5 Cool Inventions That Are Helping Businesses Go Green

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Going green really is not that hard or expensive for small businesses, and can provide some huge benefits, says a recent article in BusinessWeek. Besides being good for the environment, going green can also be great for the consumer when it's done in sustainable ways that promote real innovation and help keep business owners ahead in their respective industries.

Simply "applying a green lens" to your business model can be an exciting process that can lead to the discovery of more efficient and affordable ways of doing business. For example, renewable resources are often far more inexpensive than non-renewable resources and can make just as high-quality products that may even last longer and be easier to maintain. This means both the small business owner and the consumer are happy in the end and can enjoy the satisfaction that comes from knowing they are making a positive environmental impact.
The idea of "conscious capitalism" -- that an organization must act in its own best interests as well as in the best interests of its customers and partners -- will be important to entrepreneurs if they want to innovate in a world that is getting steadily more environmentally conscious. Sustainable products, services, and business models based on the good of the whole rather than the convenience of the few will be those that generate the most profits.

A software company in Canada has recently proved that going green can also help companies cut costs and increase profits. The Star reported recently that Canadian software company SAS has managed to double its square footage but halve its costs since its grand opening in 2005, simply by making natural, environmentally conscious decisions. The effort began as a way to make employees more productive by providing amenities like fresh air, window views and filtered water. This led to a 35% decrease in employee absences, which snowballed into a move to a bigger space and a return on investment of 375% per square foot, along with a decrease in the company's carbon footprint that equals pulling 615 cars off the road or planting over 20,000 trees.

SAS and other environmentally responsible companies are taking many simple, sustainable steps to become more efficient and productive. Meanwhile, many innovative engineers and entrepreneurs are inventing exciting products and services that are helping the process. The following five cool inventions are helping make "going green" easier.

1. Compostable bags. Sun Chips(r) recently rocked the snacking industry by unveiling its new fully compostable 10 1/2-ounce chip bag. According to the company, the bag is made entirely from plants, so it breaks down completely in 14 weeks when placed in an active compost bin or pile. However, biodegradable bags are not necessarily a new concept. Florida-based company Bio Bag also makes a wide range of corn-based bags for a variety of purposes. The only downside of these bags is reportedly that they make more noise than previous bags because of the different properties of plant-based materials.

2. Eco-friendly smartphones. In the past couple years, mobile device maker Samsung has been experimenting with eco-phones that help entrepreneurs and tech lovers be more responsible about the technology they use. In 2009, the company unveiled its first eco-phone, the Reclaim, made from corn-based plastic and almost entirely recyclable, so it is one step closer to cutting back on toxic techno-waste in landfills. Not without features, the phone has a slide-out QWERTY keyboard, MP3 player, 2.0 MP camera and camcorder and e-mail and text message capabilities. Later last year, Samsung unveiled its newest eco-phone, the Blue Earth, which harnesses the power of solar technology. It is made from recycled plastic and has a solar panel on the back that allows it to generate enough electricity to call "anytime, anywhere." It is completely free of the harmful chemicals found in other phones and has an "Eco-Mode" with a pedometer that tracks daily steps of users and calculates how much they have decreased their CO2 emissions by walking rather than driving.

3. Nanotechnology. Nanotechnology is nothing new, but it continues to enable many devices to be lighter, stronger, cleaner and more efficient. The iPod was one of the first impressive pieces of nanotechnology, but now many lighter laptops and even home appliances are designed around it. As the National Nanotechnology Initiative gains steam and harnesses more green energy, a new, more environmentally conscious standard for manufacturing office equipment and appliances could develop that will help businesses across industries use less energy and be more mobile and efficient.

4. The Vegawatt. The Vegawatt is a green system that is allowing a lot of restaurants to convert used cooking oil into electricity and even hot water for their establishments. It has been helping a lot of restaurateurs eliminate barrels of oil waste cleanly and save thousands of dollars per year. According to the product website, based on oil waste of 80 gallons per week, annual savings of electricity and hot water can total over $10,000.

5. The Smart Charger. The Smart Charger is a new kind of power strip that can charge laptop batteries, protect office equipment from surges and save electricity. Developed by APC, this device is only $15.50 for the P4GC model and $18 for the P6GC model and can be set to turn off or on at any time; it has the capacity for up to five scheduled settings. It's perfect for saving electricity when you're away from the office, as it can be set to turn off immediately after devices are charged.

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