Cutting Back on Waste Allows Business Owners to be Business People

10/10/2013 04:25 pm ET | Updated Dec 10, 2013

Are you throwing away money? In its report, "The Food Wastage Footprint," the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization estimated that a year of wasted food had a carbon footprint equal to 3.3 billion tons of carbon dioxide. Why are we wasting so much good food? Simple, most people buy too much and throw away what they can't consume. Many small business owners do the same thing with their budget.

From turning off lights to exploring alternative packing materials, sustainable business practices save you money and support the environment. In essence, you have the option to buy only what you need and stop wasting good resources.

Thinking in terms of "buy-what-you-need, use-all-you-buy" seems revolutionary in our culture of excess, but the concept is growing in popularity amongst responsible business owners. Consider former Trader Joe's president Doug Rauch and his plans to develop a new concept store-restaurant that sells food that was rejected from supermarkets based on appearance or arbitrary age-guidelines. His project, called The Daily Table, is an effort to utilize these would-be wasted foods to feed Boston's hungry, low income residents.

Rauch's passion for reusing and maximizing resources should be an inspiration to all sustainable business owners in and out of the food industry. Where can you cut back, reuse and repurpose? And how can you find ways to support your community through your day to day operations?

How much outdated inventory do you throw out every month? Government regulations require some businesses to cycle inventory so quickly it moves from production to the warehouse to a landfill. Where can sustainable business practices make a change in that lifecycle? Consider doing as Panera Bread Company does and donate leftover baked goods to charitable organizations in need. Not only do the communities surrounding their bakery-cafes benefit from the donations, but awareness of Panera's cause marketing efforts has increased business from eco-minded consumers. All without any additional marketing costs.

CEO's like Rauch and Panera's Ron Shaich are unusual in a marketplace filled with business leaders with one goal in mind: the bottom line. No, we can't afford to ignore profit, after all it's how we support ourselves, hire employees and contribute to the economy; but, neither can we afford to ignore how our business practices affect people in our community and around the world.

Like these inspirational leaders, we need to think bottom line and community. Let's start by cutting back on waste. Even if it's just in small ways.

You accept deliveries as well as make them, are you re-using the boxes that come in? Recycling doesn't stop there; transition to paperless operations and only print vital documents when necessary. Cutting back on paper usage should decrease your office supplies order substantially.

When I think of operational waste, my mind goes to electricity. We save hundreds of dollars a month by turning off lights, closing doors and shutting monitors down before employees leave at night.

I challenge you to join me in finding daily opportunities to cut back, give back, do more. Let's be better business people. Emphasis on the "people."

This blogger graduated from Goldman Sachs' 10,000 Small Businesses program. Goldman Sachs is a partner of the What Is Working: Small Businesses section.