Green accounting firms

AccountingWEB 2009 Scholarship award-winning essay
By Jill Kershaw, Saint Martin's University

Power strips, fluorescent lighting, post-recycled paper, and webcasts. The list of how to have a green office includes these ideas and many more, with the goal being to minimize an office's carbon footprint. The Obama administration has called for 'going green,' and champions of the cause are applauding as the idea becomes popular.

But as with any major change, accounting firms need to proceed deliberately when implementing green ideas in the workplace. The first requirement is to have enough money to back the plan to go green, which can be expensive. For example, fluorescent bulbs can cost 4 times what an incandescent bulb can cost. Solar panel installation, depending on kilowatts needed, can cost up to $40,000. Although these strategies can diminish energy costs in the long run, they require an up-front investment. Going green can cost a lot of green!

Researching the best ideas is another step to take. Needs vary depending on a firm's, focus, how many employees it has, and where it is located geographically. For example, catch basins which recycle gutter run-off may be appropriate in dry Arizona, but redundant in rainy Western Washington. Likewise, firms in areas without recycling facilities should think twice before driving long distances to deliver recyclables. In addition, the further implications of the green decisions should be measured. A firm which stops all corporate travel in favor of web conferences may lose both old and new clients because of the lack of face time. A better idea to reduce travel might be to plan trips with multiple stops serving many clients.

Keeping employees in the loop is necessary to have a successful transition to green. They can be asked their opinion and given areas to research. Brainstorming with employees and letting them have a voice about certain products will ensure success with their usage. For example, there are electronic document management systems to choose from. Ease of use and employee skills can be a decisive factor in which one to implement. If employees are on-board with the changes, they will be more supportive during what can be a tricky transition from turning on light switches to depending on motion detecting fixtures.

Prioritizing expenses will prevent going in the red while going green. Firms should decide what changes are most important and worthy of time, effort, and money. Implement those first and then make the less important or harder changes later. Your employees will thank you - and so will your banker.

Lastly, keep going green in perspective. A little at a time helps in the long run and as a business grows, so then can the ideas for going green. Having a plan that considers timelines and which projects to tackle will help a firm best achieve its goals. In the trenches of the business world, you are the general in the fight against the ever increasing carbon footprint. The inconvenient truth is that without a plan, you will lose the battle before you ever begin.

About the author
Jill Kershaw lives in Tenino, Washington with her husband and 4 of their 5 children. After 20 years as a stay-at-home mom, she returned to school full time at Saint Martin's University in Lacey, Washington to get her accounting degree and will graduate in December 2009. A 3.93 student, Jill became interested in accounting after helping her extended family with their taxes, and she would like to work in auditing as a fraud examiner.

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