Caroline B. Sherrard
Runner-Up Winner
12th Grade
Walt Whitman High School
Bethesda, MD
 

Going Green to Save Some Green


    The other day when I was walking down the street of my own neighborhood, Bethesda, I pondered this essay topic and wondered what businesses could do to thrive in the current economic climate. Lost in my thoughts, I nearly bumped into a group of people standing in line at a new restaurant, Sweetgreen. Sweetgreen sells frozen yogurt and salad with all organic ingredients in recyclable containers. The line was running out the door and into the street. I realized this was possibly the most lucrative new business in Bethesda. But even more importantly, rather than just making money, this enterprise was acting responsibly by cutting down on the waste it produces and offering customers healthy food that was farmed in a sustainable manner.

    In order for a business to thrive, it needs to do two main things: keep costs low and encourage clientele to frequent their business. In the current political and economic environment, the best way to achieve these two goals is to go green. Specifically, cutting down on energy usage, recycling, and using cheaper greener products can cut costs for businesses big and small and also encourage environmentally-conscious consumers to buy their products or use their services. Additionally, “going green” can be a responsible way to conduct business, because it means cutting back on environmental degradation and helping their community.

    The first and most important action a company can take in order to cut back on costs and stay afloat during the current economic crisis is to become more energy efficient. For example, companies should make sure lights are only used when necessary. The skyline of DC is speckled with office buildings lighting up the night sky. But it shouldn’t be this way. By encouraging employees to turn the lights off in their office whenever they leave or putting lights on a timer, companies could cut their lighting usage dramatically, just by turning lights off when everyone has gone home! Additionally, even small companies can afford to switch from incandescent bulbs to fluorescent bulbs. These last 10 times longer than normal bulbs and cost about 75 percent less to operate-so they save money as well as the environment. Many companies are hesitant to do this because of aesthetics, but the quality of these bulbs has much improved from a few years ago. Finally, replacing old exit signs with Energy-Star-qualified exit signs can save about $10 per sign in electricity costs and 500 pounds of greenhouse gas emission (Lighting). These signs are rarely thought of as energy users, but they are powered 24/7. Thinking about small energy wasters like these can really reduce the bottom-line costs for a DC-area company.

    Hotels and apartment buildings can benefit from all of these energy saving tips as well. According to CoStar and Group, Inc., a real estate research firm, environmentally friendly buildings had fewer vacancies and fetched higher rent than similar buildings whose owners had not taken steps to go green (Coffee). This is an especially important point for the DC area, because it is such a major destination for tourism. It can be a real incentive to prospective guests to say that by staying at your hotel, they will be leaving a light footprint. Area hotels and apartments could use going green as a marketing device to attract customers to the area.

    Another way that DC businesses can responsibly deal with the economic crisis is by both recycling their waste and by making use of recycled products. Sweetgreen, the restaurant in Bethesda, uses biodegradable bowls, plates, and cups but recycling can go so much further than this. The charity group DC Central Kitchen collects wasted food from DC area restaurants, cafeterias, and any other business willing to donate and distributes it to area food kitchens. According to their website, one-fourth of food produced in restaurants, homes, and businesses is wasted daily (DC). With more people in poverty and homeless in the DC area because of the economic crisis, it is important the DC businesses give back to their communities by donating food that would otherwise be wasted. Charity work like this could also be incorporated into promotions and sales. For example, the first items on the list of donations needed for the Washington Humane Society are towels, washcloths, hand towels, and blankets. I can envision a linen store in the DC-area sponsoring a promotion in which customers bring in their old sheets to donate to the animal shelter when they come to buy new ones. Not only would this help the community, consumers might well be more willing to buy new items when they know that their old linens were being put to good use.

    Finally, just like the Bethesda business that has customers lined out the doors, local restaurants and eateries can buy local, organic produce. Buying locally helps sustain the environment because produce is not shipped as far thus reducing emissions caused by planes and trucks carrying vegetables across America. Buying local produce also helps sustain the local Maryland and Virginia farm economies since the money goes directly to support them. Additionally, buying organic produce helps sustain the Chesapeake Bay and Potomac River, which are important to Maryland, Washington, and Virginia economies. A huge benefit of organic agriculture is that it is less reliant on chemically produced fertilizer, which is one of the largest sources of Bay pollutants, almost 290 million pounds of nitrogen each year (Kobell). Fertilizer pollution has had an adverse effect on the DC region’s fishing industry, since many kinds of fish and shellfish are no longer able to survive in the changed climate. The tourism industry could also suffer, since the river and bay have become so polluted and would no longer attract tourists to the Maryland/DC area. In order to support the industries around these waters buying local organic produce is essential.

    The suggestions I offer here will benefit businesses by cutting costs. Just as importantly, “going green” can be used as a marketing tool to attract environmentally conscious consumers. And clearly, even in Bethesda, this marketing strategy has worked. Large fast food chains, like Chipotle, boast about their excellent organic and free-range ingredients and advertise that they are healthier and more environmentally conscious than other businesses. Showing off a company’s organic ingredients is an easy and cheap marketing strategy, since it doesn’t require a massive marketing campaign to simply switch what ingredients are used.

    By improving energy use, recycling unused products, and reducing pollution, Washington-area companies would not only be able to make more profit during the current economic climate, but do so responsibly. For a business to thrive, it needs to have a market that is thriving as well, and helping people who have fallen on rough times is the most responsible way to get through an economic crisis. This not only creates good will towards the business but also takes care of the consumers and Washington area residents. Going green shows both responsibility for the environment and community and is effective in making a profit during troubled times.


Works Cited

  • Coffee, Gertha, and Leon Stafford. "Going green pays off." Atlanta News, Sports, Atlanta Weather, Business News | ajc.com. Web. 30 Sept. 2009. http://www.ajc.com/business/going-green-pays-off-141976.html.
  • DC Central Kitchen. Web. 30 Sept. 2009. http://www.dccentralkitchen.org/programoverview.php.
  • Kobell, Rona. "Bay Advocates Called Soft on Farm Pollution." Organic Consumers Association. 9 June 2008. Web. 30 Sept. 2009. http://www.organicconsumers.org/articles/article_12857.cfm.
  • "Lighting | Energy Saving Tips | Business.gov." Business.gov - Official Business Link to the U.S. Government. Web. 30 Sept. 2009. http://www.business.gov/expand/green-business/energy-efficiency/energy-saving/lighting.html.