When it comes to sustainability, most of the attention is focused on how large corporations can minimize their environmental impact. Wal-Mart’s Sustainability Index, for example, received much fanfare when it was first announced, since the ripple effects of the world’s largest retailer greening its supply chain would be considerable. However, even solo service professionals have a supply chain and can take steps to reduce their carbon footprints. In fact, in many ways the issues are similar to those of a large corporation but on a much smaller scale. Here are some ways to reduce your impact:
- Marketing: Despite the plethora of technological means of communication, the humble business card remains a required business product. And here lies the first choice to make. Do you order the free business card printed on virgin paper, or do you choose a green printer who uses recycled paper? I recommend using a printer like Greenerprinter, whose sustainability practices have been vetted by third-party organizations (full disclosure: I handled sustainability and marketing for Greenerprinter prior to launching Cultivating Capital).
- Office: Whether you work at home or in an office building, you can still take steps to improve your energy efficiency. For example, many basic steps include using compact fluorescent lights (CFLs) instead of incandescent lightbulbs and installing low-flow toilets that use less water when flushing.
- Supplies: Do you purchase disposable items like stirrers and paper napkins, or use items like spoons and cloth napkins instead? (I recently switched to cloth napkins at home, which means that I no longer have to purchase paper napkins at all.) Also, do you buy from large chains like Office Max/Office Depot or a business like Give Something Back that donates profits back to the community? Shifting your purchases away from disposable items and purchasing from businesses that operate responsibly will support the transition to a green economy.
- Beverages: Even a home office requires a necessary cup of coffee or tea to start the day. When you choose your morning beverage, consider using fair trade coffee or tea. Fair trade ensures that the workers who grew the coffee beans or the tea plants are paid a fair wage and work under fair labor conditions. Plus, if you carry fair trade beverages in your office, you have the opportunity to educate your clients about it when you offer them a drink in your waiting room or during your appointment. And remember, when it comes to water avoid plastic bottles. Watch the “Story of Bottled Water” for more on this important topic.
- Transportation: Of course, many solo service professionals attend networking events, conferences, client meetings, and a number of other gatherings. Fortunately, when it comes to transportation and meetings, there are many alternatives. Video conferences and webinars can eliminate the need for in-person meetings in some cases. When face-to-face meetings are necessary, you can choose meeting locations that are accessible by public transportation. Driving can then become a last resort.
- Raising awareness: Because sustainability is not limited to a given industry but rather affects all of us in many ways, every industry is being touched in some way. For example, the American Psychological Association has begun researching psychological reasons for the denial of climate change. Sustainability is a relatively new concern for most people, so there might be an opportunity within your industry for you to raise awareness among your colleagues about the effects of sustainability on your profession.
These are just a few things to think about in terms of your environmental impact as a solo service professional. What else would you add to this list?