04/22/2011 02:34 pm ET Updated Jun 22, 2011

'Greening' Your Small Business Will Boost Its Bottom Line

With Earth Day upon us, sustainability is a term we hear a lot but rarely as it relates to business economics. For most, the perception still remains that sustainability practices are at odds with financial realities.

The recent data released by MIT Sloan and Boston Consulting Group in its Sustainability & Innovation Survey of global corporate leaders, certainly supports this point. Less than 9% of SMBs surveyed were classified as "embracers" of sustainable business practices, and only 34% of companies with more than 10,000 employees.

However, sustainability is essential to helping today's companies achieve many of their major business priorities, including attracting and retaining great talent and reducing capital expenses. In honor of Earth Day, I'd like to challenge the view that 'green' is incompatible with running a business by sharing the return on investment (ROI) we see achievable with four basic and "modernizing" changes to your business operations.

Let's face it, soaring gas prices and the stress of a challenging economy add a huge burden on today's business owners. Adopting business practices that are good for your company's long-term welfare as well as our global community is certainly a step in the right direction -- not only on Earth Day, but every day.

Here are some suggestions for consideration.

Implement a telework program. You couldn't have a greener commute than from your bedroom to your home office! Did you know that if most of the Americans that were able to telework actually did so just half the time, we could reduce our greenhouse gas emissions by about 51 million tons - the equivalent of taking the entire New York state workforce off the roads - and reduce Persian Gulf oil imports by almost half? These are a few of the findings from a new report our company commissioned called State of Telework in the U.S., which was conducted with the Telework Research Network. The report highlights the growth of U.S workers using telework, or workshifting as we call it, as a method of commuting.

Happy workers make for a happy business. Flexible working can boost your company morale and be an attractive enticement for potential new recruits. Furthermore, why compromise the quality of the employees you are able to recruit by leashing them to a physical building? With so many amazing, easy-to-use, and affordable online collaboration and business tools, there are countless ways you can ensure remote employees are fully engaged and productive wherever they choose to work. Our research has found that workshifting actually increases productivity by some 27% and it turns out that workshifters are typically 55% more engaged than their office-bound counterparts (statistic courtesy of Right Management).

Rethink your office space. In a 2010 Second Quarter "Facilities Snapshot" survey from the International Facility Management Association, sustainability ranked high on managers' priorities. Almost half increased their sustainability efforts, actively seeking ways to conserve energy and reduce their carbon footprint. With the way we work evolving as the workforce becomes more distributed and mobile, there are key changes you can make to your office design that will go a long way in helping the environment. These changes include reducing square footage, not allocating full-time desk space to employees who workshift, and evaluating lighting, carpeting and air conditioning needs. For further insights please see here.

Reduce costs associated with unused physical space and free up funds that can be
directed to critical investment opportunities for the company. According to a study we conducted last year, if the 64 million Americans who could workshift did so just half the time, U.S. business would save $124 billion in office costs alone. This is a staggering statistic and one which should make all leaders take note.

Increase energy efficiency. By giving employees more flexible work options, you can also install heat and motion detection lighting systems that will decrease energy consumption in the office and save money. Other ways your IT manager can increase energy efficiency is by replacing hard disk drives with solid-state drives in PCs, energy efficient chips in laptops, and switching from Alternating Current power to Direct Current power.

Reducing facility operations costs and adding energy-efficient technology can chip away at unnecessary business expenses that could be better applied to investing in your business strategy and growth. For example, it has been calculated that virtualizing 100 servers could save $38,271 in energy costs per year.

Use modern waste management techniques. When throwing away that paper coffee cup you picked up on your way into the office or the plastic container your sandwich came in, have you ever stopped to think about how much this adds to landfill? Perhaps it's time for your company to consider reducing its waste and helping employees to do the same. Recycling paper is great, but there's a lot more you can do. Composting, for example, not only reduces waste, it also enriches the soil. For small businesses on a budget, the costs of recycling and composting onsite may be a barrier. In that case, look for other companies in the area to start co-op recycling programs with or check into participating in a municipal composting program.

From our own experience at Citrix Online, a robust recycling program has allowed our Santa Barbara headquarters to divert 42% of our waste from landfills in 2010; this increased to 58% in Q1 of this year. That's good for the planet, can help improve sustainability processes and potentially reduce operating costs, not to mention giving employees an opportunity to participate in sustainability causes.

And if you need any more evidence, the MIT Sloan and Boston Consulting Group survey mentioned at the beginning of this blog also found that the "embracers" were the highest performing businesses in the study, based on employee engagement, innovation, stakeholder appeal -- and, yes, profitability.