Spending your money on eco-friendly equipment and supplies is a great idea, but often difficult in practice. So what can you do to ensure your cash is helping your business and the environment?
Deciding in principle to make your business more sustainable is easy. Actually figuring out how to do it can be a nightmare. Many companies realised long ago that if you claim your product is ‘natural’, a fair percentage of consumers will read that as ‘environmentally friendly’—leading to egregious examples of greenwashing like oil companies, miners and car manufacturers claiming their products somehow helped
Chairman of the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission, Graeme Samuel, said last year that there had been a spike in complaints about greenwashing in advertising: “If you’d asked me a year ago, 18 months ago, the level of complaint, I would have said it was almost non-existent. It’s fair to say that it’s now appearing as a fairly regular blip on the radar screen.”
Further confusing the issue is the standard observation that going green will save you money. While that may be true in the medium- to long-term, the real way to guarantee those savings is by changing your routines and business practices.
“If you incorporate green-friendly practices into your everyday routines, they become less like additional chores and more of your own professional standards,” said Scratchley’s On the Wharf manager Danielle Psarris recently. “You may even find that some of the most basic practices save you money in the long-term.”
Having said that, there are a number of simple decisions you can make when purchasing products that will have a positive effect on the environment—and can save, or even make your business money. For example, if you open regularly for breakfast, consider investing in branded travel mugs that can be sold (at a profit) with your regular morning clients’ coffee. This can reduce the waste of disposable coffee cups.
Don’t automatically place takeaway food in a plastic bag, or add plastic cutlery and load customers up with serviettes. Most of this will be thrown in the bin within a few minutes of you handing it over to them. Maybe place a sign near the cash register that advises customers that they need to ask for these, to assist in reducing excess waste.
And finally, if you are consciously choosing ‘green’ products, don’t be afraid to question your distributor or supplier on their environmental claims. If the products are indeed what they claim, then they will have the evidence to back it up.
It is good to get some independent guidance on this, such as is made available through R&CA’s Green Table website (www.greentable.com.au). To give you an idea of how confusing some packaging claims can be on some products, the ABC last year sent a range of products to Ben Selinger, a chemistry professor at the Australian National University, who said it was impossible to make sense of the ingredients lists on many normal household cleaning products: “Even the products which have ingredients on them are often sort of pseudochemical names, which can be anything really, they’re not strictly chemical names,” he said.
“And secondly, you don’t know how much is in there. I mean you can have a good active ingredient in a product, but very little of it. I find it difficult myself. I make educated guesses from what I know of the chemistry of these products, but it’s almost impossible, and for most people the ingredient label is useless.”
Furthermore, some companies will claim they have “carbon offset” their product, which, if not properly explained, can work a little like buying indulgences from the church—it feels like you’ve absolved yourself of sin, but in practice nothing has changed.
If a company is claiming their product is carbon offset, look for some sign of evidence or verification. A good example of a company legitimately offsetting their environmental impact is CUB’s Cascade Green beer, who detail exactly what they’ve done to earn their certification, which is backed up by the Department of Climate Change (at www.climatechange.gov.au/greenhousefriendly/products/).
What else you can do?
Much of the global warming, climate change and energy efficiency debate centres around complex issues.
However, there are a number of simple and cost-effective ways your business can conserve energy today.
- Turn off appliances and lights when they are not needed.
- Make use of natural light and, if possible, use light colours on the ceiling and walls to improve reflected light.
- Set the hot water thermostat temperature to 65 degrees Celsius. It needs to be above 60ºC to avoid legionella and below 70ºC to avoid heat loss through the tank walls.
- Set the heating and air-conditioning thermostat to 21.5ºC in winter and 23.5ºC in summer. For every one degree above or below these temperatures, costs rise by 10 per cent.
- Only use heaters and air-conditioners when necessary. Where possible, only use panel heaters with a thermostat and timer as a portable option.
- Set temperatures for refrigerators between 3ºC and 4ºC, and between -15ºC and -18ºC for freezers; and leave a five-centimetre gap between the rear and the wall for adequate ventilation and heat dispersal.
- Switch off excess fridges and freezers when not in use, or have them completely removed from the premises.
- Check and service appliances and installed motors every six months, including refrigerator, freezer and oven door seals. And dust the coils at the rear of refrigerators for optimum performance and cooling.
- Defrost freezers regularly.
- Don’t leave stoves idling when not in use. Only turn burners and ovens on when they are required and limit opening oven doors.
- ′With the cooperation of staff, consider car-pooling and the use of E10 fuel in company vehicles.
- Purchase organic and/or local produce to reduce emissions caused throughout the production chain.
- Invest in energy-efficient lighting. By changing light bulbs to energy-efficient compact fluorescent lamps or micro fluoro globes, you can decrease lighting energy use by up to 80 per cent.
- Replace old, expensive-to-run appliances with energy-efficient appliances with high energy star ratings.
- Investigate the installation of new energy-efficient hot water systems. Note that an approved temperature flow control valve must be fitted for a new hot water system.
- Review your power supplies and investigate the purchase of a proportion of GreenPower from an accredited provider.
Where to find out more:
Green Table Australia: www.greentable.com.au
BioBin Technologies: (Compost bins and supplies) – www.biobin.net
Eco-Safe-Pak (Eco-friendly disposable tableware and plastic packaging products)—www.ecosafepak.com.au
HealtheClean (Degreasers, odour and stain treatments, tile and grout cleaners, range of cleaning products)—
Visy (biodegradable packaging)—www.visy.com.au
For more information on green purchasing tips, visit:
Waste Wise Catering Toolkit, Sustainability Victoria—
Planet Ark Products and Solutions—www.planetark.com.au)
GreenPower facts and accredited suppliers—
NSW Department of Energy, Utilities and Sustainability— www.energysmart.com.au
Sustainability Victoria: (Energy Efficiency and Renewable