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Phoenix Forward magazine

What is an environmentally sustainable business?

Today, an increasing number of companies use the words “green” or “environmentally sustainable” when describing their organizations, goods or services. But what exactly do those words mean?

“An environmentally sustainable business is one that considers the impact they have on the environment when making decisions about how they use natural resources, such as energy, raw materials, chemicals and water, in an effort to preserve the earth’s resources for future generations,” says Barbara Porter, MBA, an online instructor in the University of Phoenix sustainable enterprise management program.

“There is not just one way to be green, or one set of rules that enables you to say, ‘We are a green company,’” adds Porter, chief technology officer for a fragrance company. Here are four things Porter says companies can do to be considered green:

Offer “greener” products.

Businesses that sell eco-friendly products or services to the public often identify themselves as “green.” A green product is typically one that has been manufactured using less energy than usual, involves less waste going to landfills when it’s discarded or that does less damage to the environment than traditional products when used by consumers.

For example, cleaning products that contain fewer toxic chemicals aren’t as harmful to the environment as conventional products.

Reduce environmental impacts at the office.

Any business can make small changes to be more energy-efficient and environmentally friendly by changing lighting to fluorescent bulbs, using less paper and recycling waste during daily operations. Providing recycling and compost containers in the workplace kitchen or offering employees reusable cutlery instead of disposable plastic products also helps.

Some businesses take larger steps to become environmentally sustainable by working in a Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design (LEED)-certified building that follows specific federal standards for energy efficiency or is built with biodegradable materials. Businesses that incorporate these changes into their daily operations can consider themselves green, Porter notes.

Collaborate to cut waste.

“Partnering with another company to find creative ways to reduce or eliminate waste” is also a way businesses can go green, explains Vicki Bauer, MS, an online instructor in the University’s sustainability program.

For example, Bauer works in human resources for a mental health services organization, which teamed up with a packaging company to cut waste. The packaging company shredded documents from Bauer’s firm to create packaging materials for shipping rather than relying on Styrofoam® products, which don’t biodegrade — even after 500 years.

Follow prescribed environmental standards.

The International Organization for Standardization (ISO), a nongovernmental organization that provides standards for best practices to companies throughout the world, has created a set of environmental procedures called ISO 14000 that any business can voluntarily follow.

The standards include recommendations on everything from composting waste in the office kitchen to employing manufacturing processes less harmful to the environment. A company that’s involved in an oil spill, for example, may want to implement ISO 14000 standards, Porter says, to show a good faith effort that it has improved its environmental practices so it can regain public trust in the company.

“Increasingly,” Porter notes, “investors want to see if a company has been ISO 14000 audited before they will invest.”

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Styrofoam is a registered trademark of the Dow Chemical Co.