Purchasing Electronic Equipment Responsibly: Check for Certifications

When purchasing new electronic and computer equipment, one way for companies to be more conscientious is to choose vendors that have sustainability certifications. The following are certifications used for electronic equipment and ensure that the product has met or exceeded certain requirements for energy, resource and toxic chemical use.

Energy Star is by far the most well-known environmental certification. It is essentially a energy starcooperative effort of the EPA and the DOE. Many think of refrigerators when they think of Energy Star ratings. However, the system extends to notebooks, desktops, monitors, all-in-one devices, and scanners. These electronic devices must usually meet two standards. First, they must automatically go into a “low-power” mode when they are not being used. Second, they can only use a certain maximum of power when they are being used. The DOE is promoting energy savings and the EPA wants to decrease greenhouse gases.

epeatElectronic Product Environmental Assessment Tool (EPEAT) is an online tool that assists buyers to evaluate products using environmental criteria. It looks at 51 elements in eight different categories. It is derived from IEEE Standard 1680-2006. There are rating levels named Gold, Silver, and Bronze. A bronze rating is awarded when all 23 required standards are met. The upgrade to silver occurs when those criteria are met, along with at least half of the other 28 optional standards. Finally, the Gold award goes to products that meet the required standards and 3/4 of the optional ones. At the EPEAT website one can scroll to the product that they need and quickly determine specific items that are EPEAT certified.

Restriction of Hazardous Substances (RoHS) is a set of standards regarding roHSdangerous substances in electronics that comes from the European Union (EU). These standards do allow for “trace amounts” in some cases. It does set specific standards for limiting the amount of cadmium, mercury, lead, etc. that can be present in a product. Today, one can select the certifications that your organization wants to meet, and then locate the products that meet the standards.

Our consultants can guide you further in your pursuit of green products and how to choose them. Please contact us for further information.

Keep the Office Clean Using Green Cleaning Products

Green business operations is a growing trend in commercial businesses, this includes the products used to keep the office clean. Utilizing green products and equipment can reduce the number of health problems from fumes, allergies, and rashes in employees who work in the office. It is important to understand what chemicals to look for so they can be avoided. Only purchase products that have a complete list of ingredients. Here are some tips to help in choosing the best green cleaning products for a business environment.

Read the Label

This may sound pretty obvious, but not all cleaning supplies that are supposed to be green even list all of the ingredients. It is important to read the label and understand what it means. Avoid cleaners that have ammonia, chlorine or any other caustic chemicals. These create fumes that can irritate eyes and throat. The fumes linger so the people who work in the office are also being exposed. Green products should be PH neutral. All-purpose cleaners should be plant based solvents instead of chemical based solvents. When reading the label if there is a word or name that looks unusual be sure to ask what it is and why it is in the product

green-seal-350Look for Green Seal Certification

Look for the Green Seal certification on labels. This certification means the product has been tested and evaluated by a laboratory that is not connected to the manufacturer or seller, similar to a Consumer Reports style testing lab. To earn this seal the product must meet specific environmental standards, undergo rigorous testing and a visit to the plant where the product is manufactured. Once earned this certification can be displayed on the packaging, in promotional material and in advertising. These products have proven they are environmentally better than the competition.seventh-generation

Purchase from Reputable Companies

Only purchase green products from reputable companies, such as Seventh Generation and Simple Green, and make sure they can provide a complete list of the ingredients for the product. Just because the packaging says “green” doesn’t mean the product doesn’t contain any harmful chemicals. Be sure to check.

These are just a few tips to help choose green cleaning products. For more information contact us.

Creating a Sustainable Business: Hiring a Sustainability Consultant vs. Forming an Internal Green Team

By now it is well known that corporate social responsibility is important–both to consumers and for the businesses themselves. Creating sustainable business provides short and long term benefits, in everything from attracting a wide base of socially conscious customers and earning their loyalty through green practices to minimizing operation costs and producing higher revenues. The question facing business owners now is how to become more socially responsible and sustainable. What is the most effective method to transition to sustainable business practices without disrupting the basic, essential flow of business?

Many businesses will choose either to create an internal team responsible for making the transition or higher an outside consultant. There are advantages and disadvantages to each, so let’s explore which method would be best for your business.

