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Going Green Can Reap Rewards for Your Small Business

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Small money-saving steps can add up.

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If your small business is suffering the effects of a slow economy, you're probably on a never-ending hunt for ways to cut your overhead.

One of the most overlooked ways to save is to go green, says Jennifer Kaplan, founder of Greenhance, a Washington, DC marketing firm that advises small companies on how to create green programs and author of Greening Your Small Business (Prentice Hall, 2009).

"A lot of people don't get started because they are fearful it will be too complicated and expensive and they won't be green enough," says Kaplan. But many green practices cost little or no money and can reap you immediate financial rewards, she says.

In her book, Kaplan outlines 50 quick and relatively easy steps that range from using a GPS to using software that eliminates wasteful pages when printing (one inexpensive software choice is GreenPrint).

"My position is that anything you do is better than nothing," Kaplan says.

Given the interest in green business today, there are plenty of other sources of ideas for entrepreneurs who want to create more environmentally friendly operations.

The EPA's Energy Star for Small Business website is a good place to start, thanks to the many free resources it offers. Other useful sites include GreenBiz.com, Business.gov's Small Business Guide to Energy Efficiency, and Planet Green's "How to Go Green: At Work" guide.

Kaplan began writing her book when a small retail store contacted her market research class at Marymount University in Arlington, Virginia, a few years ago for ideas on how to become more environmentally friendly. She began researching ideas that would be free or affordable to small companies -- and found that her digging took an inordinate amount of time.

To avoid overload, Kaplan suggests entrepreneurs start small by adopting just one or two environmentally friendly steps and measuring the results.

"It's really hard to feel you're making progress if you don't have a benchmark," she says. "There's nothing more inspiring than feeling like your efforts are paying off."

Calculating the return on your investment in green practices doesn't usually require complicated computer software, she says. For instance, say you take the very simple step of turning off and unplugging all your computers and office equipment when you're done working to save electricity and reduce your electric bill. You can track your energy and money savings by simply keeping any eye on your electric bill each month.

Kaplan knows a company owner who found that seeing the savings from this one step motivated her to try other ones. "She saw her electricity bills go down by 30%," Kaplan says.

Kaplan made a concerted effort to green her own small business while working on the book. One of her first steps was eliminating her fax machine -- and need for expensive, environmentally unfriendly toner cartridges. To send a fax, she now uses a digital fax service (there are plenty of free and low cost ones, such as jConnect). To put a digital signature on documents she sends, she uses EchoSign.

Even if your primary motivation isn't environmental, you'll quickly find that going green by taking steps like these can be good for your bottom line, says Kaplan.

Many consumers are receptive to green and environmentally friendly products and services, even in a tough economy. For instance, a 2009 report by The Boston Consulting Group found that globally, more consumers purchased green products in 2008 than 2007.

Reducing the resources that you and your employees consume is bound to trim your budget. Staples (SPLS), for instance, has saved money by switching to more energy efficient lighting and equipment in its stores.

Marriott (MAR) hotels have cut energy bills through measures such as changing shower heads to reduce hot water flow.

"The reason so many big companies have greening programs is that reducing waste and streamlining operations is good for business," says Kaplan.

You don't have to be a Fortune 500 CEO to follow their lead.
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