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The business Side: "It's not easy bein' green."

September 2, 2008
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We all know how Kermit the Frog struggled with being green. Of course, today, being “green” means different things to different people.







Colonial surveyor Thomas Freeman made “peace trees” like these while marking a peace-treaty line in Indiana. Illustration courtesy of the Bureau of Land Management.

For some, it means chaining themselves to a tree; for others, it’s shutting off the lights when they leave a room.

Many surveyors are green in spirit because we enjoy the world that we are surveying. We appreciate the creatures in the forest, from the walking stick (Megaphasma dentricus) to the grizzly bear (Ursus arctos horribilis) that gave Lewis and Clark such a hard time on their journey. Many surveyors do not automatically kill snakes because we understand the benefit of animals that keep other species under control. Many of us inwardly grieve when we see a construction site where the soil erosion fills up adjacent streams or creeks with silt. And many surveyors hunt, fish or are involved in outdoor activities when not surveying. We can’t help but be a little green when we work in the great outdoors all around the world. Since we love the outdoors, what can we, as companies and individuals, do to make a difference?

I do not want to get into a debate about global warming. We hear reports that the ice is melting in the Arctic but it’s getting colder in Antarctica. It has been very hot before in the United States. I remember my parents telling me about vendors frying eggs on the sidewalk at the World’s Fair in Chicago in 1933. This was also in the middle of the Great Depression, which was related to heat and drought. The Earth has always gone through cycles, and whether or to what extent humans are contributing to our current cycle is a question I will leave to smarter people to decide.

Regardless, we can and should use the resources at our disposal more wisely than we have in the past. The profitability of many companies will continue to be affected by the increase in the price of oil and other related products. This situation dictates we do something, if for no other reason than to survive and preserve our businesses.

Environmental Footprint

We hear the term “carbon footprint” almost every day on the radio or TV. What does this really mean? One definition is “the total amount of carbon dioxide attributable to the actions of an individual (which includes emissions through their energy use, but other unforeseen emissions as well) over a period of one year.”[1] These amounts can take two forms: direct and indirect. Direct emissions include the output of vehicles, airplanes, rail or public transportation. Indirect emissions include the energy used to heat or cool a building, to charge batteries or to use manufactured products.

In addition to the carbon footprint, I recently heard someone talking about our water footprint. The importance of water usage--and how the lack of water impacts our lifestyles--cannot be overstated. Many recent U.S. Supreme Court cases having to do with state boundaries are water-related. This brings the water issue to light and highlights the importance of having water to survive.

Direct Emissions

We all know how much it hurts to pull up to a gasoline pump and fill up. I know many of us want to run out and purchase a newer more gas-efficient vehicle. But this may not always be the answer. Did you know you can conserve gasoline by inflating your tires to 40 pounds of air, installing a new air filter and driving 60 miles per hour or less? How about using GPS to plot the most direct route to the jobsite? Did you know you can get more fuel in your vehicle for the same money if you fill up during the cool of the morning? You also retain more fuel in your tank for the money paid if you set the nozzle on the slowest setting.

How about setting the office thermostat a couple of degrees lower in the winter and a few degrees higher in summer? I know I am starting to sound like Jimmy Carter, but these things work and can save you money by reducing fuel usage. And saving money in many different ways may become important in the very near future for your company to stay profitable.

Indirect Emissions

Over the next 10 years, I believe indirect emissions are going to have a bigger impact on our businesses than direct emissions. Because I don’t see the cost of energy going down in the future, I believe the cost of everything is going to increase greatly. So you need to be thinking longer term because many items you purchase will probably cost more down the road. If your company is doing well and you have the resources now, it may be a good business investment to stock up on certain business supplies such as paper, ink cartridges and other disposable items. Of course, this is only a short-term fix. I recently stopped in a computer store and was amazed at the low cost of new computers. My guess is that these low prices will not continue because of the increased cost of energy. So now may be a good time to upgrade some computer equipment. If you own your building, installing new energy-efficient heating and cooling or door and window insulation may be an excellent way to invest in the future.

A Lifestyle Change

What I am trying to say is that we are in for some real lifestyle changes in this country. I do not believe the economy is going to completely crash. Just as the computer and Internet have changed our way of doing business, the cost of energy is going to affect every aspect of our lives. Here are my 10 suggestions for how to survive in the future:

1. Live a simpler life. Don’t make that extra trip unless it’s absolutely necessary. Bring your lunch, and eat with your employees. Eat less, and exercise more. Don’t just buy to buy; make sure the item has a purpose and is needed.

2. Collect outstanding accounts. If you don’t collect outstanding accounts, it will only become harder to collect the past-due money over time. Keep accounts current. Monitor your 401(k). If you are losing money, move it to better investments.

3. Estimate project costs. Do not begin a project without a complete understanding of the total cost. Notify a client immediately when there is a change in the cost.

4. Limit work backlog. Don’t expect to have the backlog of work you had in past years. Other companies will provide the services if you cannot start the work in a reasonable time frame.

5. Determine your company’s profitability. At the end of each month, figure out your company’s profitability. Do not continue to operate at a loss; make the necessary changes to operate profitably.

6. Eliminate debt. Get rid of credit-card debt. The interest will eat your profits. Pay off the card with the lowest amount of debt first.

7. Stop lowballing. Do not provide services for less than your cost to keep employees working.

8. Organize your office. Put all the finished jobs away in the proper files. Make your office an attractive place to work and visit.

9. Invite your clients to lunch. Instead of inviting your clients to lunch at a restaurant, invite them to your office. Show them you are real people, not just a credit card for lunch. Have employees bring their favorite dishes.

10. Smell the flowers. The next time you are in the woods, take a few extra minutes. Eat a few berries, watch the wildlife or identify a few trees. Enjoy the reason you became a surveyor in the first place. You could even make a “peace tree” as colonial surveyor Thomas Freeman did while marking a peace-treaty line in Indiana. He took young saplings, slit the center and pulled the top portion partly through. As the tree matured, it formed with a large circle in the center. The last of these trees died a few years ago, but the next time you mark a boundary, you could revive this tradition to show where you’ve walked as a surveyor. It will leave a different kind of footprint to show your appreciation of the environment in which you are surveying.

Just as the surveying of the past is different than today, the future in the United States will be different. It is not wrong--just different--so we will have to make wise decisions to adjust and thrive.

Reference

1- From the entry for “carbon footprint” in the online encyclopedia Wikipedia.

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