Sustainable business practices

April 04, 2011

Save paper, save time, or save the planet?

Green Plus MoverAround the first of every month, for the last ten years, I’ve gone through a routine of printing invoices, stuffing and sealing envelopes, and sticking on stamps. I’ll admit there weren’t many at first, but over the years the pile got larger every month. This month, however, was different; as part of DesignHammer’s sustainability efforts, instead of hitting “print” as I typically did, I emailed close to ninety percent of them instead. By next month, I hope to be close to 100%.

What’s the big deal about saving some paper and a few stamps? At DesignHammer, we are constantly looking for ways to improve our processes. One of our goals for 2011 is to improve our business in regard to sustainability. While traditionally thought of in terms of environmental impact, sustainability now covers additional areas of business, including how companies treat employees, as well as profitability. To help us achieve our goal, we enrolled in the Green Plus program.

Beyond Recycling—Sustainable Business Strategies

Green Plus is a two-year, triple bottom line education, networking and recognition certification program developed to allow small business (fifty or fewer employees) to more easily integrate sustainable practices. The program focuses on helping businesses find a sustainable balance between their people, their performance, and the planet. The Institute for Sustainable Development administers the Green Plus Program. The non-profit Institute was founded in the North Carolina in 2007 by a partnership of academic, business and philanthropic leaders including Duke University and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, the Chapel Hill-Carrboro and Greater Durham Chambers of Commerce.

The program begins with an online diagnostic exam, which DesignHammer submitted at the end of 2010. Based upon our initial score, DesignHammer did not qualify for Green Plus Certified status, though did make the lower cut-off to be designated as a Green Plus Mover. As a Mover, DesignHammer joins eighty-one other like-minded businesses and non-profit organizations on the path toward joining the forty-four that have already been certified.

Since achieving Green Plus Mover status, about once a month DesignHammer’s staff meets to review part of the Green Plus diagnostic exam. During the first quarter of 2011, the group has reviewed over half of the eighty-five questions, and created new company policies to improve DesignHammer’s triple bottom line in regard to sustainable practices.

So how can we look at the impact in term of sustainability through the simple example of changing our invoicing process?

  • Planet: No question that reducing the number of pages we print, envelopes we stuff, and letters we mail will reduce our impact on the environment. A few clients pay through bank transfer, making a paperless circuit for part of our AP/AR process.
  • People: While I haven’t timed it, I suspect the new process will save me some time each month. Though “time is money,” there are more productive ways for me to spend my time, folding and stuffing envelopes is not the most satisfying work either.
  • Performance: If saving the planet isn’t reason enough to convince you to review a process, how about saving cash? The savings in postage alone will improve DesignHammer’s bottom line hundreds of dollars per year, on top of the more modest savings in paper, envelopes, and toner. In addition, clients will receive their invoices faster, which may lead some to pay quicker, improving cash-flow.

Moving Towards Green Web Design in Durham

Why did it take so long? First, this month took longer than usual, as I had to figure out whom to actually email the invoices to at each client. And, I didn't guess write for a few, and had to go back and make corrections. Also, I took advantage of a feature that I hadn’t noticed in QuickBooks Pro that automated the process. As easy as it was, I’m embarrassed I hadn’t made the change sooner.

As with any change, I anticipate I’ll get some complaints, but during a trial run last month, the feedback was universally positive.

Ultimately, what made Green Plus attractive to us was the ability to look at the many different ways simple changes to the way we do business could improve our business, whether it was feeling good about improving our impact on the environment, making work-life more pleasant for employees (making them more likely to remain and be productive), as well as improving the company’s profitability (making it more likely to stay open, and employ staff and contribute to the local economy).




Thanks for sharing these ideas. Many of us struggle with ways to be more green and I would love to hear more about your experiences with the Green Plus process. I have heard great things so far. We have been holding back because we felt that since we were just tenants, that we didn't have any control. However, Green Plus offered some great suggestions on things we can do at our workplace, even though we are tenants.

Best of luck!



Thank you for your comment. Feedback on our efforts have been positive so far, both internally and externally. I was surprised at how well received Green Plus has been to our staff, especially once they learned more about its purpose.

Initially, I thought as you did that Green Plus was about environmental impact, yet that is only about a third of the program's focus; the majority concerns business performance (solid business practices will help you stay in business), and how you treat your employees (they are more likely to stick around if they are treated well).

So far, my sense is that working toward Green Plus Certification is about the journey, more than the destination. Even if we eventually fail in our attempts to get certified, our work toward that goal will not have been wasted, and I feel DesignHammer will be a stronger company for the effort.

Look out for additional blog posts about our Green Plus experience. If anyone has specific questions, I'll attempt to work them into a future post.

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