Make Your Business Eco-Friendly

Here are some suggestions on how to make your business environmentally friendly:

Office Supplies

  • Before purchasing office supplies, check if you have supplies at home that you can use. Since I started my own business, I bought very few office supplies since I have enough stationaries to last me a long time.
  • Buy paper products that are made from recycled materials and avoid envelopes with windows.
  • Avoid buying stickers and labels whenever possible. Consider printing addresses directly unto the envelope.

Paper

  • Avoid printing on paper whenever possible. For example, I generate invoices and email the invoices to my client instead of printing and mailing them to my clients. This saves me paper, stamp, a trip to the mailbox and my clients get the invoices the same day instead of 2 days later.
  • Set up a system to go paperless. You can either pay a service provider and save everything in the cloud or invest in external hard disk to back up your files. If your company has a few employees, you may want to consider setting up a server as an alternative to the cloud.
  • If you do print, print double sided whenever possible or save paper that has an empty side and print on the empty side. Make double sided printing the default setting.
  • Every time I receive paperwork from my clients, I will scan it and return the hardcopies to them. This allows me to use my filing cabinet for more important things.
  • Sign up for paperless billing whenever possible.
  • Pay your vendors using bill pay. It’s usually free, you will save on stamps and everything will be recorded properly in your bank statements.
  • Consider making payments and filings online instead of using paper.
  • Consider electronic signatures whenever possible.
  • When you purchase anything, choose electronic receipts instead of paper receipts.

Advertising

  • Stop giving out free pens and useless plastic gadgets. Consider giving out eco-friendly and reusable items and educate your customers about it.
  • Consider advertising using materials that are eco-friendly. For example, avoid printing cards and advertisements on glossy paper since it is difficult to recycle.
  • Support eco-friendly and sustainable companies that share the same values.
  • I considered having a simple reminder at the bottom of my email to remind people to print consciously but it’s actually wasteful because it adds data and email signatures replicate itself constantly when the recipient forwards or responds to the email and it takes up unnecessary space in the cloud or your hard disk.
  • When you start your business, you will get a lot of junk mail in your mailbox. Consider unsubscribing from junk mail. When you sign up for business license, bank account or any services, tell the account manager that you do not want your address forwarded to advertisers.

Technology

  • Dispose electronic waste responsibly. Currently, Best Buy accept electronics for recycling including wires and chargers.
  • I’m not sure about using toner refills from third party manufacturers but I buy high yield toner cartridges instead of the regular toner cartridges. I also avoid printing in color whenever possible and if I have to print in color, I will go to a third party provider. When the toner is done, I return the empty cartridges to Staples for recycling.
  • Consider deleting files that are no longer relevant or required. Even though data appears to be invisible, it still takes up space in your server / cloud so make it a point to declutter your data at least once a year.
  • Instead of jotting everything down on paper, consider using an app whenever possible. For example, use TripLog or MileIQ to keep track of your mileage, Quickbooks to keep track of your expenses, Google Keep to keep track of your notes instead of jotting everything down on random pieces of paper. Ideally, get apps that are able to sync with each other to minimize the need to transfer information across different platforms.

Furniture

  • Buy secondhand whenever possible. I am convinced that it is possible furnish the office with secondhand furnitures and still make it look nice.
  • To also consider doing without if possible. For example, there is no reason to invest in so many bookshelves or a filing cabinet system if everything is saved on a server/ cloud.

Resources

  • When doing research, I use online resources or borrow them from my local library. I try to avoid purchasing research materials whenever possible because these materials are expensive and get updated regularly.
  • If you work from home, it’s good idea to place your desk near the window so you can take advantage of natural light.
  • Also consider a second hand desk lamp if you need lighting for the desk to avoid lighting up the entire room just because you are working at your desk.
  • Since I work from home, a lot of my business is conducted by phone or email. Occasionally I have to meet my clients face to face and when I do it, I try to organize all my meetings on the same day to minimize travel whenever possible.

 

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Organizing Digital Files (ABC Method)

The biggest problem with going paperless is figuring out how to organize your digital files so that you can easily find it. Previously I organized my files based on categories,  sub-categories and sub-sub-categories. The problem is, sometimes I forget where I filed something so I end up creating a new folder with the same name and over time, I have multiple folders with the same name and each folder has different stuff in it.

You can definitely use the search feature on your computer but if you don’t remember the name of the file or if you were too lazy to rename the file (because you said you were going to do this later) and the default filename is just a bunch of numbers which is usually the case when you download bank statements or utility statements, the search feature may not be effective.

