It's not easy being green

Earning a Green Business League certification is an involved process - this is intentional so that only those companies committed to the process walk away with a certification. Kutchins, Robbins & Diamond, Ltd. (KRD), a professional CPA firm in Schaumberg, Illinois, is the first accounting firm to earn the Silver Certification from the GBL.

"We went through a certification process which is a point-based test administered by an [independent consultant]. It's a process that included interviewing a number of employees, going through an inventory review of our equipment, an looking at our paperless efforts among, other things," said Allen I. Kutchins, CPA, principal at KRD.

The GBL was established in 2005 and is based in Plainfield, Illinois. It attempts to educate businesses on sustainable practices and create a transparent and credible certification system that recognizes businesses for their success in implementing those practices. Businesses seeking certification work with one of 300 consultants trained by GBL to assess green practices and help each company develop a plan to expand them.

"One of the things that is unique about the Green Business League certification is that it really focuses on the practices of a business," Fred Siegman, KRD marketing director, told AccountingWEB. "Most of the prior designations of `green' dealt with the construction, but this deals with business operation."

The firm made a commitment in 2008 to go paperless and is well on its way to achieving that goal. Most individual tax returns are transmitted to the client through the firm's portal. A very small percentage of clients still prefer to be sent paper returns, and that preference is always respected. KRD plans to do the same for corporate clients, for financial statements and tax returns, starting this September. The firm newsletter will be sent through e-mail for 2,000 of the 2,500 copies distributed.

Going paperless "has also allowed us to start doing more frequent communications with more of our clients. We don't have the printing and mailing costs by doing things electronically. I would think that in 2011 we will save close to $25,000 from the paper and mailing and costs," Kutchins said of his 45-person firm.

Not all the savings are just paper and storage costs. KRD's bank allows it to scan and send in deposits online. No more paper deposit slips and trips to the bank. Scanned checks are held for two weeks before shredding.

Going paperless has changed the way the firm practices accounting. Rather than pull out a paper file with last year's tax return, staff members have dual monitors on their desks so they can view last year's return while working on the current year. Also, they each have a scanner on their desks to scan documents. Staffers in the field take a laptop computer, a second monitor, and a small scanner rather than large briefcases of files. Most use Excel sheets for computations instead of adding machines, and cut and paste their tabulations into the electronic file.

"About seven years ago we started to go cloud-based on all of our accounting and tax software so that they have access to everyone wherever they go as long as they have Internet connectivity," Kutchins told AccountingWEB.

Of course, no firm can go completely paperless yet. While engagement letters and tax return authorizations can be sent via e-mail, they still need to be printed out for a signature. Either they are scanned and sent back to the office by the client or they are mailed in and scanned into the system when received.

Being recognized with the Silver Certification "has led to other people connecting to us in a positive way," said Siegman. "Our firm is the first accounting firm to participate in the Midwest Clean Tech Conference, September 14-15, as a result of someone who visited our firm and suggested we get involved with [the conference]."

To say that KRD is committed to being green may be an understatement, as they recently have started the process to achieve Gold Certification.

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