50 Shades of Green: The Difference Between Seeming and Being Sustainable

Green is the new black, and sustainability has been “in” for well over a decade. In fact, companies that don’t strive to support the green movement might as well close up and turn out the lights. In today’s ardently ecological climate, it makes smart business sense to build a brand on the basic tenants of sustainability, but too many businesses are giving the movement a bad name with less than adequate standards.

Bike to work

Even if you reduce, reuse, and recycle, your business likely contributes to a number of dangerous practices that are doing untold damage to the Earth and its people, and if your tree-hugging customers discover your washed-out shades of green, you might as well flip your “open” sign to “closed.” Here are a handful of key areas you might want to investigate to ensure your business is even more sustainable than it seems.

Paperless Paper

If your company is still relying on paper and ink, you almost deserve applause for your persistence with an obsolete and expensive medium. Every industry that can has long since gone digital, which not only slows the destruction of trees and forests but also is substantially cheaper than paying for paper, ink, and a place to stash it all. Computers (and now the cloud) can store more data than any single office at a fraction of the cost.

Still, most businesses are far from being truly paperless. By printing invoices or receipts, by using notepads or sticky notes, and by accepting mail by post, you are contributing to wasteful business practices and damaging the environment. A greener shade might be to use only post-consumer waste products, like 100 percent recycled paper, but to be to be truly green you should eliminate paper use altogether and stick to email and other digital options.

Commuting Footprint

If you have a physical headquarters, your carbon footprint is likely much higher than you might expect. In traveling to and from the company office, your employees likely use and abuse fossil fuels, which is ultimately the fault of your business.

Many companies are attempting to lessen the weight of their employees’ emissions by encouraging eco-friendly modes of travel, like cycling, carpooling, or using public transportation. However, to be even greener you could eliminate your offices altogether and move your business to the Web. One study from the Carbon Trust asserts that telecommuting helps business save 3 million tons of carbon and roughly $5 billion every year.

Supplier Standards

No office is an island; every business relies on a network of partnerships and providers to function. Unfortunately, those you rely on to do business may be shifting your green status away from true. You should set high standards for all of your suppliers, demanding that they adhere to certain strictures of sustainability.

Green supplies

For example, maintaining simple, lightweight fabric buildings instead of energy-intensive concrete and steel structures can cut back on an agricultural or industrial footprint substantially. By forcing your providers to become sustainable, you can engender green change in multiple industries.

Earth-Friendly Food

You want your employees to be healthy — it keeps them happy and productive and saves you extra expenses in health care — but if you are providing them unhealthy food (in vending machines and catered meals), you are not only thwarting their well-being, you are hurting your ability to be truly green.

Processed foods are dangerous to the Earth in myriad ways, from the chemical pesticides that leech into the soil to the used packaging that goes straight into landfills; plus, processed foods are slowly killing your employees. Sustainability and personal health tend to go hand-in-hand: Both are better for the Earth, for humankind, and for individual businesses. Thus, you must provide employees with organic, wholesome food in vending machines and when you cater.


Mahogany might look prestigious shaped into your office desk and bookshelves, but you might not realize that the majority of mahogany wood comes from illegally harvested trees from the Amazon Rainforest. Buying new office furniture is supremely unsustainable, especially if you elect to furnish your office with endangered woods. A greener alternative is to opt for refurbished and upcycled furniture, which can make for a more productive and personalized space.


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