"We don't, in a sensible world, want to hand on an increasingly dysfunctional world to our grandchildren" - HRH Prince Charles (2013)

Sustainability is your way to look after future generations. Ok, this statement is a little grand but there is some truth to it. In a society where we have much available to us when starting or running a business, from new furniture and new computers to low cost paper and stationery orders, who says that we can't also save the planet at the same time.

According to Skills for Sustainability, sustainability can deliver benefits to your business as well as benefits for the community and the environment. The Environmental Protection Authority offers information for business and industry to lower their environmental impact; navigating through the site to will teach you how to save costs, become energy efficient and engage staff. While the site offers advice, strategies and plans to help you decide which areas to apply sustainability in order to support your whole business to increase efficiency and reduce waste, you may like to start a little smaller.

Reuse, refill, recycle = reduced waste

There are many, many small activities your business can do daily beyond just buying recycled paper that can help lower your carbon footprint and reduce waste (you should also, if possible, use recycled paper). Next time you jump online to purchase the latest desk set up or spiffy new chair for the office, take pause - could you be purchasing a product that is already available, potentially used, perhaps at a heavily reduced rate?

Re-purposed or second hand furniture

Environmentally speaking, sourcing re-purposed furniture minimizes the resources that our population demands for consumption, reduces landfill and reduces the requirement to recycle existing products or worse, manufacture new products. Why does using second hand furniture make sense? It provides you with a positive footprint, re-utilised materials that are purpose build, minimized the resources required for the office. If you have a short term need for a new fit out you should consider hiring your office furniture from companies like Valiant who offer fit outs of the highest quality from 2 days to years or more.

Ex-government furniture

From swivel chairs and desks to boardroom tables and filing cabinets you can source products in bulk lots and on an individual basis, anything you may need to set up or expand your office space. For ex-government furniture in Canberra and Melbourne try Ex-Government Furniture, Greg's Office Furniture in Brisbane or search through a directory like Smart Build for a supplier in your area.

Auctions and Online auctions

Beyond jumping on Gumtree or eBay to try find the product you need, why not try your luck at an auction such as Egans, Pickles Auctions and Grays Online? These companies are purpose built for business owners whether in manufacturing, hospitality, mining, engineering, farming or white-collar offices to supply the material you need to run your business. Most offer Australia wide delivery for a fee and/or have an office located in a capital city near you. Purchasing unwanted goods ensure that they are reused by other potential businesses reducing landfill yet again.

Electronics and technology

Renting your office technology is a no brainer. Renting your printers, faxes and in some cases your computers may be more cost effective than owning one as companies who rent the products often offer maintenance on the machines and safe disposal of the ink cartridges. Use the services of some of the bigger names in Printers such as Ricoh and Xerox or use a service provider such as Hire Intelligence for short term or "rent-to-buy" options, or Copier Printer for printer rental services and repairs.

Saving energy

The EPA advises to "use less as it costs less", so here are some simple improvements you can adopt to help use less energy and reduce greenhouse gases at the same time.

  • Encourage video conferencing when available
  • Turn off lights and equipment not in use and when you leave the office at the end of each day
  • Install power saving functions such as energy efficient power boards
  • If using machinery and equipment choose the most efficient motors and equipment that is the right size for your business
  • Install triphosphor tubes in your lights as these are cheaper to run than fluorescent
  • Even better, try installing skylights in your roofs and walls to replace the need for artificial lighting
  • Minimise expenditure on space heating, at 20°C, a 1°C increase can cost 20 percent more
  • Insulate rooms and fit self-closing doors to minimize energy waste
  • Use cleaner fuels such as LPG or Methanol for your vehicle fleet

Sustainability Victoria provides business owners with support for small to medium sized businesses, commercial building owners, and the construction industry to help change inefficient practices, saving money and improving sustainability. Everything from how to create robust recycling programs to paint stewardship schemes.

Cars and transport

If your business has staff on the road for daily activities, consider a staff car with low fuel consumption. If you require a fleet of cars, why not consider an ex-lease car from companies such as Custom Fleet who sell their vehicles through weekly tenders, fixed price and auctions or Exfleet who have more than 20 years experience in late model and prestige vehicles. Being sustainable doesn't mean you have to go without the good stuff.

Staff and travel

Reducing car usage in favour of sustainable forms of transport improves the health of your staff and the environment. Sustainable forms of transport include walking, cycling, public transport and carpooling. Working from home stops staff from relying on transport to get them to and from the office plus there is the added bonus of reducing transport emissions, promoting a healthy workplace, reductions in health impacts related to air pollution, reduction in staff costs, and it may even attract staff. You can also encourage a ride to work day or installing a bike locker for staff to use frequently.

Recycling

You can reuse anything from paper to bottles so find ways to reuse everything you can in your office or workplace. Consider using a water refill service, installing paper recycling at desks and near printers or creating an annual mobile muster to collect and reuse any mobile phones that may no longer be in use.

Beyond your office doors

Earth hour

Running since 2007, Earth Hour is hosted every year and in 2015 the 28th March is the date to remember. Don't forget that although Earth Hour is usually hosted in the evenings (8.30pm local time to be specific), your business can also take part by ensuring that all your electronics are switched off before you leave for the evening, encouraging your staff to remember that earth hour is on and promoting to those people in your own business and personal networks to participate in the an initiative to protect the planet.

Charities

How is a charity sustainable? Some charities are created to give back to the community, some are geared to helping the environment, and some tick both boxes. The likes of Second Bite, Food Rescue and Oz Harvest but there are a myriad of other services in each state that accept food goods, volunteer assistance and can help to make sure that discarded or unsold food doesn't go to waste.

Always remember the words of Jane Davidson, (University of Wales Trinity St David) "Wouldn't we all benefit from living in societies that were more careful, more resourceful, more respectful and more forward-thinking?"

Other Resources

Environment Protection Authority Victoria
Sustainability in Healthcare
Sustainability - Department of Environment and Heritage Protection (QLD)
Sustainability Advantage - Environment & Heritage (NSW)
Give Food - GiveNow.com.au
Pro Bono Australia