Happy team. Isolated.Creating An Internal Green Team

Change comes from within, and one of the best ways to inculcate the necessary culture of sustainable practice and keep employees consistently aware of its importance is to have the employees do it themselves. Having the opportunity to directly effect change is inspiring and will not only give employees more value in their work, it will lead to inspired effort and the cultural spread of this inspiration. An internal green team can provide a steady structure for change over a long period of time and maintain focus as the initiative grows and evolves.

That said, taking this approach has its downfalls. Internal employees often do not have the necessary expertise to create and execute an effective sustainability plan, and adding this to their existing workload may leave them with little time to bring the focus that is necessary for such a change. And while their efforts may be noble, creating cultural change requires a certain level of expertise. What starts as an exciting initiative can turn into a dud if the team doesn’t have the knowledge to create a sustainable culture within the organization.

Hiring an Outside Consultant

Any company serious about becoming sustainable should consider this option. sustainability-consultant2Sustainability consultants have specialized knowledge and expertise about the functioning of a company as it relates to sustainability, and can create informed directives that will affect the most positive change. Working with a sustainability consultant provides the opportunity for swift and effective change. Comprehensive sustainability plans that can be clearly developed, put into practice and a consultant will provide the expertise and tools necessary to implement them.

The only drawback here is the additional cost. Some business owners are hesitant to spend the upfront cost of hiring a consultant. However, it can be costly with employee labor and investment costs of sustainability if not done correctly and strategically.

The Best of Both Worlds

Why not do both? In fact, many sustainability consultants are aware of the positive impact of an internal green team and assist in creating one as part of the package. This way, a truly effective plan can be put in place by an expert and then put into action by the employees themselves.

Whatever you determine is best for your company, pat yourself on the back–going green doesn’t just save you money or build a loyal customer base, it’s the right thing to do. Whatever approach you take to doing so, be proud of your good effort! Whether you are committed to making this next step or simply intrigued, please feel free to contact us for more information.

FTC Revises Green Guides on Sustainability Marketing Claims

FTC logoIn response to businesses making unsubstantiated claims, the Federal Trade Commission attempted to level the playing field for the honest businesses by implementing revisions to their Green Guides on marketing claims, toughening standards for marketing products as green.

Looking around, it’s easy to find companies using broad, unqualified general environmental benefit claims such as “green” or “eco-friendly”. The FTC is encouraging businesses to avoid such broad statements as they can be difficult, if not impossible, to substantiate.

When marketers do make product claims, the FTC is requiring marketers to substantiate those claims. For example, if a product is marketed as “degradable”, evidence must be provided that it will indeed entirely break down and return to nature within a year after disposal.

The new Green Guides revisions also include sections on certifications and seals of approval, carbon offsets, free-of claims, non-toxic claims, made with renewable energy claims, and made with renewable materials claims.  On the other hand, they have declined to take any stance on the use of the terms “sustainable”, “organic” or “natural”. For example, in the case of “organic“, guidance for use of the term has already been provided by U.S. Department of Agriculture.

By marketing with these new guidelines in mind, you are taking part in the promotion of honest business practices at the same time. Please contact us if you want more information on how the FTC’s new Green Guides will impact your business.

Defining Green Team Roles and Responsibilities

Happy team. Isolated.Green Teams are groups of green-minded co-workers and colleagues that can provide guidance and direction on sustainability initiatives within an organization. Often these teams are loosely formed and their role and responsibilities are not clearly defined. Providing clarity not only motivates the green team but can often help businesses go to the next level with their sustainability initiatives.

The following are possible roles and responsibilities your green team could have within your organization:

  • Conduct and analyze sustainability assessment/s
  • Set sustainability priorities and goals
  • Develop a sustainability project plan
  • Coordinate,  launch and support sub-task teams for sustainability initiatives
  • Advise on sustainability opportunities and innovations
  • Track, monitor and analyze sustainability metrics and measures
  • Address and manage challenges and constraints to the sustainability initiatives
  • Develop a sustainability communication plan and process
  • Recommend or provide sustainability education, support and offer advise to other employees

Green teams are an important asset to any organization and can be a source of motivation for innovation and business process improvements. According to Greenbiz.com, The National Environmental Education Foundation (NEEF) released a not-too-startling report entitled “The Engaged Organization: Corporate Employee Environmental Education Survey and Case Study Findings” which confirms:

“By engaging employees, companies can spark innovative changes in everyday business processes that save money and reduce environmental and social impacts while also inspiring employees to make sustainable choices at home and in their communities.”

