-- If you don't believe in climate change, I suggest a visit to Africa.
This summer I spent three weeks in Africa, most on safari. It was thrilling. Few things can match the excitement of seeing magnificent animals in the wild.
But it also was sad. Why? Because I saw dramatic evidence of the damage global warming is inflicting.
And I realized that climate change is going to affect all of us — including small businesses. I came back determined to try to do whatever I can in my small business.
In Africa, you can see the amazing Great Migration of more than a million wildebeest and zebra as they constantly move, searching for grass in the Serengeti and Masai Mara National Reserve. It is amazing.
Their behavior also is relatively new, starting in the 1970s. Before that, their grasslands had enough moisture so they didn't need to migrate. More than a quarter million animals die during the migration each year.
Or go to the dry and dusty Samburu Game Reserve in Kenya. My guide told me that every year it gets drier and the number of animals dwindles.
What does that have to do with you and your small business? Well consider this: As the climate changes, businesses that depend in any way on the weather — and that's a lot of us — will be like those wildebeest. We're going to have to keep moving to survive.
Clearly, if you're a farmer, climate change will affect your survival directly. But if you're in tourism or hospitality, fishing or boating, or transportation, climate change also threatens your livelihood.
A new study released this week, commissioned for the California Department of Boating and Waterways, predicted that the economic consequences of rising sea levels would cost hundreds of millions — if not billions — of dollars of lost tourism and tax revenue just in five California communities.
Small businesses — small hotels, restaurants, tourist services — would bear the brunt of much of that.
Of course, if you don't believe that human actions cause or contribute to climate change, you don't have to do anything. But if you believe that humans play at least a little part, then you can take a few easy steps to reduce your footprint.
You can lower your energy use, recycle and purchase more sustainably made products. As a small business, you might have to change some of your processes or procurement. It might take a little more effort, but you likely will end up saving by lowering your energy use.
Here's what small businesses can do easily:
• Use more email, less real mail. Print less in general.
• Collaborate online. I'm a big believer in face-to-face meetings, so I'm not eliminating all of them, especially with customers. But most of us can do more routine meetings online.
• Turn off lights, air conditioning, heating, and other utilities when not in use. Make sure they're off overnight and on weekends, even if your landlord pays.
• Reduce commuting. Locate near public transportation. Give employees more than free parking; subsidize their use of buses, subways and trains.
• Bunch errands. Reduce the number of car trips you take by scheduling your meetings or errands back to back instead of constantly running back and forth.
• Create an office kitchen or at least a refrigerator, microwave, and water source at your office. That reduces trips out of the office for lunch, and it's cheaper for employees.
• Emphasize energy efficiency. Make sure all your equipment and vehicles use the least amount of energy possible.
• Buy recycled paper and sustainably produced raw materials and inventory.
• Reduce shipping whenever possible. Use lighter shipping materials. Buy local.
• Reduce waste of any kind. Look at your operations and production to see where you can eliminate waste or reuse or sell whatever's left over.
Don't think what you do is important? Remember, the United States has about 25 million small businesses or self-employed individuals. What we do individually adds up collectively, and we can set an example for our fellow entrepreneurs.
As the world heats up, not just animals in Africa will suffer. American small businesses will, too.
Rhonda Abrams is president of The Planning Shop and publisher of books for entrepreneurs. Her newest is the 5th edition of The Successful Business Plan: Secrets and Strategies. Register for Rhonda's free newsletter at www.PlanningShop.com and "like" The Planning Shop on Facebook for updates. For an index of her columns, go to smallbiz.usatoday.com. Twitter: twitter.com/RhondaAbrams. Copyright Rhonda Abrams 2011.