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by Rachel Hutchisson, Business Doing Good & Blackbaud, Inc. 

So here we are, at the end of our fourth official series on Business Doing Good.

To make your life easier, I’ve combined all the posts on “being green” into one handy PDF document called Caring about the Environment at Your Small Business.  I welcome you to download it for later or to pop back to the site whenever you feel it’s the right time.

My goal with all my posts and these PDFed series is to provide helpful, practical guidance at the right time.  I know how it works.  You’re reading something on the web and find yourself on a new site.  You like what you see but aren’t always ready to jump right in.  That’s why I put together the resources section on Business Doing Good.  It’s a place to keep the advice, nicely packaged, for the day when you ARE ready. 

If you haven’t checked out this section before, take a look.  I’ve posted an introductory conversation on why “doing good is good for small business,” a guide to creating a giving plan, one on creating a volunteer plan, and now this resource on being green.

I hope you’re enjoying the journey we’re on together.  If you’re implementing any of the ideas or know of a small-to-mid-sized business I should feature, get in touch at BusinessDoingGood@blackbaud.com.

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by Rachel Hutchisson, Business Doing Good & Blackbaud, Inc.

Leave your car at home!

Am I serious?  Sort of.  Here’s what I’m thinking.  We all love our cars.  We choose the brand, the style, even the color to reflect our personalities and the images we want to present to the world.  For many of us, a car (even a used one) was our first major purchase.  Mine was a 1983 Toyota Corolla.  It was silver, and it will always hold a special place in my heart.  But cars are a problem, especially if we each drive one, individually transporting ourselves where we need to go — like work.  The problem isn’t actually the car.  It’s the emissions from the car, waste that is sent into the air to dissipate.  Even though we might not be able to see it, that waste is hurting our world.  We know that.

So what does this have to do with the small business owner?  If you’re thinking about how you can set a good example for your employees or establish your operation in a way that lessens the drag on the environment, then you should be thinking about cars.  More specifically, you should be thinking about how your employees get to work.  The key question is this — can people reach you without having to get in a car?

Let’s say they can, that there are alternative options for transportation – buses, a subway, maybe even bike routes. Fabulous!  Are people using them?  Do a quick “transportation audit,” asking your employees to tell you how they get to work.  Get the lay of the land.  With that information in hand, you might uncover key information, such as a group of people who already use the subway who can talk to the rest of the team about the benefits.  Host a meeting to generate ideas.  It’ll get people thinking about alternatives they have and what roadblocks they are facing.  Maybe someone doesn’t want to ride the bus because the routes seem complicated, but by sharing that information another employee can help out by explaining the routes.  Maybe you’ll learn that employees would ride their bikes if you provided a bike rack. 

You may also learn that employees are passionate about riding bikes to work but are very concerned about safety.  Talk with the other small business owners in your neighborhood and see if there is a way you can band together to advocate for bike paths to be built.  Make your voice heard!

If your people can’t get to work by bus, subway, bike or even walking, then it might seem you’re stuck with cars.  But that doesn’t mean you can’t encourage carpooling.  Find out where people are coming from and help connect the dots.  Coordinate schedules so people who live closer to each other really can carpool to work (versus working opposite shifts).  Alternatively, search the web for a resource that matches individuals with carpool mates who work in the same general area but not the same company.  Some hotels and companies save the best parking spots for people who drive hybrids (as a Prius driver, I think that’s very cool).  That’s another easy way to encourage more environmentally friendly behavior.

Finally, if you are thinking about relocating your business, give serious thought to where you want your office to be from the perspective of an employee getting to work each day.  Is it on a bus line?  Is it near a subway stop?  Are there safe bike routes that go through the area?  Is there housing near enough by that someone would actually ride to work — or maybe even walk?  These are important questions to ask about your customers as well.  Can they easily get to you a bunch of different ways without having to put a key in the ignition?

Think about it.  Ask your people.  Brainstorm about ideas.  Little things do add up to big wins for this beautiful world where we live.

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by Rachel Hutchisson, Business Doing Good & Blackbaud, Inc.

