Simple Tips to Make Your San Diego Business More Sustainable
April is Earth Month, and every year our conservation and sustainability efforts grow more critical to our planet’s long-term survival.
As many local San Diego businesses transition back into on-site work after nearly two years of being remote due to the COVID-19 pandemic, business owners want to know how they can do business differently and better—in other words, how they can be in business for good.
One of the four policy action focus areas at Business For Good is Environmental Health. We know that “good business” means making sure that as business owners, our customers and employees are healthy and can continue living and thriving in San Diego.
To honor Earth Day 2022, we’ve put together our list of top tips and strategies in six key areas that local San Diego business owners can use to easily, affordably make their offices more sustainable—and make their team members happier.
The problem with kitchen waste is two-fold. First is the issue of food waste. Most of us don’t think twice about tossing that old head of lettuce or expired yogurt into the trash.
But throwing our food directly into the garbage can amount to a huge problem.
Roughly one-third of the food produced in the world for human consumption every year gets wasted. Every year, food loss and waste create 170 million metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent (million MTCO2e) GHG emissions. This is equal to the annual CO2 emissions of 42 coal-fired power plants. Yikes!
Tips to eliminate food waste:
The following strategies to eliminate food waste can be adapted to whether you’re a small or large business, work from home, or have a physical, shared office space.
- Don’t order in bulk. It’s tempting to try to save money and order food in bulk. But most times, buying in bulk leads to expired food that gets tossed. Instead, schedule weekly deliveries based on actual food inventory needs for your business.
- Donate excess food if it is still good. There are lots of excellent local organizations in San Diego that rescue surplus food before it goes to waste. Contact any of these groups for instructions on how to easily donate your excess food to those in need.
- Determine if composting is right for your business. San Diego County now offers many easy, free resources on composting—what it is, why do it, and how to do it. On their website you can browse an in-depth video library of composting basics to advanced steps; apply for a discounted compost bin; and sign up for free composting classes that are offered in locations throughout the County. Or, if you’re ready to get started with composting right now, you can try it out with your own compact, kitchen counter-top composter like this one.
- Commercial venues can compost their food scraps directly with the City. Miramar Greenery accepts food waste generated from commercial venues that are pre-approved by the City of San Diego’s Environmental Services Department. Go here to learn more.
The second problem with kitchen waste is, of course, general waste. Most businesses want to do their part to cut down on waste in their office kitchens, but it can often feel overwhelming to try to do everything “just right.”
But in reality you only need to focus on a handful of kitchen processes to really up your environmentally friendly game.
Tips to scale back on general kitchen waste:
As with our tips to eliminate food waste, you can employ these tactics based on whether you have a small or large business as well as a full or tiny kitchen. The goal is simply to make it work for your unique business as much as possible.
- Buy only sustainable and/or refillable kitchen and cleaning products. This is one of the most straightforward, impactful ways to cut way down on general kitchen waste. For sustainable kitchen supplies, check out reliable places like Grove Collaborative or Earth Hero. And for super high-quality, refillable cleaning supplies, be sure to visit our own local BFG member Earthwell Refill!
- Replace paper towels with cloth rags and create a regular system to launder them.
- Use reusable cups for sampling, measurements, or refilling containers.
- Replace disposable flatware, to-go containers, plates, bowls, and disposable cups with reusable ones. For certain office spaces, this may require using bus-tubs or installing a small sink to do dishes—but it saves a lot of money and Earth in the long run!
- Ditch the Keurig or single-use cup machine. Instead, use a traditional coffee maker, pour-over, french press, or Nespresso.
- Make sure your office has recycling as well as clear instructions as to what specific types of items can be recycled in San Diego.
- If your office gets catering, try to use catering services through closed-loop delivery services.
- If you own a food-service business, be sure to train your staff to minimize waste in the kitchen. Examples for front-of-house staff include not providing straws to customers unless requested, and knowing exactly what to do when a customer brings in their own beverage cup to have it filled.
