Most experts urge companies to start their green strategy with "low hanging fruit" projects, such as replacing light bulbs, launching recycling programs or choosing more energy efficient technology. These early efforts don't cost much to implement, get employees engaged with green ideals and deliver quick results.

But what comes next?

Making the transition from easy-to-implement green initiatives to becoming a green company can seem overwhelming and expensive. But it doesn't have to be.

Whether you are a two-person local business or a multinational company with thousands of employees, making environmental stewardship a core part of your business strategy only takes two fundamental ingredients: active commitment from company leaders, and a willingness to change the way you do business and look at all projects and decisions with an eye toward the environment.

"How you think about going green is how you think about your corporate culture," says Jim Hartzfeld, the managing director of Interface Raise, Atlanta-based Interface's consulting arm. "It's about who you are, what your values are, and who you want to be."

Competitive Advantage

The directive to make a business more environmentally friendly must come from the top and it must engage employees across the organization, Hartzfeld says.

Hartzfeld has worked with Interface since 1994 when Ray Anderson, the company's chairman, first decided that reducing environmental impacts would give the company a competitive edge. Hartzfeld was put in charge of the initiative.

"We had no idea what we were doing," Hartzfeld admits. "But customers had begun asking questions about the environmental impact of our products that we couldn't answer, and at Interface, listening to the customer was deeply rooted in everything we did."

With Anderson's support, Hartzfeld's team began with a simple goal: All initiatives must relate to the mission of the company. "Sustainable development has to be core to the business of what you do, and what you pay for," he says. "That's the key to making that first hurdle. If you can translate what you are doing to who you are, you have the potential to affect every part of your business. It adds value to your stock and your brand reputation, and you'll find ways to make the company more efficient."

Interface began with programs to reduce waste, or what his team describes as "anything we bought that the customer wasn't willing to pay for." That included fossil fuels, garbage and scrap material.

"Those first waste reduction programs created savings early on that paid for future programs and turned our sustainability program into a money-making enterprise," he says.

From there, Interface went on to develop new kinds of carpets and flooring with a lighter environmental footprint, and replaced conventional glues with a patented hard tape in what became a best-selling product. It also purchases renewable energy, buys carbon offset credits and continues seeking ways of reducing fossil fuel use in transportation.