I was prompted to come up with a more efficient filing system when my husband was looking for a particular file on my laptop and he couldn’t figure out where to look because the categories worked for me and not for him. For example, I have a folder for each of the cats and it’s under the main folder entitled “Cats” but he was looking for a folder entitled “Pets”.

All this changed when I discovered the ABC Method. Here is a video on it:

In that video example, he has 26 folders but I created an extra folder entitled “#” for items starting with numbers. The idea is to be able to get to the file you want with the least number of clicks.

One can argue that you can get rid of the ABC folders and make the sub-folder the main folder because everything will be organized alphabetically but I like having ABC as the main folder because it creates a cleaner look. However, feel free to personalize it to whatever works for you.

I am hoping that if I can streamlined the way the digital files are organized, I can convince my husband that it’s OK to go paperless because he can easily find it on the computer and he can finally get rid of boxes and boxes of papers which are taking up unnecessary space in our home.

DIY Face Mask

I cannot believe that my supply of face mask from my pre-zero waste days are finally gone. I saved the plastic packaging and mailed it to Terracycle under the Personal Care and Beauty Recycling Program. It usually takes forever for me to go through a tube of face mask and I had to throw away some because it started smelling weird.

My DIY face mask was inspired by the following video from Refinery 29:

What I do

For my DIY face mask, I used bentonite clay because that’s what I have at home and that’s what I use for my toothpowder. I put a 1/4 teaspoon of bentonite clay in the palm of my hand and I mixed it with a few drops of water. It’s important not to use stainless steel when working with bentonite clay because it causes some chemical reaction. I used my fingers to mix the water and clay in the palm of my hand. Slowly, I rubbed the mixture with both my hands and applied it to my face and neck. This saves me from having to wash a bowl.

It takes between 10 to 15 minutes for the mixture to harden depending on how thick your paste is. A 1/4 teaspoon of bentonite clay is really not that much. After applying the mixture on my face, my face looked wet but when it hardened, you can see a thin layer of gray all over my face and neck. I washed off the face mask in the shower and my skin felt smooth and tight. When I’m done with my shower, I pat my face dry and applied moisturizer.

Variations

There are many variations to this recipe. Mix bentonite clay with honey for a moisturizing effect. Mix bentonite clay with yogurt or apple cider vinegar for exfoliating purposes. I’ve seen some recipes require at least 1 teaspoon of clay. If you have sensitive skin, you may want to do a patch test first or reduce the amount of clay. For those with acne, your face may look worse after the face mask but that’s probably because the clay is drawing all the impurities to the surface of the skin.

The way I see it, the world is your oyster. So, feel free to experiment and do what works for you or try and work with what you have at home. I’m just lazy so bentonite clay and water it is for me.

Organizing Paper (not entirely zero waste)

What do you do when you come across letters that are blank on one side? What about papers which you printed but no longer need? Remember to print on both sides whenever possible but mistakes do happen. I usually save these papers (“rough paper”) and use it to write notes or lists before it goes into the recycle / compost bin. Clearly the zero waste option is to do everything digitally but sometimes it works better when you write it down.

I use to  pile the rough paper using a clipboard that I had lying around but the paper would constantly roll up and it would get messy when I tried to pull one sheet from the pile. The clipboard was not ideal to keep track of invites, bills, appointments etc. Subsequently, I compiled my paper using a binder but that didn’t work for me because the binder was bulky, takes up a lot of space and did not work well with smaller sized paper. I then tried making my own notebook using cardboard and binder rings that I found around the house but it was flimsy, the pages did not flip over well and started falling apart in no time.

After several years of trying to organize all the paper that comes through the door, I finally found a system that I love. The dilemma was finding a zero waste option and setting up a system that makes me happy which subsequently motivates me to keep using the system. I tried the zero waste options and it didn’t work so I moved to the new system.

Now, I organize rough paper using the arc system by Staples. Instead of buying the entire notebook which includes paper that I do not need, I bought the arc puncher, arc rings and a set of hardcover. The rings and hardcover had plastic in the packaging so it was not a zero waste option and I wasn’t able to find these items second hand. I avoided buying the hardcover and made my own using cardboard but the cardboard was not thick enough to handle the weight of all the paper and something about the color turquoise makes me happy.

I’ve been using this system for months now and it’s the best system for me. Each time I get a letter, junk mail, receipts or whatever paper that comes my way, I scan the important papers and then punch holes and add it to the notebook. If it is a reminder about an event or an appointment, I would punch it and file it by month so when the month arrives, I’m reminded of the event or appointment. This system works on all sizes of papers and it helps me keep track of coupons, bills, appointments and various reminders. It’s also easy to flip from page to page and it’s easy for me to reorganize things.