Do you know your carbon footprint?

Kinda sorta?  Well, you’re not alone.  It’s something we hear about quite often, isn’t it?  The phrase carbon footprint, or certainly “greenhouse gas” has gone mainstream.  But do you know what it really means to your business?  If you’re like many, probably not.

Years ago, as I built the corporate social responsibility function at Blackbaud, I attempted to tackle this topic.  The fact that I thought I could “tackle” it, wrestle it to the ground once and for all, should tell you something.  I learned an important lesson.  It’s not about tackling, it’s about making a productive journey during which you identify, monitor and reduce the amount of carbon your company is emitting.  The journey itself never ends.  It took me a while to get to this point in large part because most of the information available at the time on greenhouse gas emissions was pretty heady stuff.  It was complicated and terminology laden, and it made me feel like I needed someone much smarter to help me develop a plan for my own organizations.

But it doesn’t have to be difficult.  Thinking about carbon — in layer’s terms — is really about asking yourself about how your business functions.  How do you use energy every day?  Do you travel for work and, if so, how (car, airplane, etc.)?  How much garbage do you send to the landfill?  All of these are building blocks in the carbon footprint conversation.  For my company, the main areas that affect our carbon footprint are our facilities (the energy use in keeping the company up and running, especially our technology), travel (the fossil fuel that’s burned when we drive, fly or hop in a cab), and our data hosting centers (again, how much energy is required to keep the computers running 24/7). 

This might seem simplistic, but taking a look at the handy tools available today on the web that assess person carbon use can help you think about your small business.  My favorite is the Kids Carbon Footprint Calculator from Cool the World.  It steps kids through basic daily activities like going to school, watching TV, and flipping a light swtich, giving them information at the end of the quiz about what that means in terms of a footprint PLUS ideas for how to improve (i.e. turn out the lights when you leave the room or ride your bike to school.)  The Nature Conservancy has another tool, meant for individuals or households to assess where they stand.  It prompts users through an assessment of energy use, travel, food/diet and waste. 

I bet that, if you used either of these tools, you would begin thinking about how what you’re learning could be applied at work.

  • Are you careful about turning the lights off?
  • Could you think about installing lights that turn off and on automatically (in low use areas)?
  • Can you replace a company van with a hybrid vehicle?
  • Do you turn all your equipment off at night (think copier, printer, computers)?
  • Do you leave a TV running that no one really watches?
  • Do you provide a place for employees to store bikes at work?
  • Can you use videoconferencing instead of flying to visit a business partner?
  • Are you recycling absolutely everything you really can?

Just thinking about the issue, boiled down to its essence, can help you identify easy, completely doable ways to reduce your company’s carbon footprint.  And investing a little more time with helpful tools on the web can help you map out a more intentional plan for how you will monitor and reduce greenhouse gas emissions over time.  The trick is to begin somewhere, to think about it.  If you think about it, you might just take that first step.

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by Rachel Hutchisson, Business Doing Good & Blackbaud, Inc.

It’s Earth Day tomorrow.  Do you have plans?

You do?  Fabulous!  Thanks for taking the time to think about the world we live in, the air we breathe, and the environment that so often gets forgotten over more pressing business concerns.  Again, thank you.

But wait!  Some of you didn’t say “yes” to that plan question, did you?  Hm.  Well, never fear.  There’s still time for you to get involved.  Because every day can be Earth Day. 

It’s never too late to begin thinking about the natural world around us, about how the habits we have as people and businesses affect the air, the water, the trees, the ecosystem.  There was a time when Earth Day was for “treehuggers” or diehard environmentalists.  Things have changed, and that’s good.  Earth Day truly is for everyone on the planet.  And if you need a little inspiration for how to get started, how to adopt some environmentally friendly practices in your business — or add to the ones you already have — check out this list.  Maybe you’ll be inspired.  Doing just one more good thing is a step in the right direction.

1) Create a Green Team – talk to the people who work at your small business and identify a few who really care about the natural world.  Perhaps you have some gardeners in your midst or people who care about buying organic food.  Ask them to start a Green Team, which will come up with ideas for how the business can adopt more environmentally friendly practices.

