At work

There are many reasons for businesses to look towards sustainable practices as part of their long-term business plan. It is easy to see how reducing your resource consumption and engaging in more efficient business practices can boost your bottom line. However, many business owners may not be aware that consumers, suppliers, and even employees are choosing businesses that demonstrate greener purchasing and environmentally sustainable products and practices over those that don’t.

Some of the benefits of embracing sustainable business practices:
  • To reduce resource use and save money
  • Regulations are demanding increasing levels of sustainable business practices
  • The ability to become part of the steadily growing green market
  • Promotion and marketing – set yourself apart from your competitors
  • To have a lower impact on the environment
It’s easier to reduce costs than increase revenue

Just think – if you can reduce your electricity bill by $100, it doesn’t just save you $100. It saves you however much turnover you need to generate to make $100 profit to pay that bill. This same equation applies to all the resources you use, so ‘efficient resource use’ should be included in your strategy for increasing your profit margin.

Typical areas in which a business can make cost savings

Common areas in which businesses can become more sustainable include:

  • Energy use, including fuel
  • Water use
  • Waste

Energy efficiency at work

For most businesses, there are lots of opportunities to save energy and therefore money. These are the most common areas of opportunity.

Heating and cooling

Because businesses are frequently heated or cooled all day, this is an excellent area to make energy and money savings. Install timers on your air conditioners so they come on 30 minutes before your open and turn off 30 minutes before you close. Make sure they have thermostats, set these to optimal temperatures (18 to 21 degrees in winter and 23 to 27 degrees in summer) and don’t change them unless really needed. If you are upgrading your heating or cooling system, choose a highly energy efficient model, and if it is a ducted system make sure it is zonable.

Hot water heating

If you are replacing a hot water system, choose one that is appropriately sized for your needs, and choose gas over electric if at all possible. Perhaps your business doesn’t actually need a hot water system except for the washing up? Turn the entire system off and use a kettle or try a new type of electric instantaneous called a MicroHeat unit.  

Fridge timers and Enerlogic on the glazing

For businesses such as cafés and bottle shops with multiple drinks fridges, install timers to the fridges that hold non-perishable drinks so they turn off overnight and on again 30 minutes prior to opening. The cold liquid acts as thermal mass so most of the coolness stays in the fridge overnight, and just needs a boost before opening in the morning. Another way to reduce the transfer of heat through the glass doors of your fridges is to apply window film on the glazing, which reflects radiant heat away from the window pane.

Moreland Energy Foundation recently carried out a case study around installing timers to commercial drinks fridges, and it is worth a read to see the significant potential cost savings of this activity. In this case study, a bottle shop was able to realise an average annual cost saving of $135 for a single glass door fridge after installing timers, amounting to an annual saving of $950 for their seven fridges. The small cost of around $20 per fridge to install the timers was easily recouped a couple of months. Read the case study(PDF, 686KB).

Change lights

Because businesses often have lights on for much longer periods than a typical household, switching to energy efficient globes can be a big opportunity. If you use downlights for display purposes or even as regular lighting for your building, consider switching to LED lamps, which can offer the same amount of light with a lower energy use and longer lifespan. Not only do you save by reducing energy use, you save on the cost of calling out an electrician when they need replacing.

Below are some graphs to show you lighting changeover comparisons. If you would like personalised advice on lighting changeovers you can call VECCI’s free energy helpline on 03 8662 5490.

Globe comparison and pay back periods

Comparison between halogen and LED lamp

Single globe running for 30,660 hrs (14 hrs/day, 365 days/yr, for six years)

Type of lamp


Purchase cost

Running cost

Total cost

Total saving over 6 yrs

50w Halogen


$15.00 x 6 replacements = $90

50w x 30,660 hours use = 1533kWh x

.28ct /kWh = approx. $429



5w LED


$40 each

5w x 30660 hours use =

153kWh x

.28ct /kWh = approx. $43















Comparison between T8 fluorescent tube and an LED tube

Light commercial use 18,250 hrs (10 hrs/day, 365 days/yr, for 5 years)

Type of lamp


Purchase cost

Running cost

Total cost

Total saving over 5 yrs

T8 fluorescent 36w tube with 4w ballast = 40w


$4 x 6 replacements     = $24

40w x 18250 hours use = 730kWh x

.28ct /kWh = approx. $204



T8 LED replacement 18w



18w x 18250 hours use = 328kWh x

.28ct /kWh = approx. $92





Preventing direct sunlight from entering windows on a hot day is the most effective way to mitigate your need for cooling, and you can accomplish this with external shading. You can further reduce radiant heat transfer through your windows with double glazing, thick curtains and pelmets or the application of Enerlogic window film.

In winter, you want the warm air your heating system is generating to stay inside and keep your staff and clients warm, rather than be lost through your window panes. Again, double glazing and window film will help keep your heat where you need it.


Keep external doors closed and consider having an airlock entrance if you have the space available. If your building is draughty, install weather strips around doors and windows to prevent heat moving in and out of the building.

Transport costs

While some small businesses may have very small fuel costs for transport, for others this can be a major cost. There’s an excellent Federal Government website called the Green Vehicle Guide which helps you choose the most fuel-efficient car or truck for your needs, as well as giving you tips on ‘green motoring’ with the vehicles you have.

Besides buying a fuel-efficient vehicle and driving it as efficiently as you can, the other way to make fuel savings is to reduce your transport use. Take advantage of conferencing technology, consider allowing staff to work from home or stagger their arrival and leaving times so they are not sitting in traffic. Encourage car-pooling and offer amenities for bike-riders and walkers to change.

