Local businesses find ways to go green

For Susan Goodsell, green is a way of life.

The employee communications editor at Aflac said she recycles “everything.” At home, her family uses compact flourescent bulbs and bamboo floors, a renewable resource. She also keeps worms for vermicomposting, a process in which the creatures turn table scraps into compost.

Lucky for Goodsell, her employer is in tune with her environmentally friendly efforts.

The supplemental insurance company’s online enrollment system for policyholders is paperless, and Aflac’s facility on the Paul S. Amos campus is Energy Star qualified — which means, by Environmental Protection Agency standards, it’s more energy efficient than other buildings. Aflac employees participate in telecommuting and carpool programs and a host of eco-friendly events: a bike-to-work day, Earth Day celebration and an office supply swap event, in which employees trade unneeded supplies with other workers.

“It’s not whitewashing,” Goodsell said. “The executives really believe we should be doing this, so it makes me feel good you can follow suit and be a part of something bigger.”

Individuals and nonprofit organizations are no longer the only ones partaking in all things green.

Today, businesses — including a number in the Columbus area — are treating Mother Nature kindly through environmentally friendly corporate initiatives.

In a January 2009 poll, 51 percent of surveyed business organizations across the country said they had a formal or informal environmental responsibility policy, according to the Society for Human Resource Management.

At TSYS’ Riverfront campus, employees turn out the lights in some offices a few days a week to allow natural sunlight into the workspace. Synovus recently opened up a bank branch in Tuscaloosa, Ala., that’s LEED-certified, which means contractors used green building practices during construction.

At Greystone Properties apartments, tenants renewing their leases are offered the option to have their lighting replaced with energy-efficient bulbs. And businesses with recyclables can stop by Malone Office Environments, which serves as a recycling center for cell phones, batteries and toner cartridges.

“It’s definitely important for all of us to do our part for future generations,” said Juanita Strickland, chief financial officer at Malone Office, which also sells eco-friendly office and janitorial supplies.

Benefits and barriers

Those surveyed in the Society for Human Management poll who said they had eco-friendly work programs mentioned several benefits: improved employee morale (46 percent), a stronger public image (41 percent), a positive financial bottom line because of the programs (22 percent), and a position as an employer of choice (21 percent).

For businesses that want to get on board, a crucial question may be how they can do so at a reasonable cost — especially during a tough economic time.

“Cost has to be (a consideration),” said Mickey Kiker, manager of corporate procurement at Synovus. “In the environment we’re in, we have to make sure we’re spending the company’s dollar wisely.”

Those surveyed in the 2009 poll, in fact, identified the cost of implementing a green program (90 percent) and maintaining it (84 percent) as two of the biggest barriers.

Local business owners and managers who have been able to implement green initiatives without breaking the bank said it all depends on the business. It’s a matter of identifying what works for their workplace — and what doesn’t.

At TSYS, employees have helped put in place a carpool program and a broad recycling program that includes paper, plastic, printer cartridges and batteries. On weekends, computer monitors are also wired to go into an energy-saving mode.

Many of the ideas they’ve implemented have been economical, said Sean Selman, TSYS associate director for internal communications and member of the company’s green committee.

“So far, everything’s been low-cost,” he said. “Any capital used would be for buying bins for a recycle drop... or the development hours for shutting down the computer monitors.”

Even if there are costs, Selman said, implementing green practices can save money, too.

For example, after the company returned a certain number of printer cartridges to be recycled through vendor Hewlett-Packard two years ago, the company was able to obtain three free printers with its credits, he said.

Best practices

Business owner Bob Best saves money through conserving resources at Best Landscaping Company in Fortson. To water the nursery, he uses a special pond system that recirculates water for reuse. Crews also dump grass clippings, prunings and limbs onto an organic decomposition site — which later produces soil supplements for the nursery and landscaping projects.

When it comes to travelling, Best makes sure crews are strategically positioned so they travel the least distance possible to a site.

“It cuts down on our expenses and it allows us to be more environmentally friendly — and we can tell our customers that,” Best said.

And lately, Best said he’s been noticing clients have been asking more about their green efforts. Other local business managers also said it’s no longer out of the ordinary for clients, vendors or investors to inquire about what they’re doing to become a sustainable business.

Going green, in fact, can be done through business-to-business relationships.

At the Columbus franchise ChemStation, their green efforts have been a selling point for years. The 12-year-old industrial cleaning business — which deals with food processing, truck washing and distribution businesses — uses eco-friendly, water-based chemicals in its cleaning products, as well as refillable containers. Partner Robert Saliba said this prevents these containers from entering landfills.

“Now more people are very concerned about the environment — not just about the disposal of drums but what products (we sell),” he said.

Saliba admitted some of their products are not cheaper per gallon compared to others. But, he said, it could be more economical if customers factor in other costs of not using refillable containers: disposal charges and freight charges to get containers transported, for example.

Saying no

Companies will inevitably face ideas that just aren’t feasible for their organization.

Selman at TSYS said they had to say no to a few ideas — such as the proposal to turn off the lights every day in every department, or to replace all lighting with compact flourescent bulbs because of refitting costs.

Synovus’ Kiker said although they recycle, they don’t buy 100 percent recycled paper — a product he called “incredibly expensive.” The company uses paper with some recycled contents.

Still, though going green may have its challenges, local business owners and managers said their efforts were not short-term.

“We don’t do ‘flavor of the month’ very well,” Kiker said. “That’s just not us. It’s got to be something that makes sense and that’s important to the company and customers.”