Sustainable Cities Collective has re-launched as Smart Cities Dive! Click here to learn more!

7 Big Business Improvements That Could Make Our Cities Greener

Urban areas are the most densely populated pockets of society, which typically means access to more stores and resources, a more diverse group of people, and a more enriched life. But it also means more pollution in all its forms and a massive demand on the power grid.

If we're going to make environmental progress in our lifetimes, greener cities need to be one of our highest priorities. The government and citizens can only go so far in shaping the habits of an entire city; we also need the assistance of big businesses.

How Big Companies Can Change

Major corporations can change their environmental impact on our cities in several ways:

1. Greater reliance on cloud software and digital services.

Many businesses are doing this already, but it's increasingly vital for corporations to turn to digital services and cloud software for the majority of their communications. Printing anything, from check stubs to invoices, is wasteful, and in this era, unnecessary. It's safer, faster, more efficient, more environmentally friendly, and even cheaper to keep your communications as digital as possible.

2. Carpooling and/or remote work.

If possible, limit the amount of time your employees have to spend commuting. Offer remote work options -- on a rotating or limited basis if you're reluctant to go full-scale with it -- and reduce the carbon footprint of your workforce. You could also work with your employees to organize carpools or recommend public transportation to reduce carbon emissions.

3. Improved office energy efficiency.

Big-business efforts don't have to cost thousands of dollars; in fact, some might even save you money. Small changes to your office environment can make a big difference in how much energy you consume. Rolling the thermostat back a few degrees in winter, and up a few degrees in summer, can lessen the burden on your heating and cooling system. Making sure all your lights and equipment are turned off when they're not in use can save plenty on your electric bill.

4. Favoring "green" products and services.

Corporations also ought to make a better effort at ethical, responsible sourcing. Try to work with partners that create products from recycled goods, or that enact environmentally friendly policies you'd like to support.

5. Waste reduction and recycling.

Different businesses create different types and amounts of waste. Whether you're an industrial plant or a typical office building, work with your employees to reduce waste as much as possible and recycle any materials you can. Spread information about the merits of recycling and waste reduction.

6. Alternative energy installations.

You could also invest in alternative energy installations, depending on the nature of your business. For example, if your firm operates in a rural area, you could install a series of windmills or rows of solar panels. If your business is a tall building in the city, you could opt for a green roof or something similar to offset your energy consumption.

7. More greenery.

Nobody ever complained about more greenery in an urban environment. If you've got a big property in the city, think about investing a little more to put in a few trees or bushes to enliven the setting and offset some air pollution.

Why Big Businesses?

When so much attention gets paid to consumer energy habits, why should big businesses change?

  • Sheer impact. Corporations employ thousands of people and have access to millions, even billions, of dollars. The sheer impact of a single corporate decision outweighs those of a hundred individuals.
  • Urban landscapes. Most large corporations have headquarters in major cities, which puts them in a pivotal position to guide how our urban landscapes develop.
  • Power and money. Big businesses tend to have significant power, money, and influence, which can make it easier for them to enact changes.
  • Setting the example. Employees, city dwellers, adults, and children are all shaped by how big companies operate (whether they recognize this or not). Corporations should be leading by example, and setting a trend for environmental responsibility that occurs at all levels.

We can only hope that more big firms join the green trend and work harder to protect our environment. Even small changes, if taken on a large-enough scale, can improve the world we live in and generate momentum for our long-term vision.