Modern life is dominated by electronic devices, and offices are certainly no exception. However, your business can quickly cut its carbon footprint by implementing these simple energy-saving strategies:
- Establish a company policy to only purchase or choose energy-efficient, sustainably made, or eco-friendly options such as Energy Star appliances.
- Choose electric appliances over gas. Making this switch can save more than 75% in energy usage and even more in terms of air pollutants.
- Avoid single-use waste products, and instead, offer or purchase reusable products and items.
- Buy from vendors who either accept recycled packages back (closed-loop vendors) or include some percentage of recycled or upcycled materials in their products to begin with.
- Consider sharing or renting appliances and office equipment instead of buying new equipment.
- Choose full, or at least partially, certified sustainably made paper and wood products.
- Reduce the number of office printers wherever you can, and empower employees to use digital copies as much as possible.
It is no secret that San Diego, along with many cities in Southern California and beyond, is extremely vehicle-dependent. Transportation accounts for 55% of the total greenhouse gasses emitted and tracked by the City of San Diego.
While the COVID-19 pandemic has spurred a global shift to remote work, or at least to hybrid work schedules, which may have reduced a small percentage of cars on the road, San Diego still has far to go in terms of reaching our local greenhouse gas reduction goals.
Tips to incentivize more environmentally friendly ways to get to and from your office:
- Encourage carpooling. It’s an unoriginal idea, but it works. To get more employees on board, offer your team real, tangible incentives to start carpooling. For example, you could offer carpooling employees additional “creative time off,” pay a portion of their gas or parking fees, and/or cover routine vehicle maintenance like oil changes.
- Take public transportation. Better, faster, more expanded public transportation options are emerging throughout San Diego. Some folks on your team might be surprised to learn that depending on where they live, public transit may now be a better option than driving to work. Consider the following:
—Downtown San Diego commuters can benefit from the Ferry and the FRED local electronic shuttle as quick, low-cost transportation options.
—Check out iCommute. It offers the same range of services as MTS and NCTD in encouraging alternative commutes for employees, but adjusts its approach to the specific interests and needs for each office location.
—Use the PRONTO app on your phone. PRONTO makes buying fares for MTS and NCTD easier than ever. Add money to your PRONTO app, then scan your phone at the validator each trip you make.
—Let employees know about the Try Transit program. Both MTS and NCTD participate in the Try Transit program, which offers San Diegans a free Compass Card for a month to try out a transit commute.
—Look into bikeshare opportunities. There are several affordable electric bicycle and motorized scooter sharing companies currently operating in the City of San Diego. These can be an excellent way for team members to enjoy the sun and fresh air on the way to and from work without breaking a sweat.
—Give Pedal Ahead a try. San Diego’s Pedal Ahead Electric Bike Program provides electric bicycles through its innovative LOAN to OWN plan, for commuting to work and school, transportation and day-to-day activities.
- Bicycle. Many communities throughout San Diego County have vastly improved bicycle safety with designated bike lanes. As a business owner, you can support bicycle commuting by:
—Having a secure area for employees to place their bikes
—Requesting a copy of the San Diego Regional Bike Map (suggested donation $5) by emailing email@example.com
—Visiting Bikabout’s City Guide for San Diego
A beautifully landscaped property can enhance the quality of life, or work, for anyone. The great thing about San Diego is that it’s very easy and cost-effective to design your landscape with beautiful plants and grasses that require very little water or maintenance.
Tips for environmentally friendly landscaping at your business:
- Install desert drought-resistant plants. This is a no-brainer. With the copious amount of drought-tolerant, visually appealing succulents and plants that thrive in San Diego, it is extremely affordable and eco-friendly to design a landscape plan centered around them. These types of plants also eliminate grass clippings that are later sent to landfills or incinerators, and they also require little irrigation.