For more information about how to effectively build a green team in your organization, contact us.

Promoting Sustainable Behaviors in Your Organization

Businesses often overlook one simple fact concerning sustainability education, human behaviors are not always rational. Behaviors tend to be based on emotion and culture. A classic example of this is cigarette smoking. Despite the clear negative effects of smoking and the highly visible warning labels, every year people still choose to start doing it.

When attempting to promote sustainable behaviors among employees, you can learn from this recognition that people do not always make rational decisions. When educating employees about your sustainability program, you not only need to give them facts and information but also identify the behaviors you want to change.  This is where the concept of social marketing to promote green behaviors will benefit your business.

According to Doug McKenzi-Mohr, author of Fostering Sustainable Behavior: Community Based Social Marketing, he cites three 3 steps to getting the change you want:

  1. Identify the Behaviors: Organizations need to clearly identify the behaviors they want changed as it relates to their sustainability program. For example, do you want your employee to turn off their computer at night OR do you want them to turn off the power strip that turns off all their equipment.
  2. Identify the Barriers and Benefits: Once a behavior is identified, then it is important to understand what barriers they are to doing that behavior. If we take the example of turning off their computer, a barrier might be that IT department encourages employees to keep their computer on so they can do updates to systems. Identifying benefits, is being clear to see what is in it for the employee and/or organization. With our computer example, an organization can save over $100 per computer, per year if turned off at night.
  3. Develop Strategies: Once behaviors have been identified with the barriers and benefits, then building a strategy and plan of action to adopt those practices is the final step. A successful plan will change the culture and the types of behaviors that are emotionally gratifying to your employees.

Here at eco-officiency we are at the cutting edge of fostering sustainable behaviors and understand the psychology behind promoting real change. Contact us for more on how we will help craft and implement a successful plan.

Denver Sustainability Park: A Living Vision For Our Future

If you are lucky enough to live in the Denver area or if you are planning a visit, there is an amazing thing happening on 3 acres located at Lawrence and 25th Streets in Denver’s downtown. There is a living, breathing learning experience that can teach you how to re-imagine our urban living environments.  You will experience a hands-on demonstration of alternative building designs, urban gardening solutions, the newest water saving technologies and the list goes on.

Denver’s Sustainability Park is a collaboration of the Denver Housing Authority ( (DHA) and The Colorado Renewable Energy Society (CRES).   Along with active community involvement, they have created an innovative approach to teaching our community how to lessen it’s carbon footprint and learn new sustainable ways to approach old problems.

The variety of sustainability solutions presented here is worth a number of visits just to make sure you are seeing it all.  From a composting demonstration area to a Permaculture Garden the exhibitions are scattered throughout the three acre park.  You can visit the urban garden or learn about options for efficient use of resources.  One can imagine the fantastic resource for our schools to support their sustainability curriculums. The students are sure to be inspired and could even discover a new career choice after visiting the park.

As a local business in the Denver community, you can learn about energy efficient building materials and designs as well as effective resource management tools that can be part of your sustainable business vision.  The latest cutting-edge technologies are here to be studied and then put to work in a real world environment.  This community focus will hopefully result in healthy Colorado neighborhoods and a vibrant, growing “green” economy.

If you share our vision of community sustainability, contact us, we would love to hear from you.

Energy Efficiency and Sustainability Resources For Small and Medium Businesses In Colorado

Here in Colorado we take the business of sustainability very seriously. In every corner of the state the push is on to improve our businesses to increase energy efficiency and support green business operations. Here are some resources, programs, incentives and guides available online to assist small and medium sized businesses;

The Main Street Efficiency Initiative (MSEI) is a Colorado Energy Office (CEO) program that helps small business lower energy costs as well as their carbon footprint.