Here are some more great resources on car-pooling and more efficient transport options.

Water efficiency at work

The most common opportunities for water conservation at work are around retrofitting, repairing and reducing.


Consider retrofitting aerators to washbasin taps. These significantly reduce the amount of water coming out of the tap (don’t fit to taps that require high water output such as the kitchen sink). If your business has showers, use low-flow shower heads, and make sure all toilets are either dual flush or retrofit them with a toilet flush stopper so that the toilet flushes only while the button is being depressed. There are various brands of toilet flush stoppers on the market for under $20. These are readily available from hardware stores.


Water leaks have the potential to waste thousands of litres of water a year. Encourage staff to alert you to any issues with leaking taps or toilets, and have the problem fixed as soon as you can. Check your toilet cistern for leaks by dripping some food colouring into the cistern and noticing if any leaks into the bowl overnight.


Impress on staff the value of using less water. Implement water use standards such as not washing dishes under a running tap, and washing windows and cars with tank water.

Waste reduction at work

Imagine you run a restaurant and you identify ways in which you can save ten servings of a main meal from being thrown away at the end of the day. Are you saving just the value of the raw ingredients you used to make those ten meals? No! There are many hidden costs to every process you undertake. In this example of food, here is what you would also save:

  • Fuel costs and transport time to go to market to purchase raw ingredients
  • Refrigeration costs for raw ingredients and finished product
  • Staff time producing meals
  • Disposal costs (bin hire, collection).

Similarly, if your office manages to save 10 reams of paper a month by printing double sided and moving to paperless invoicing, in addition to the cost of the paper, you save:

  • Time spent ordering it
  • Delivery costs and fuel for delivery vehicle
  • Time loading the machine and clearing jams
  • Wear and tear on your printer
  • Printer ink
  • Disposal costs and waste paper bin collection.

Along with reducing the materials you use, you can achieve further waste reduction by recycling or re-using materials. There are many opportunities for business waste recycling and sometimes your waste might even have a monetary value. To investigate what can be recycled, how and where, go to Recycling Near You.

Other ways to reduce your business’ impact on the world around us

Whislt it might not always be about saving money, developing a green purchasing policy can deliver you benefits in promotion and marketing opportunities, generate support from community and staff, and reduce your impact on the environment and people around you.

Things to consider when developing your green/sustainable purchasing policy can be around what a product is made from, where it is made, by whom, how, and what the environmental and labour implications are of these things.

Fair Trade certified

To be certified Fair Trade, a product must be made under agreed environmental and labour standards. For example, Fair Trade Standards for hired labour situations ensure that employees receive minimum wages and collective bargaining. Fair Trade certified plantations must also ensure that there is no forced or child labour and that health and safety requirements are met. Find out more about Fair Trade certification.

Content of product

Does it have recycled content? Is it recyclable, biodegradable, compostable, re-usable or re-fillable? Are there hazardous or highly intensive energy or water aspects to the production of that content?

Packaging and transport

Purchase in bulk where possible and choose products with the least amount of packaging, as well as the highest level of recyclable or reusable packaging you can find. Favour products locally or Australian made over those that have high ‘transport miles’.

Achieving sustainable business practices at work

Achieving efficient energy and water use, waste reduction and greener purchasing practices at work requires auditing your business processes to enable you to identify the opportunities that will be the most achievable and have the most impact in your business. Once you have a resource reduction and greener purchasing plan, your success is often highly dependent on your ability to change the habits and attitudes of your staff and/or clients.

Consider creating a ‘Green Team’ of interested staff. Set a direction and let them make the changes. This empowers your staff and may make it easier for other staff to follow their lead rather than directions coming ‘from above’. If you or your Green Team are having trouble putting changes into practice, consider some of the reasons why changes may not be occurring and implement strategies to address them.

Barrier: Staff simply don’t understand what you want or why?

Possible solution: Spend some time informing them of all the reasons why it will benefit them, the business, and the environment. Consider using energy monitors to give them a visual picture of energy use over time and goals to achieve.

Barrier: Staff understand but forget?

Possible solution: Put up notices in strategic places (near the tap, above the light switch).

Barrier: Staff understand and remember, but it just doesn’t happen?

Possible solution: Sometimes it’s a matter of convenience. Rather than expect them to select ‘double sided print’ for each print job, set it to be the default so no one has to think twice about it.

Barrier: General resistance?

Possible solution: Make your requirements clear cut by creating and implementing sustainable business policy and practices, and make them an integral part of staff responsibilities.

Barrier: The social norm doesn’t support it?

Possible solution: Generate and communicate community support from clients and staff to slowly change the norm.

Need some assistance?

The good news is that there are some great resources and organisations that can help you take your business to the next level in sustainability.

Sustainability: It's Just Good Business Seminar

Presented by the Victorian Government Department of Business and Innovation, this two-hour workshop leads participants through all the key areas of how to run a more sustainable business. Participants receive a workbook and lots of information and resources to help them on their way. To find out when the next workshop is running in your area, go to the Business Victoria workshops and events calendar.

Smarter resources smarter business

A program offered by Sustainability Victoria to businesses employing at least 20 people, providing advice and assistance on sustainable business practices. You may also be able to access funding to subsidise the cost of waste and materials efficiency consulting, to implement sustainable business practices or to purchase more energy efficient equipment.