Instead of having stacks of paper sitting in piles or hiding these piles in boxes, I now organize my paper into 2 piles. One as a notebook and another as a reminder. When the reminder is done, I move it to the notebook. Once I’m done with the note, it goes into the recycle / compost bin. It’s not an entirely zero waste option but this option prolongs the life of papers with blank sides before it goes into the recycle / compost bin.

Fixing My Sunglasses

I find it helpful to have sunglasses especially in sunny California. I’ve had this pair of sunglasses for more than 8 years and it is still going strong save for the fact that the tint from the original lenses is starting to peel off.

Instead of buying a new pair of sunglasses which can be time consuming and expensive, I decided to fix mine by replacing the lenses. It turns out that the replacement lenses cost a fraction of what I paid for my sunglasses. Depending on the brand of sunglasses that you have, you will be amazed at the options available out there. The replacement lenses are not exactly the same as the original lenses but I had the option of picking polarized lenses and I think the new lenses work for my purpose.

Sunglasses

 

Zero Waste Corporate Gift Ideas

Every business should find some way to market themselves in order to get more customers or keep their existing customers. I like to send something to my clients especially during the holidays either to thank them or to remind them of me. The struggle lies in living the zero waste life and giving customers junk that ends up in the landfill.

Experience is usually the go to zero waste gift but it may not necessarily be appropriate or it can be cost prohibitive. Unless you are gifting a specific person in mind, it’s always a good idea to find something neutral. Here are some zero waste corporate gift ideas.

Zero Waste Gifts that Fit in an Envelope

With Standard Postage

  • Plantable Cards – Cards that you can plant in soil and grow wildflowers.
  • Gift Cards / Gift Certificates – Online stores are the best option or some place you know that they frequent. You don’t necessarily have to buy the card. You can always buy it online and print out the code.
  • Movie Tickets – Think about where your customers are. Pick a movie theatre close to their home / business.
  • Postcard Size Calendar
  • Recipes
  • Tea Bags

Most of these are paper products that can be recycled or composted.

Everything Else

  • Wine
  • Soaps (not the ones wrapped in plastic)
  • Kitchen / Tea Towels
  • Collapsible Cups
  • Box of Baked Goodies
  • Cotton Tote Bag / Foldable Tote Bags – Great for printing your company logo.
  • Potted Plants
  • Scented Candles
  • Stainless Steel Water Bottles / Coffee Mug – Great for printing your company logo. I try to avoid plastic where possible.
  • Hand Towels – Great for embroidering your company logo.
  • Stainless Steel / Glass Containers – Great for engraving your company logo but I suggest filling the container with some goodies.
  • Bamboo Toothbrush – Especially great if you are a dentist.
  • Glass Straws – I think a lot of people will find it novel. If it’s glass, it is easier to see if the straw is cleaned properly. Don’t forget the pipe cleaner for the straw too.

Others Ideas that Didn’t Make the List

There is no point in giving gifts that a customer would not appreciate. Zero waste gifts may still end up in the landfill or become a dust collector at home. Here are some gift ideas that I think non-zero wasters would not appreciate.

  • Reusable produce bags – I’m not sure if a lot of people remember to bring their own bags to the grocery store let alone produce bags.
  • Fruit Basket – Maybe a small amount of fruit because do people seriously eat that much of fruit before it goes bad? It seems like most of the fruit will go to waste.
  • Homemade Beauty Products – Too personal because everyone has their preferences unless you are in the business of selling beauty products but soap is the exception.
  • Magazine Subscription – Not sure how that will remind people of your business.
  • Sandwich / Snack Bags – I don’t know a lot of people who pack their own lunch to work or pack sandwiches.
  • Mugs – There are just way too many mugs that end up in thrift stores.
  • Coasters – There are zero friendly options but chances are, everyone who use coasters have them already.
  • Cotton Napkins – Do people really use napkins at home?
  • Travel Chopsticks – It depends on your customer base. Surprisingly, a lot of people struggle with chopsticks.

It goes without saying that if you are looking for zero waste ideas, make sure that you keep that in mind when wrapping your gifts. Recycled / paper envelopes and cardboard boxes are easily available. Skip the plastic ribbons, shiny confetti and use twine instead.

Save the Soap

What do you do with small slivers of soap? It’s too small to really do anything. It keeps falling from your hands and it is a pain to pick it up when it falls to the floor.

Here is how I save my soap slivers. When I shower, I would use a new bar soap and when I’m done using the new bar of soap, I put the small slivers of soap on top of the new bar soap.

The next time you shower, the bar soap would have hardened and the slivers of soap will be part of the new bar soap. Tada… no waste.

