March is the month for St. Patrick's Day, and you know what that means -- it's time to be green. But in addition to wearing green clothes or drinking green beer, why not make your business green? By that, I mean adopting environmentally-sensitive business practices.

Energy conservation is more important than ever. Have you looked at the price of gasoline lately? Yikes! You don't have to be a tree-hugging environmentalist to want improved fuel efficiency. And let's take a moment to think about waste. Waste is something you paid for and didn't consume -- whether it's packaging, excess inventory, or electricity for lights on in an empty room. So think of being green as getting rid of waste -- and saving money, too.

Fortunately, lots of help exists for small companies wanting to conserve energy and reduce waste -- some in the form of money! Many utility companies and government agencies offer rebates, grants, or low-interest loans to help you purchase new energy-efficient equipment, retrofit older buildings, install energy saving measures in new buildings, and otherwise cut down on water, electricity, and natural gas use.

You can get rebates for things as seemingly small as new energy-efficient light bulbs. Most utility companies have consumer rebates, too. For instance, while researching this column, I discovered my utility company offers a $200 rebate on energy efficient washing machines. Hmmm -- my washer is over 10 years old; maybe it's time to upgrade?

To locate financial incentives you may be eligible for, go to your utility company's Web site and do a search on "rebate" and "loan." And do it soon, as these programs frequently have limited time availability.

Here are a few easy things you can start doing immediately to save both money and the environment:

Reduce the commute: The biggest energy use happens before you and your employees even get to work. So when choosing a location for your business, look for sites near your home, public transportation, and where employees from nearby can be recruited. Encourage car pooling, or if practical, allow employees to work four 10-hour days instead of five eight-hour days. All of you who run home-based businesses -- you've eliminated the commute altogether! Good for you!

Do more business online: Do you really need to take the trip to the bank to transfer funds? Can you send a document via e-mail rather than by delivery service? That's a lot less expensive as well as reducing overall fuel consumption. And whenever possible, take one less trip in your car or van.

Buy hybrid cars: If you need to buy a new vehicle for your business, try a hybrid electric-gas car like the Toyota Prius or the Hybrid Honda Civic. These get about 50 miles to the gallon. Regardless of vehicle, make sure your cars and vans are well maintained and tires are properly inflated.

Buy recycled paper products: Look for "post-consumer waste" products, including stationery, packaging materials, paper towels and other kitchen and bathroom supplies.

Use recycled materials for production: Ask suppliers if they have environmentally-friendly materials. Who knows, they may even be less expensive.

Replace high-energy-use fixtures and equipment: There are many loan programs to help businesses transition to energy-efficient alternatives. You may be eligible to get funds to bring your equipment up to date.

Recycle or find innovative uses for your excess inventory or waste: As a publisher, my company ends up with hundreds of books returned from bookstores when new editions are released. We donate these to non-profit groups rather than just sending them to a recycling center.

Check online information sources: Start with the Federal Government's Energy Star Web site for small business, You'll find links to state resources including financing sources to help you purchase or transition to energy-efficient equipment or fixtures. Also check Greenbiz,, which has links to over 700 websites with environmental information.

Remember that little things add up. Turn off extra lights. Add recycling waste baskets throughout the office. Turn off office equipment overnight and on weekends. Wear a sweater when you're cold and open a window when you're warm. You'll find you've got more greenbacks in your pocket when you choose to go green.

Copyright Rhonda Abrams, 2003

Rhonda Abrams writes the nation's most widely-read small business column and is the author of The Successful Business Plan: Secrets & Strategies and The Successful Business Organizer . To receive Rhonda's free business tips newsletter, register at