By Jenna Cyprus

“Green” is no longer a business buzzword you can use to gain an advantage over the competition. Consumers have come to expect a transparent level of environmental responsibility from the companies they do business with. They want to know that your products meet high standards for sustainability and are created with non-toxic eco-friendly materials.

Today, it’s still generally acceptable to produce products that will end up in the landfills one day, as long as the materials are biodegradable and non-toxic to humans and wildlife.

If your products don’t meet the above criteria, you may find yourself in a pickle. It’s not easy to transition to meet these criteria when your business is already well-established. Going completely green carries the potential of having to find new vendors, manufacturers, and parts providers. It also carries the unavoidable increase in production costs.

Although there are multiple components, transitioning to a more environmentally-responsible way of doing business doesn’t have to be complicated. Here are three ways you can simplify your participation in this growing movement:

Monitor your waste levels

You’ve probably seen at least one overflowing dumpster in your life; it’s not a pretty sight (or smell). Overflowing dumpsters, provided they’re not being used by the public, are generally caused by fluctuating waste needs that have gone unchecked.

On average, 21% of businesses need their waste services adjusted to match their current needs. However, many fail to make these adjustments, hence the overflowing dumpster. Overflowing trash is a health hazard to people, animals, and the environment. It’s important to maintain a proper trash service that suits your actual needs.

There’s another aspect to monitoring your waste levels. Knowing how much trash you’re producing is only half the equation. The other half is finding ways to reduce waste production.

Find out what employees are throwing away, and if it’s something that won’t break down safely in a landfill, find another solution. For example, if they’re throwing away styrofoam containers from the cafeteria, switch to biodegradable containers. If they’re throwing away old electronics, send out a notice that all electronics will be collected for recycling. If they’re throwing away plastic beverage bottles from the vending machine, replace the vending machine with one that’s built to dispense beverages in glass bottles. If you’re having difficulty getting people to recycle their beverage bottles, install a reverse vending machine in the office to give them monetary incentive to recycle.

Consumers actually do care when you apply eco-friendly principles inside of your offices. They want to know that you’re running your business congruent with your public principles.

Research the origin and materials of all products thoroughly

The safety of common household products is often wrongly assumed. For instance, you wouldn’t have any reason to think a tablecloth might be toxic, but if it’s made of vinyl, it’s highly toxic. If you’re aware of vinyl’s toxicity, you might think oilcloth tablecloths are the safer product option. However, true oilcloth has faded into the background while vinyl is now being referred to as oilcloth.

The difference is vast, and unless you investigate the origin, you’d never know about this subtle, sneaky transition. “Original (real) oilcloth tablecloths were reincarnated as vinyl (aka polyvinyl chloride or PVC) tablecloths,” explains Occitan Imports. As a result, at this point the term “oilcloth” has become synonymous with “vinyl,” and if you look for an “oilcloth tablecloth” today what you will find are vinyl tablecloths.”

Vinyl is made of PVC, which contains carcinogens and endocrine disruptors like lead, phthalates, dioxin, and VOCs. These toxic ingredients damage the liver, central nervous system, respiratory system, and reproductive system in human beings. People can be affected just by coming in contact with the product.

Vinyl tablecloths don’t just pose a threat to the people who use them. They’re an even bigger problem when they end up in the landfills and leak these toxic chemicals into the soil and ground water.

To be environmentally responsible, it’s vital to thoroughly research the products you’re considering selling. Selling a cheaper, toxic version of a popular product will get you sales, but it’s not responsible and won’t sit lightly on your conscience.

Make incremental changes

You couldn’t do everything at once, even if you wanted to. Making even slight changes will have a visible impact on every aspect of your company including your profits, employees, and customers.

Just don’t make changes too slowly. Consumers love it when businesses are taking action to change, but they can be critical when they don’t think a business is moving fast enough.

Jenna Cyprus is a freelance writer from Renton, WA who is particularly interested in travel, nature, and parenting. Follow her on Twitter.

Green business stock photo by D-Krab/Shutterstock