Soap
Small white soap became part of the current black soap. This is after a few days of using the soap.

Homemade Tomato Sauce

Bought too many tomatoes for a recipe and it was starting to get mushy. So, I turned it into basic tomato sauce.

Recipe

  • Diced Tomatoes
  • Sliced Garlic (however much you like)
  • Herbs / Seasoning (whatever you like)
  • Olive Oil
  • Salt
  1. Slice the garlic thinly and put it in the pan with some olive oil. Turn on the stove and let the garlic infuse into the olive oil. Do it until the garlic starts to brown.
  2. When the garlic starts to brown, add in the diced tomatoes. I chopped up the tomatoes with the skin to eliminate food waste.
  3. Bring the tomatoes to a boil and reduce to simmer.
  4. Add in salt, herbs and whatever seasoning you like. Sometimes it’s just salt. Sometimes I like it spicy so I add red pepper flakes. Sometimes I add dried oregano because that’s what I have. Add whatever you like. It is your tomato sauce.
  5. Let it simmer for about 15 minutes and taste it. If it is too tangy, add a little bit of sugar until it is to your satisfaction.
  6. If you like your tomato sauce smooth, feel free to blend it in a food processor or with a stick blender. I’m too lazy so I leave it chunky sometimes.
  7. After 15 minutes, the sauce would have thickened a little and all the tomatoes would have liquified. Pour into glass jars and let it cool.

What now?

Tomato SauceTomato sauce is not just for pasta. You can use it to make so many things such as:

  • chicken cacciatore
  • steamed / baked fish with tomato sauce
  • shakshouka (eggs poached in tomato sauce)
  • tomato rice
  • meat sauce or ragu
  • omelette topped in tomato sauce
  • dipping sauce
  • lentil curry
  • chicken / fish curry
  • baked / steamed shellfish with tomato sauce

 

 

 

Shopping For Clothes

The general rule for shopping for clothes zero waste is to buy second hand and ideally organic. Lately, the weather has been super hot and I decided that I needed to get some short sleeved tops especially when meeting clients. I cannot remember when was the last time I bought new clothes.

Previously, I worked in the comforts of an air-conditioned office so I would wear long sleeve shirts and jackets but not anymore. I also take the view that it is unprofessional for me to meet my clients with sleeveless tops and shoes that shows your toes.

I am fascinated at how people can find amazing stuff at thrift stores because I tried and I cannot find anything. Maybe it’s just the particular store near my home. I considered buying brand new clothes and then I remembered ThredUp.

ThredUp organizes the inventory based on type, brands, price, condition etc. I found some branded tops which were in excellent condition. There was a 40% discount for first time buyers. I know I was shopping for short sleeve blouse but I couldn’t ignore the green silk top from Diane von Furstenberg for $11. Looks like this will be what I’m wearing this summer and probably next summer.

ThredUp

Homemade Apricot Jam

A friend gave me a bag of apricots. Since it was getting too ripe, I decided to make apricot jam with it. All you need is apricot, sugar and some lemon / lime juice. The ratio of apricot to sugar is a minimum of 3:2. This means for every 3 portions of apricot, you need 2 portions of sugar. I read somewhere there it does not qualify as jam unless 50% or more of it consist of sugar.

Method

Apricot Jam

  1. Cut the apricots into small chucks and remove the seed.
  2. Put the apricot and white granulated sugar in a heavy bottomed pot and bring to a boil.
  3. Once it is boiling, reduce it to a simmer on medium to low heat. If you see foam, remove the foam.
  4. Let is simmer for about 30 minutes and make sure that you stir occasionally to avoid it from burning at the bottom.
  5. Take a spoonful of the liquid jam and set aside to cool. When it cools, test if the consistency is to your satisfaction. If so, the jam is done.
  6. Turn off the heat and add about 1 tablespoon of lemon and mix it into the liquid jam. Pour into glass jars and let it cool.

Tips

  1. There is no need to add water to the apricot and sugar because the apricot will liquify.
  2. If the apricot is bruised, it is important to remove the bruised portions so you can maintain the color of the final product.
  3. Taste the liquid from time to time to make sure it is the sweetness is to your satisfaction.
  4. It is important to let the concoction simmer for at least 30 minutes so that it thickens into jam consistency when it cools down. I tried being lazy and let it simmer for a few minutes and when the concoction cooled down, it had a runny consistency. When that happens, transfer it to the pot and let it simmer for about 30 minutes.
  5. If the liquid gets burnt at the bottom, don’t scrape the bottom. Instead, transfer it to a new pot and continue the process.