Middle market companies can demonstrate their innovative side in a publicly meaningful way by embracing reasonable and affordable environmentally green practices and alternative energy models.

There are many positive effects of having an alternative energy model. Local elected officials like to boast of the models that companies in their districts have - in part because it's an indirect way of patting themselves on the back, but more importantly it helps to lure other companies to the city. Companies of all stripes want to be around other cutting-edge enterprises.

Alternative Energy

But where should your company start? Here are some suggestions.

Reduce energy consumption. Middle market companies are fortunate in that most of them are large enough that some effort in reducing their energy usage — referred to as "demand-side management" - has a good ROI, both in respect to the money spent and in good relations with local officials.

Many state and local officials are struggling to ensure that power plants can produce enough electricity in times of peak use, such as the middle of a very hot summer. Voters get angry when local power companies have to impose rolling brownouts because they cannot handle the power needs. Thus, when companies take steps to reduce their energy needs, they make life easier for power plants and elected officials. There are alternative energy models through which your company can work, although some won't be applicable.

  • Introduce a responsible telecommuting policy, which might be emphasized during summer months, especially if that would allow the company to reduce its energy usage.
  • Install solar panels to reduce the electricity drawn from the grid.
  • Make the building natural-light friendly, but with treated windows to reduce the heat created in the summer.
  • Switch to low-energy lighting.

In addition to energy-reducing improvements, companies with easy access to public transportation could set work times or shift changes in a way that best coordinates public transportation schedules.

Reduce waste. There was a time when no one cared how much waste a company produced. This is no longer true. Today, even moving to a "zero landfill company" - as some car manufacturers such as Subaru, Honda, and Volvo now claim - is increasingly viewed as an attainable goal. And since doing so reduces the need for landfill space, once again it makes elected officials' lives a little easier. Here are some options:

  • Recycle whenever possible.
  • Skip the paper. If everyone going to a meeting needs a copy of a report, send it to them electronically and make sure they bring their notebook or laptop.
  • Transition to digital storage. Companies have to keep lots of records (especially these days); but they don't have to keep them on paper. If you haven't already done so, begin transitioning all documents to digital storage - and shred and recycle the paper. It will make accessing the documents easier, and you won't lose them in case of a fire or flood. Plus, without them taking up space, you can either rent less space of use the extra space for more productive purposes.

Get an energy audit. Buildings and homes can leak energy, and fixing those leaks can save a significant amount of money. Companies should do an energy audit for their building and encourage employees to get one for their homes. Kate Harrison, a Forbes.com contributor, says that some states will do the audits free and may even help pay for some or all of the repairs.

Adopting alternative energy models that make sense for the company and are financially doable help the environment and improve a company's image in the community and with local officials. Such efforts convey the impression that the company cares about more than just its bottom line, even though taking the right environmental steps could actually improve that bottom line.

Merrill Matthews is an NCMM contributor and a resident scholar at the Institute for Policy Innovation in Dallas, Texas. Follow him at http://twitter.com/MerrillMatthews and circle him on Google+.