2) Begin to Track your Resources – create a simple spreadsheet that helps you track how much energy and water you are using and how much waste you are sending off to the landfill.  While you’re at it, record how much you recycle, as well.  If you have questions, contact your service and utility providers so you can best understand what metric to use (it’s probably there on your monthly bill).  Once you have benchmarked your use, it’ll be easier to tell if changes you make help.  (For example, ask employees to keep the blinds closed during hot days to cut down on the drag to your cooling system.)

3) Go ENERGY STAR - If you use any applicances in your small business (refrigerators, microwaves, etc.), adopt a policy that you’ll only purchase ENERGY STAR or high efficiency models.

4) Shut Down the Machines – set your computers to hibernate if they aren’t used for 10 minutes, and make sure everyone completely powers down all the office equipment at the end of each day.

5) Use Green Cleaning Products – purchase environmentally friendly cleaning products or ask your cleaning service to use these products.

6) Buy Recycled Paper – whether its for the paper towels in your kitchen or the paper in your printers, make sure you’re using recycled paper products.

7) Cut down on Junk Mail – keep the junk mail and catalogs you get for a rainy day, then contact the companies to remove your name from the list.

8) Celebrate your Green Wins – whatever you’re doing, even if it’s really small, make sure you celebrate it.

So what are you waiting for?  Get going!  Every day CAN be Earth Day.


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by Rachel Hutchisson, Business Doing Good & Blackbaud, Inc.

Gardening is work, for sure.  But what about gardening AT work?

Sound interesting?  It is!  And it’s just another way many businesses are both keeping employees engaged and doing something good for the environment (and the community)!

What kind of garden?  ANY kind of garden — flowers, vegetables, perhaps both?  The contents of the content are up to you.  What matters most is just taking the leap, or should I say picking up the shovel?

Let me say up front that I realize this idea isn’t one that every small-to-mid-sized business can adopt.  You definitely need to have some space to create a garden.  But that space doesn’t have to be massive.  In fact, it can actually come in many forms — an actual patch of land, raised beds or even containers.  Yes, a “garden” CAN be made up of a series of planters.  It’s whatever works for you, your business and the space you have available.

Now that we’ve cleared that mental hurdle, lets get back to why a garden for a moment.  In addition to being a fun way to engage employees who want to spend a little time doing something different, gardens are a terrific way to give people a little zen downtime, they encourage healthful eating, they teach people about the natural world, they produce beautiful and tasty items, and they are just lovely to look at every day.  I could go on, but you get the drift.

Creating a garden at work is a terrific team project.  There are so many decisions to be made — from the form the garden will take (containers, raised beds or on a patch of land), the design, what plants to cultivate (flowers, vegetables, plants that create a certain scent, and so on), and how employees can opt in to help out.  Many preschools know the vital importance of having a class plant a garden together.  The same togetherness — and love of the natural world — can be cultivated with your employees.

If your company is one where people sit at desks all day, like mine, then getting outside in the sunshine can provide a much-needed break.  It’s good for wellness, as is the produce you grow.  (The company where I work has had a garden off and on over the years, completely managed by employees.  We have grown vegetables that we donated to a local nonprofit.)  If your business is a storefront, then having flowers or seasonal plants out front can become a point of pride, a way you show the community that you care.

And you know what?  Beginning a garden doesn’t have to be difficult.  You can start small, with a minimal investment of time and money.  And you can grow your initiative the way it makes sense to you.  Think about it.  Ask your people.  Is this a way to build unity and have a little fun?  If it isn’t, that’s ok.  There are plenty of other ways to accomplish similar goals.  But many of them aren’t as pretty as having spring flowers welcome you in the morning as you open up your doors. 


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by Rachel Hutchisson, Business Doing Good & Blackbaud, Inc.

I’m having a flashback…to the 1970s.

There I am, pushing a wheelbarrow down the street in my neighborhood in Western Pennsylvania, going house to house collecting my neighbor’s glass.  Yes glass.  This was how I “helped out” and made money.  All the while, I was hoping the glass was green or brown because colored glass earned me more money when I took it to the glass factory.  That was before the glass factory closed and everything went plastic.