- Include grasscycling as a requirement in your landscaping service contractor’s scope of work. You can also create and implement a system for collecting and composting, digesting and/or mulching all green waste generated through landscaping activities. Set expectations with your landscaping service provider that all yard trimmings should be composted, digested, or mulched.
- Work with the landscaping service provider to identify areas where compost or mulch would be beneficial. This is one fantastic way to reuse those yard trimmings right away on your property! If you do need to purchase compost or mulch, find a local retailer that is focused on sustainable products and supply chain practices. Or, check out OfferUp or Craiglist for compost or mulch at a very low price, or sometimes even free.
- Consider installing an onsite system to catch and reuse water. BFG member Catching H2O designs and installs affordable, innovative systems for catching water—from rainwater capture in cisterns, to green roofs and greywater recycling—for San Diego County residents and businesses of all sizes.
Generating waste happens. It is part of life, and we cannot completely eliminate it. But there are many overlooked areas of our lives—and businesses—where unnecessary waste occurs.
To make sure your business is cutting down on waste wherever possible, review all applicable points of waste generation in your business’s physical location for opportunities to ensure each meets the highest and best use compared to baseline practices.
Tips for tackling waste generation at your business:
- Determine what points of waste generation exist within your business. Review the waste materials generated in each applicable point of generation and identify opportunities to phase-out wasting. Conducting an in-depth audit like this always uncovers new areas for improvement.
- Catalog your supply chain and conduct a review of the products and materials you purchase from each vendor. Are all of your vendors using sustainable, ethical supply chain practices in their own businesses? Review each of them for opportunities to redesign practices to minimize waste. Have an open conversation with your vendors and be clear that you want to select less wasteful options.
- Review total amount of product packaging generated for inbound and outbound materials. For inbound materials, work with upstream vendors to identify materials that may have excessive or unnecessary packaging. Then find a solution to eliminate or reduce the packaging. For outbound materials, work with your manufacturing, operations and/or packaging departments to identify opportunities to reduce internally generated packaging materials.
- Get your business Offset Climate Certified. No matter the size of your business, you can help offset your carbon footprint by becoming Offset Climate Certified through our BFG member Offset Alliance. Offset Alliance is also a Certified B Corp that only participates in carbon reduction programs that are third-party verified using the world’s most rigorous and recognized CO2e emissions reduction protocols.
Besides the fact that San Diegans pay higher electricity rates than any other city in the nation, electricity usage generates an estimated 24% of San Diego county’s greenhouse gas emissions. Without a doubt, turning to renewable energy sources whenever possible is more crucial than ever before.
But there is another, new issue that directly affects electricity and the workplace: remote work.
Prior to the pandemic, most of your business’s electricity usage was centralized—at the physical location of your building. However, post-pandemic, your workforce is most likely now distributed, working from their own homes in numerous cases.
You’ll want to evaluate where and how you can lower electricity consumption, including all distributed locations that support your business (in your employees’ homes).
Tips for lowering electricity use and related emissions:
- Eliminate “vampire” electricity usage. Make sure your employees’ equipment used for work is fully turned off overnight. Many devices like televisions, monitors, and laptops continue to pull power even while in sleep mode. After sunset, fossil-fuel-based energy makes up a bigger percentage of the energy on our grid. Be sure to suggest or provide your employees with power strips so they can conveniently and safely shut off their devices at night.
- Encourage daytime appliance usage. While employees are working from home, encourage the use of higher-energy-usage appliances like washing machines, dryers, dishwashers, and ovens during the day before 4:00pm. That is the time period with the highest percentage of renewable energy on our grid.
- Encourage employees to stay opted-in to San Diego Community Power (SDCP)—or go full renewable. In early 2022, SDCP rolled out to all customers in the cities of Chula Vista, Encinitas, Imperial Beach, La Mesa, and San Diego. All residents in these communities are now automatically enrolled in SDCP’s renewable energy program, which brings reliable, affordable electricity from renewable sources. Customers also have the option to upgrade their residential accounts to get their service from fully renewable sources at a very competitive rate.