A sustainable mind-set can mean greater efficiency and more profit.
Cutting costs and maximizing profits are keys for any business. So why are so many companies snubbing sustainability, a driver of these principles? Reasons vary. The overriding one: It's associated with cost, not profit.
Businesses of all sizes can use sustainable practices to improve profits.
But as UPS's sustainability expert Lynnette McIntire points out, old-fashioned resourcefulness and thriftiness are at the heart of sustainability. Even better, businesses of all sizes can use sustainable practices to improve profits.
"Look at your operation," McIntire says. "If you can save energy and transportation costs or stretch your materials, then you're obviously operating more profitably."
Easy ways to get started
Even if you're a small company that keeps costs down in a tough economy, you're probably still neglecting money-savers. Take business-related errands, for example.
"You can learn a lot from UPS's drivers and technology in this area," McIntire says. "UPS saves an incredible amount annually in fuel costs by planning routes that minimize left turns and shortens distances."
Look at how you package shipments. The kind of box you use and the cushioning inside protect its contents. "Cutting down on the likelihood of returned packages lowers your overall shipping costs while maintaining the customer relationship," McIntire says.
You might start with smaller boxes with reinforced cardboard, so less packing material is required. It's a better environmental choice, too. The UPS Packaging Solutions provides information in this area.
Another tip: North Carolina-based Candle Science found that using recycled content in its packaging eliminated expensive materials such as plastic cushioning and foam completely.
Profitability through energy savings
Energy consumption is a significant overhead cost for any company – and the costs are getting steeper. Reduce your business's use by looking at lighting fixtures and printing services.
Just by reducing the number of printed documents used, Arizona-based door and wall fixture company InPro lowered its paper and printer cartridge bill from $72,000 to $48,000 per year.
The company also targeted water consumption. Replacing the company's toilets and restoring the landscaped grounds to a natural setting led to a 20 percent reduction in water use.
How do you find out ways to save on energy? McIntire recommends taking advice from industry certification bodies.
"Also, look at what your competitors are doing in this area," McIntire says. "If they're enrolled in programs, then they are operating at a higher level of efficiency – and you should do the same to remain competitive."
Promotional material giant Geiger, based in Maine, invested in energy-saving improvements to pumps, compressors, light fixtures and air conditioning. The result: an annual reduction of 840,000 kilowatt hours and 14,000 gallons of fuel oil. This has generated annual savings of $150,000.
Attract new customers
Being sustainable doesn't just mean finding profitability through lower operating costs. It could even help widen your customer base. A 2012 ComScore study commissioned by UPS found that more and more consumers factor sustainability into purchasing decisions.
"Consumers want to feel that their purchasing decisions can make a difference by creating a level of accountability," says McIntire, who points to UPS's carbon neutral shipping option. "This becomes even more important when you're dealing with products that have a 'green' edge."
For as little as 5 cents for a ground package, UPS's carbon neutral shipping option allows customers to offset the climate impact resulting from transportation. The essence of the service is that UPS uses customer fees from carbon neutral shipping to purchase high-quality, verified carbon offsets. UPS has partnered with globally recognized certification and validation groups.
In sum, to win new business, "telling your customers that you share their values and are serious about sustainability is important," McIntire says. "And so is your overall commitment to sustainability. Examining and assessing how you operate and finding efficiencies is a traditional business principle that yields profits."
Have sustainable practices helped your business? Tell us in the comments section below.