling: EPA information on the recycling and beneficial use of industrial materials
- Create a Paperless Office: effective steps for creating a paperless office while increasing productivity.
- eCycling: the EPA provides resources for donating or recycling your old electronic equipment.
- Extending the Life of Equipment: helpful PDF guide on how to extend the life of electronic equipment. Also see PDF guide on improving the operation and maintenance of electronic equipment.
- Reducing Junk Mail: steps for reducing business junkmail.
- Office Supplies: Create a used supplies drawer and ask employees to place any unwanted office supplies from work or home in the drawer for reuse.
- Waste-Free Lunch: encourage employees to pack a waste-free lunch.
- Break Room: Ask co-workers to bring their unwanted cups, mugs, plates, cloth napkins, and silverware to work to replace disposable items.
- Source Reduction: a product that results in a net reduction in the generation of waste compared to the previous or alternate version and includes durable, reusable and remanufactured products; products with no, or reduced, toxic constituents; and products marketed with no, or reduced, packaging.
Green Building Tools and Programs
- BEES (Building for Environmental and Economic Sustainability) Software: helps with selecting cost-effective, environmentally-preferable building products.
- LEED: green building certification program.
Material Donations: in the US and Canada, Habitat for Humanity has hundreds of local donation centers (Restore) where unused building material can be donated. Alternatively, try returning excess materials to the the point of purchase.
- Water Conservation Guide: tips for reducing water use at work. Also see 100 Ways to Conserve for additional ideas.
- Native Plants: by switching your landscaping to drought- tolerant native plants a company can save a large amount of water (up to 550 gallons of water can be saved per year from just one plant).
Energy Conservation and Renewable Energy
Reporting and Measurement
- Carbon Disclosure Project: a non-profit which holds the largest database of corporate climate change information in the world (obtained from responses to CDP's annual Information Requests). The gold standard for carbon disclosure methodology and process.
- ClimateCounts: Climate Counts lets consumers see how serious companies are about stopping climate change - and how they compare to their competitors.
- Environmental Management Accounting (EMA): the identification, collection, estimation, analysis, internal reporting, and use of materials and energy flow information, environmental cost information, and other cost information for both conventional and environmental decision-making within an organization.
- Global Reporting Initiative: a multi-stakeholder process and independent institution whose mission is to develop and disseminate globally applicable Sustainability Reporting Guidelines.
- Greenhouse Gas Protocol: international accounting tool for government and business leaders to understand, quantify, and manage greenhouse gas emissions.
- Corporate Social Responsibility: a comprehensive set of policies, practices and programs that are integrated into business operations, supply chains, and decision-making processes throughout the company and includes responsibility for current and past actions as well as future impacts. The goal is to help companies achieve commercial success in ways that honor ethical values and respect people, communities, and the natural environment.
- Resource Productivity and Resource Intensity: key concepts used in sustainability measurement to maximize resource productivity while minimizing resource intensity.
Other Green Business Practices
- Eco-Industrial Parks: a community of manufacturing and service businesses located together on a common property. Member businesses seek enhanced environmental, economic, and social performance through collaboration in managing environmental and resource issues. Components of this approach include green design of park infrastructure and plants (new or retrofitted); cleaner production, pollution prevention; energy efficiency; and inter-company partnering. An EIP also seeks benefits for neighboring communities to assure that the net impact of its development is positive.
- Environmental Health and Safety Freeware: freeware that provides information and tools to help business achieve environmental excellence.
- Environmental Businesses Directory: global online marketplace and information resources for the environmental industry
- Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA): used to identify the Environmental, Social and Economic impacts of a proposed development prior to decision making.
- Environmental Protection Agency Partnership Programs
New Sustainable/Cleantech Business Ideas and Concepts
- Fair Trade Business: what to think about when starting a fair trade business.
- Social Entrepreneurship: the work of social entrepreneurs. A social entrepreneur recognizes a social problem and uses entrepreneurial principles to organize, create and manage a venture to achieve social change (a social venture).
- Cleantech Accelerator: Funding for "cleantech" businesses can be found through cleantech accelerator programs. One organization that supports cleantech startups is The Hub.
Sustainable Business News and Terms