Becoming a sustainable business is an ongoing journey

“Be more sustainable.”

It’s a challenge that many savvy business owners take to heart. In striving to minimize their environmental impact, they often focus on green-friendly products, services, and actions. Owners with a sustainable mindset also commit to making business decisions centered on ecological principles.

Going back to the early days when my company was still in its infancy, I knew that sustainability would be central to our operations as we laid our groundwork for business practices. Protecting and preserving natural resources has always been important to me, and we’ve taken on our share of green initiatives.

For instance, some of the sustainable practices we have developed and implemented over the years include:

  • Using 100 percent wind energy to power our business;
  • Reusing and recycling everything we can and help our clients and others in the community do the same;
  • Sourcing more environmentally friendly products every year, including recyclable, biodegradable boxed water as an earth-friendly alternative to single-use plastics;
  • Including edible plants in our landscaping around the building;
  • Using energy-efficient lightbulbs where possible;
  • Offering plenty of storage for employees who ride their bikes to work;
  • Planning our delivery routes to reduce time and fuel; and
  • Working to support local causes and organizations that are in line with our passions.

We hoped that our actions — both large and small — would somehow make a positive difference. It was two years ago that I truly understood the significance of our efforts and recognized there are ways we can take our sustainability to the next level.

Enter the Wisconsin Sustainable Business Council and the Green Masters Program.

Our Green Masters journey

The Wisconsin Sustainable Business Council and the Green Masters Program are the authority on measuring a company’s level of sustainability. This recognition and assessment program helps Wisconsin businesses interested in improving their sustainability efforts.

When our team started the Green Masters application a few months ago, I began seeing sustainability through a more systematic and organized lens. The rigorous process includes a detailed self-assessment of authentic “actions” in nine different areas:

  1. Energy
  2. Carbon
  3. Water
  4. Transportation
  5. Supply chain
  6. Workforce
  7. Governance
  8. Waste management
  9. Community

The application process is a very thorough exercise that took us several weeks to complete. A company must provide a great deal of detail in each of the above-listed areas — we are talking about a very rigorous process where no stone is left unturned (or, in our case, no energy-efficient lightbulb is left burning when no one is around).

Upon submitting a Green Masters application, the team at the Wisconsin Sustainable Business Council reviews the information and assigns a status:

  • Green Apprenticeship — companies starting out on their sustainability efforts.
  • Green Professional — companies making good strides with sustainability initiatives, with goals and opportunities to become more sustainable in the future.
  • Green Masters — companies that have been systematically working to become more sustainable over time and have made excellent progress in all the key areas listed above.

As a new entrant into the program, we were honored to earn the Green Professional designation. We have made tremendous strides over the years and have so much more that we want to accomplish with our sustainability efforts.

Our next steps

What is our next step at EZOP? Completing the Green Masters application made our sustainability path forward abundantly clear. It has opened our eyes to new areas of exploration and helped focus our efforts on the initiatives that are working well.

We have some limits within which we must work. While we do not own our building and therefore cannot alter our physical structure, we can apply more energy-saving techniques like adjusting water flow and technology. We will continue to enhance our sustainable landscaping and vegetation and find additional ways to encourage our employees to bike to work, take public transportation, or carpool. We will ensure our delivery vehicles save as much fuel as they can and continue optimizing delivery routes as we expand our client base. And we’ll happily continue to partner with area nonprofits and organizations with sustainability as a cornerstone philosophy.

And importantly, we will put more sustainability metrics around our actions. While we are doing many things right, we can now establish effective measurement strategies to quantify our efforts and positive impact.

I am thrilled to be a Green Professional, but our work is just starting. We are now setting our goals for 2020 based on the lessons and opportunities from the Green Masters Program. Next year, we will track our improvements and refinements to our sustainability efforts and reapply again!



Joining the journey

All companies in Wisconsin can become a part of the Green Masters Program. Participation is all about establishing a starting point for your sustainability efforts, and then coming up with a plan to improve year over year. The steps forward can be giant steps, or they can be smaller (even baby steps).  

I encourage any business owner who counts sustainability as an important tenet in their mission and vision to consider applying for the Green Masters Program. I am a resource if you want to hear more about a neophyte’s experience and I will certainly share what I learned in the application process. But there are also many other experienced individuals available to support companies as well, from Jessy Servi Ortiz at the Wisconsin Sustainable Business Council, to a growing list of mentor companies across the state.

The sustainability resources we have in our state are vast and deep — we are truly fortunate. For companies looking to become more sustainable through the Green Masters Program, you will not be alone on your journey.

I point out the key word is “journey” when it comes to sustainability. This doesn’t happen overnight — it takes a great deal of time to become what is known in Wisconsin as a Green Masters Company.

But the first and most important step you can take is to commit to completing the Green Masters application. It’s the best way to become a part of the Badger State’s network of sustainable companies.

A note of thanks: To Jessy Servi Ortiz, managing director of the Wisconsin Sustainable Business Council, and Robin Lisowski of Slipstream, two professionals without whom I would not be penning this piece. Jessy is a tireless supporter of all companies looking to become truly sustainable. As Jessy reminded me numerous times, this is a journey and a continuous, ongoing effort. Robin served as a mentor and provided invaluable insight and encouragement on our journey through the application process. I’d also like to give a shout out to Jessie Lerner, executive director of Sustain Dane, who is another invaluable resource for companies looking to become more sustainable.

Rose Molz is president of EZ Office Products.

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