Businesses have clout in a community. You know the old joke: Where does an 800-million-dollar corporation sit? (Anywhere it wants.) But small businesses (fewer than 200 employees) are vital too – collectively they employ the majority of workers in the United States.
The challenge in persuading businesses, large or small, to go green has been the perceived conflict between profit and altruism. Fortunately, more and more, this conflict is becoming a thing of the past.
Consider the groundbreaking examples of green architect William McDonough of Charlottesville, Virginia. McDonough is pro-growth, and he has convincingly demonstrated to corporations that you don't grow by cutting corners on the well being of your workers or of the environment.
In 1995, he completed a new green facility for furniture maker Herman Miller in Michigan, featuring greenhouse-like corridors and man-made wetlands. For the workers, it's like being surrounded by nature. For the company, the building uses solar energy and purifies much of its own water. The building cost Herman Miller $15 million. Since then, productivity has increased twenty-four percent, an increase worth $60 million to the company – a striking 400 percent return on its pro-environment investment.
McDonough redesigned The Gap's corporate campus and produced similar results, leading to his second consecutive Business Week/Architectural Record Award for his contributions to commerce, not environmentalism.
Still not convinced? Then ask Ford Motor Company why the auto giant has begun a twenty-year, $2-billion makeover of its Rouge River, Michigan, plant. Ford's CEO, William Clay Ford, Jr., is also working with McDonough to reinvent the way automobiles will be manufactured and recycled in the future.
William McDonough's message is simple: Doing business green is the right thing to do. It will keep the regulators at bay, and you'll profit from it to boot.
However, companies can take good steps short of redesigning their entire facilities.
- Encourage alternatives for commuters. Want happier, more productive workers? Then keep them out of their cars. Besides, the government will pay you to do it!
- Since 1998, the U.S. government has offered the Commuter Choice Program, which provides federal tax-free transit or vanpool benefits, or taxable cash, to businesses – up to $175 per employee per month – if they convince their staff to carpool, telecommute, bicycle, or walk to work.
- Telecommuting is an especially nice option for employers, if your type of business at all permits it. The Telework Coalition figured out that each telecommuter can save the employer $10,006 in reduced absenteeism and job retention costs – a big reason the number of telecommuters has jumped to more than 10 percent of the workforce.
- Flex time is another way to encourage employees to bike or walk or use public transportation. Taking the bus or subway is far more appealing if you don't have to be on the same schedule as everyone else.
IN DEPTH: Visit CI's Center for Environmental Leadership in Business.
Providing employees quality-of-life perks that also favor the environment can be an inexpensive PR bonanza. Each year Washingtonian Magazine rates the best D.C.-area companies for which to work. In recent years, according to the magazine, companies that offered things such as telecommuting and shower facilities for bikers (which cost a company virtually nothing) attracted tremendous interest from potential employees – not the companies that promised lavish Christmas parties or cruises.
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