How to Turn ‘Planet-Saving’ Into Cash

Many small businesses across the nation are launching green initiatives and saving … money.

Enesta Jones of the EPA said one way small businesses can translate saving energy directly to the bottom line is by eliminating inefficiencies. Through use of EPA-recommended practices and innovative building efficiencies, U.S. companies are saving nearly $900,000 per year on energy bills while working to reduce annual greenhouse gas emissions.

The EPA’s ENERGY STAR program named one such company, Elephants Delicatessen, as a recipient of its 2009 Small Business Award for sustainable, energy-saving practices. The growing Portland, Ore. deli chain uses recyclable, biodegradable contents, timed lighting, Energy-Star-qualified kitchen appliances, industrial vans, biodiesel fuels and operates on 100% wind power.

“It all started back in the 80s with a concerned effort to do recycling and sort all of our items,” said CEO Anne Weaver.

Weaver said the company’s energy-cost savings helped cushion the business during the recession. And, she said, it wasn’t difficult to start up the saving of energy and cash.

“What we did was start a ‘Green Team’ and got a couple people on board building from small successes,” Weaver said. “Start with little things and have fun with it. Try to add new things that are painless, because they will have big impacts down the road.”

Victor Seydin, owner of Lake City Cleaners in Chicago, is another business owner who says he is making green from being green.

“The dry cleaning machine that I have is … exceptionally unique,” Seydin said. “The technology has just come out ... We were the very first dry cleaners in the country to receive [the green machine].” The company also introduced an environmentally-friendly alternative to the single-use garment bag.

The dry cleaner uses its own brand name for its eco-friendly efforts called Monarch Care. And this, Seydin said, has created a strong environmentally-conscious client base, adding to the businesses profits.

“We have right now quite a few customers that will not change to any other dry cleaning machine,” Seydin said. “They admit this machine is incredible and green. People are willing to pay maybe 5% more to preserve the environment. It is astonishing how people care about protecting the environment.”

Small businesses can get free advice and help on moving toward greener (in more ways than one) business practices from the EPA and other eco-friendly organizations. Energy Star is a joint program of the EPA and the U.S. Department of Energy.