This was a job, something given to me by my parents.  But it was a job I didn’t mind.  I was pretty young, and I was making money.  And that was cool.  Little did I know that I was doing what we now call recycling.

Today, recycling is the norm.  Pretty much everyone I know has a blue tub at home, a tub that’s placed on the curb once a week for pick up.  Our kids know what to recycle and what to put in the trash.  It’s just something we all do.

So, are you also equipped to recycle at work?  And if not, why not?  Being too busy isn’t a good enough excuse anymore, especially as more communities have recycling services that will do door-to-door pick up.

Blackbaud, the company where I work, began recycling in the 1990s.  And until we began participating in the Charleston Green Business Challenge, which I talked about in the last posting, I didn’t realize that everyone in business wasn’t doing this.  Well, they should.  And, you know what?  Your people care.  Think about it.  They’re already trained to do this at home, so it’s an easy leap to expect them to take individual paper bins to the workroom to dump, to recycle cans and plastic in the kitchen, and even to place used batteries in baggies in a collection tub.

Sure, you do have to add an expense to your business for the recycling pick up.  But you also see the benefit of reduced garbage/waste.  So take the pledge today, if you aren’t already recycling, to find out which local service you can use.  They usually provide you the bins (for individuals and larger collection) as a part of their service.

If you DO already recycle, ask yourself if you’re really collecting all the items you can?  A few years ago in my community, the county added to the types of plastics they collected.  We went from 1s to 1-7, which added things like yogurt cups and lots of plastic containers used to hold microwaveable food.  We did an internal marketing campaign (in the kitchens and our employee eAlert) to inform everyone that we could recycle more.  Sure, we had to add to the number of times the company picked up our items, but we also cut down on other waste…and felt really good about what we were doing to reuse what was previously going to the landfill!

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by Rachel Hutchisson, Business Doing Good & Blackbaud, Inc.

“It’s not easy being green.”  Well, at least not according to Kermit the Frog.  And although I love that little green frog with all my heart, I must beg to differ.

It actually CAN be easy for your small business to be green…or at least to take steps in the right direction.

You might say, right, sure, not really…how?  Here’s how.  Look around your local community for a nonprofit group or government agency that’s focused on the environment.  Ask them if they offer something called a “green business challenge.”  These programs are focused on helping organizations of all kinds head down the path toward being kind to the environment.

These programs are important and helpful because they provide an easy way for you to get involved and a checklist approach to what you might take on in your own green efforts.  Blackbaud (the great company where I work) has just completed its third year in the Charleston Green Business Challenge, which is run by the City of Charleston’s office of planning, preservation and sustainability.  Participating organizations get access to an easy-to-use web tool that both lists teps to take to be more green and offers a way to mark off your own progress.

Organizations that have been actively involved in environmental work can see how many of the items they have achieved and challenge themselves to be recognized, at the end of the year, as Tier 1 (i.e. an example for others to follow).  Others that are just getting involved might pick a few things to accomplish as a way to get started.  Both approaches are completely ok.

When Blackbaud got involved, we used the first year as a way to create a baseline.  We hadn’t done an audit before of our environmental work, so it was really cool to have a checklist to use.  Turns out we scored really well.  We had all sorts of good, green practices in place — from a long-time recycling program to using native plants in our landscaping that don’t require additional watering or care.  It was a great surprise to be ranked so well, and the honor helped us tell our story to employees and to build pride.

In years two and three, we have looked at what we can add to the mis.  We’ve installed hand dryers in the bathrooms during a scheduled refit, adopted a policy to use Energy Star appliances, and so on.  Most of the time, the additions weren’t hard to do.  We just needed to understand that they were important, and the Charleston Green Business Challenge helped us do that.

So whether getting going on green means starting at the beginning or adding to what you already do, find an existing program out there as a way to begin.  And if you aren’t located in a place that has a program, ask another city to share is checklist.  There’s no reason why you can’t begin the charge on your own, no matter how small your business may be!