The green business definition describes a company that does not make any negative impact on the environment, economy, or community. These types of businesses are forward-thinking when it comes to human rights, environmental concerns, and related issues. Green businesses use environmentally sustainable resources and uphold socially responsible policies.

Achieving a Green Business

If you're a small business owner who wants to go green, you'll need to establish best practices for sustainability when it comes to purchasing, product development, manufacturing, and the provision of products and services. Environmental responsibility is the primary characteristic distinguishing green firms from those that do not monitor their environmental impact. Businesses of all sizes have successfully gone green, from sole proprietorships to Fortune 500 companies. Not only do green strategies conserve natural resources, but they can also reduce costs and improve efficiency.

When going green, consider these four key areas:

  • Lowering energy consumption and improving efficiency.
  • Eliminating waste and using sustainable materials.
  • Adhering to environmental laws, regulations, and best practices.
  • Purchasing green equipment, products, and services.

Within each of these areas, you can make changes ranging from basic improvements to more complicated and far-reaching projects.

Defining Sustainability

The concept of sustainability has three key elements: social, economic, and environmental. Each requires taking steps to meet the needs of your business while preserving resources for future generations.

  • Environmental stability is concerned with resources such as water, waste management, energy, emissions, and natural resources. Businesses are considered 100 percent sustainable if they replace the resources they use, while unsustainable businesses cause excess pollution and use more resources than they can replace.
  • Economic sustainability describes a business that is earning a profit rather than going into debt. This category also includes purchasing products that reduce environmental impact, such as energy-efficient appliances.
  • Social sustainability covers how a business gives back to its community, including ethical principles, education and charitable programs, human rights provisions, health and safety measures, fair opportunities and pay, and high employee quality of life. It also includes taking action against unethical behavior and ensuring that your supply chain and resources are free of human rights violations.

Shades of Green

When it comes to going green as a business owner, it's not an all or nothing proposition. To decide how far you want to go, consider these questions:

  • Why do I want to go green?
  • What market factors should I think about?
  • How can going green give me an advantage over the competition?
  • How does going green fit in with my business plan?
  • What specific aspects of green business do I want to adopt?
  • How can I gain a competitive edge in areas where I don't plan to go green?
  • Do I plan to seek green business certification?
  • Do groups and resources for green business exist in my industry or region?
  • What steps will I take to make sure the products and services I purchase are green?

Offsetting the Carbon Footprint

Your business's carbon footprint is its environmental impact in terms of carbon dioxide produced by a specific activity. If you can't or don't want to reduce your business's carbon footprint, you can take steps to offset its impact. This could include buying carbon credits from a reputable company to compensate for the carbon dioxide your business uses.

Green Business Certification

Many organizations offer certification for green business standards and sustainability measures. Some of the most common requirements of these certification programs include:

  • Taking steps to prevent pollution and reduce waste
  • Safely managing hazardous materials and chemicals
  • Providing consumer and employee education programs about sustainability
  • Conserving natural resources
  • Complying with environmental laws

When transitioning to a green business model, leverage local resources designed to help you succeed. You may seek a mentorship with another business in your industry that has successfully implemented sustainability measures. You can also access resources, training, and tools from government agencies including the Environmental Protection Agency and the Small Business Administration.

Some small steps you can take to reduce the environmental impact include:

  • Eliminating plastic bottles
  • Switching to energy-efficient LED light bulbs
  • Working with vendors and suppliers who follow sustainable practices
  • Using green cleaning products

If you need help with taking steps to create a green business model, you can post your legal need on UpCounsel's marketplace. UpCounsel accepts only the top 5 percent of lawyers to its site. Lawyers on UpCounsel come from law schools such as Harvard Law and Yale Law and average 14 years of legal experience, including work with or on behalf of companies like Google, Stripe, and Twilio.