Recharge Colorado has a resource page that is specifically for small businesses seeking information for energy efficiency, water efficiency and renewable energy projects in Colorado.

The Energy Efficiency Guide for Colorado Businesses will help you find ways for your company to save energy.  Their recommendations are sorted by sector that provides specific suggestions depending on the type of business.

Database of State Incentives for Renewables and Efficiency (DSIRE) has a website full of valuable information and tools for small businesses.

CORE, the sustainable business association for Colorado also has a separate page for resources that include articles, business success stories and downloadable reports.

And of course, we at eco-officiency provide a wealth of resources for businesses to become greener in their operations.

Contact us if we can help you find the answers you are looking for when it comes to finding resources and information to help green your business.

Sustainability Assessments: World-Wide or Within Your Company…It All Matters

World Leaders, environmental experts, and social and economic dignitaries attended the Rio+20 Conference held in Rio de Janiero this past June, producing a 49 page document entitled The Future We Want , detailing insights from the past, and outlining the future focus of Sustainability practices for our World. The Conference, officially known as The UN Conference on Sustainable Development (UNCSD), was the third in a series of United Nations collaborative assessments of the future of our planet.

In Rio in 1992, the Conference was called The United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED); ten years later, in 2002, in Johannesburg, World Leaders and invested participants attended The World Summit on Sustainable Development (WSSD). Sustainable development takes care of the needs of the present without compromising the needs of future generations, focusing on economic development, social development and environmental protection.

In June, the attendees committed to “working together for a world that is equitable, just, and inclusive, to promote sustained and inclusive economic growth, social development, and environmental protection to thereby benefit all.”

Are we any better off twenty years later? Have there been actual improvements to our World, achieved by the practice of green conservation, sustainable construction, and fair practice? Have we fed the poor and eliminated our need for fossil fuels? According to Rio 20+, “we” are working on it although not as far along as originally hoped.

We can see the activity around us: less plastic in throw-away water bottles, emission controls, re-cycling initiatives and practices, celebrity concerts to aid impoverished nations, and non-profit foundation hands-on training to eradicate hunger through sustainable farming and conservation practices. But the conference concluded that there have been set backs to past initiatives due to unrest, natural disasters, economic, food and energy crises around the globe. The following concerns were determined as primary focus points, in order to go forward:

  • Eradicating Poverty is the greatest global challenge facing the world today, an indispensable requirement for sustainable development.
  • Reaffirmation of the Rio Principles and Johannesburg Past Action Plans, including inter alia, the principle of common but differentiated responsibilities. Assessing the progress, as we strive toward the goals.
  • Mainstreaming sustainable development, by integrating economic, social, and environmental links.
  • Education toward the changing of unsustainable patterns of consumption and productivity in poorer regions, protecting and managing their natural resources, where their economy is usually based.
  • Re-assessing as new challenges emerge.

Sustainability assessments are not only the responsibility of World Leaders, Foundations, Celebrities, and Large Corporations. Individuals, in their daily life, and small to mid-sized businesses must make an effort to assess what they have done or need to do within their own environment to protect the future of our planet. There will be an eventual “tipping point” when even more will be accomplished, if we all do our part.

You can read the complete Rio+20 document in the link above, and contact us at eco-officiency for further planning ideas about what you or your business can do. We can help you assess the situation where you are, and achieve your sustainability goals.

It begins with a small step in the right direction.

Sustainability Initiatives and Tax Incentives

A report by Ernst and Young, Working Together: Linking Sustainability and tax to reduce the Cost of Implementing Sustainability Initiatives, was released in early 2012 just in time for tax season. If you missed this report, you might want to download it to be prepared for 2012 tax time. There are some good tax incentives, both federal and state, for businesses that are supporting green and sustainable initiatives. Ernst and Young reported that companies were missing some good environmental tax incentives because of disconnects between sustainability professionals and the finance and tax experts. It pays to understand what companies are entitled to make sure initiatives are in alignment.

The IRS also has a page on green tax incentives for residential homeowners. It includes residential energy property credit for energy efficiency improvements, plug-in electric vehicle car purchases or conversions and purchasing of a hybrid vehicle.