Guest column: How ‘green’ is green enough?

APRIL 16, 2013 11:19 PM • A.J. L OSS

These days, we see signs of the green movement everywhere. And yet, a lot of businesspeople still may find the whole concept of "going green" a little unsettling. That’s understandable. "Going green" can seem extremely complicated. If you’ve already got a lot on your plate, it may seem like just another convoluted process, as aggravating as tax paperwork.

Thinking about the green movement can leave you with a lot of unanswered questions:

What is a green building, and what does it do?
Buildings that meet green standards work in harmony with the environment. They save energy, reduce their impact on the environment, protect the health of their occupants, and reduce waste and pollution. Many green buildings receive Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification from the U.S. Green Building Council. Even if your company isn’t housed in a green building, you can still contribute to the green movement through your business practices.

Can "going green" be time-consuming?
Yes, there will be an investment of time. Once you have passed the learning curve, it gets better.

Can "going green" be more expensive?
Going green should be seen as a long-term investment. As time passes, you will experience energy savings. Also, you will be protecting the health of your employees, as well as the environment.

Is it worth the extra effort?
"Going green" means additional work, but then, that is the case for most worthwhile initiatives. As with any directive that goes above and beyond daily procedures, you must decide if your business can accommodate that extra effort.

How green is green enough?
For some business owners, this may be the most pivotal question. We have all heard of entire businesses, even factories that are green from stem to stern. You may think: “I don’t want our company to start out too small. I can’t tell people, ‘We’re a green company’ if the only green initiative we follow is a bin for recyclable paper in the break room. If we can’t do it big, we shouldn’t do it at all.”
Even if your only green measure is that bin for recyclable paper ... that’s a start. At least your foot is on the ladder. Basically, green is a spectrum. If you think it would help your business, you can ease into the green movement in stages. It's not like your business has to be completely green by next Thursday.

One example of how green efforts are manifested in a spectrum is in construction. At Bush Construction, we provide green building as one of our many delivery methods for clients. We have clients for whom we have completed LEED certified buildings. We’ve also completed many projects that were not green. Between those two ends of the spectrum, there are other options to consider

We can construct a traditional building that employs green efficiencies. We are able to use sustainable construction concepts to make traditional projects more efficient and environmentally friendly. Or, we can construct a green building with the benefits of LEED, but without the extensive LEED certification paperwork, which adds extra costs that could be prohibitive to some budgets.

That concept of considering green efforts as a spectrum can apply to your business operations as well as your building. If you decide to make some headway in a green direction, the first thing to do is to start a green committee at your workplace. It’s one thing to ask people in your office to go green, but you’ll make more progress if enthusiastic team members lead the initiative.

That committee can look into many green measures that can help your company to make a positive difference, including:

Buying practices:
Look for greener options in products you buy. For example, does your company buy high Post-Consumer Recycled Content paper, Energy Star qualified electronic products, low-VOC paints and materials, or compact fluorescent bulbs?

Digital storage solutions:
Why stick papers in filing cabinets when you can file electronic documents digitally? This option can reduce the use of paper considerably — and, it also reduces office clutter, which contributes to inefficiency.

Green practices:
Some simple day-to-day practices can do much to save energy and help the environment. Employees can use power strips to turn technology off when not in use. They can recycle office paper and other materials in your office. They can turn lights off when leaving offices or conference rooms. Also, they can use daylight rather than office lighting whenever possible.

Never allow the question, “How green is green enough?” to worry you. It’s always best to do what you can. Then, if circumstances permit, do more. There may even come a day when you decide that your building should generate its own power through solar panels and wind turbines, to reduce its dependency on the grid. And when you do, you can think back nostalgically to the days when your only green effort was that paper-recycling bin in the breakroom.

A.J. Loss, LEED AP, DBIA, is president of Bush Construction, an affiliate of the McCarthy-
Bush Corporation. Bush Construction is a design/builder, general contractor and professional
manager of construction services.