Companies large and small are embracing sustainable business practices, in large part because taking steps to save the planet saves money over the long run, boosting the bottom line.


While the concept of sustainable business practices has been kicked around for decades, the definition continues to evolve. Businesses strive for sustainability by trying to strike a balance of people, planet and profit.


Commonly employed “green” practices are aimed at reducing energy consumption. Google, the Internet search engine giant, installed a photovoltaic system at its headquarters in Mountain View, Calif., that includes 9,000 solar panels on top of eight buildings and two carports. The system, which will pay for itself in about six years, generates almost a third of the company’s peak power needs.


Green House Data, a 10,000-square-foot data center filled with high-density computing equipment such as server racks used for data storage and processing in Cheyenne, Wyo., is powered entirely through renewable wind energy. The company says its green data center uses about 40 percent less energy per square foot than comparable data centers.


Cutting fuel consumption is another sustainable business practice that reduces greenhouse gases and operating costs. FedEx, the Memphis-based shipping company, is replacing Boeing 727 jets with more fuel-efficient Boeing 757s, which will cut reduce fuel consumption — and fuel costs — by 47 percent. FedEx isn’t the only company using green shipping. UPS offers a carbon-neutral shipping option for businesses concerned about emissions.


Businesses also strive for sustainability by reducing waste, which reduces costs by cutting garbage hauling fees. Burgerville, a fast-food chain of 39 restaurants in Oregon and Washington, operates on-site food-waste composting operations. The compost is delivered to nearby farms and gardens, some of which are food suppliers for the restaurants.


At some companies, sustainability isn’t a business practice, it is the business.


TerraCycle, based in Trenton, N.J., turns trash into treasure, finding new uses for drink pouches, candy wrappers, cigarette butts and used disposable diapers. TerraCycle collects a wide variety of waste from more than 20 million people in more than 20 countries, diverting billions of units of waste and creating more than 1,500 different products available at major retailers ranging from Wal-Mart to Whole Foods Market.


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