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Elizabeth Rogers Headshot

Could Going Green Help Big Corps Get Back In The Black?

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After three straight quarterly losses and 14,000 job-cuts earlier this year, Citigroup's newest cost-saving strategy was recently outlined in an internal company memo.

No more off-site employee meetings. No more superfluous color copies. No more new Blackberry devices -- unless we determine you really need one.

Many people, puzzled by these particular choices of cut-backs, are wondering just how much money these efforts can actually save. While the memo didn't mention any numbers, it certainly can't be much at the individual level.

But considering that Citigroup employs close to 400,000 people, the cumulative effect of each employee cutting, say, $50 per year on unnecessary expenditures amounts to a whopping $20 million -- enough to grab any accountant's attention.

Although this is still a drop in the bucket for a company that holds over $2 trillion in assets, the principle they're applying is worth noting: That seemingly inconsequential shifts of habit, when multiplied over large numbers of people, can produce impressive and significant results.

And this made me wonder about the potential cost savings associated with large corporations -- many of which have seen better financial times -- implementing a different kind of cost-savings instead of cutting employee perks.

What I'm talking about is the cost-savings that come with implementing some very simple green business practices. So using some very general assumptions and rough calculations, here are the results:

1. Lighting: Encourage employees with window offices to turn off overhead lights and use natural light to illuminate their workspace during the day. You can also save energy by replacing old fluorescent ballasts with more efficient electronic fluorescent tubes. Lighting accounts for 30 percent of an office's energy consumption. Just a 20 percent savings in lighting energy -- which isn't much at all -- could save a company the size of Citigroup about $17 million per year.

2. Computers: Request that employees shut down their computers when they leave work instead of leaving them on continuously throughout the night. This small shift of habit could save a company the size of Citigroup almost $25 million per year in energy costs.

3. Making copies: Set the default mode on the copier to print double-sided copies. Compared to solely single-sided reprographics, this shift could save a company the size of Citigroup $8 million per year.

The total amount saved from these "inconsequential" shifts? About $50 million. And that's only a fraction of the savings that could be realized if even more green business practices were implemented.

So as opposed to targeting seemingly arbitrary employee expenses -- or worse, cutting jobs and benefits -- why not give a boost to the company's bottom line and the planet simultaneously? After all, happy employees are productive employees. And nothing squelches worker spirit more than cutbacks that impact their sense of worth and wellbeing.

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