It appears that the wall between making inroads to lessen an organization’s environmental footprint and achieving or maintaining long-term financial stability is down to its last few bricks.

Last week TIME magazine made the case that by 2030, not only will 75 percent of all buildings in the U.S. be new or substantially rehabilitated to meet greener standards, but ample “green-collar” jobs will be created in both the technology and industry sectors. In fact, one report, cited in the same article, estimates that at least 5 million new jobs will be created by 2025, assuming that a quarter of our energy is produced by renewable resources.

Yet, the workplace-greening movement is certainly not limited to industries that are green by nature. Also last week, a researcher from Rice University’s Jesse E. Jones Graduate School of Management released a study that ties environmental stewardship in a traditional manufacturing industry (tires) to profitability. The study concludes that a greener product can build shareholder value by:

  • enhancing the environmental profile of the company’s products, growing its market share;
  • augmenting raw materials with green alternatives, which can dramatically reduce their costs; and
  • increasing the value of the manufacturer’s name and image through the growing perception of the link between being green and better quality.

Of course, when it comes to the daily practices that evolve from these higher-level foci, there has been an abundance of resources aimed at helping businesses – especially small ones – go green, with the purpose of cutting costs as well as attracting and retaining like-minded employees. Winning Workplaces provided a justification for going green along with some real-world-tested tips to do so in an article published last May.

Since we wrote that article more than a year ago, when we were busy evaluating the 2007 applicants of our Top Small Workplaces recognition project, we’ve looked at the next pool of applicants in this year’s competition. With trends such as credit for small businesses getting more scarce and global competition becoming ever fiercer, one theme we’ve found in comparing the 2007 and 2008 applicants is an increasingly full bandwagon of organizations seeking “greener” pastures.

The 2007 applicants tended to do so as mission outreach – when applicable – to both customers and prospective employees. Vermont-based NRG Systems, for example, which provides wind energy solutions, offers each of its employees more than $2,000 per year in cash incentives for the purchase of hybrid vehicles or renovations to their homes designed to reduce their carbon footprint. Another 2007 winner, Alaska Wildland Adventures, rewards its FTE employees with “powder” vacation days on the slopes that employees work, via a related ecotourism association, to protect.

This clear focus from the leadership to employees and customers continued among 2008 applicants whose mission and/or products and services are green in nature:

  • An eco-home builder in Montana has stepped up efforts in recent years to send their employees to workshops on alternative energy and green building, realizing that expanding their knowledge base will help them continue to win and deliver successful jobs.
  • An organic grocer in Maryland offers employees cash incentives not only toward hybrid vehicles, but also home water audits and discounts on Energy Star appliances.
  • A manufacturer of eco-friendly cleaning products in Illinois provided one of its workers paid leave to take the exam to qualify for LEED accreditation by the U.S. Green Building Council. The first person in their industry to achieve this status, the company reports, he now serves as a fountain of information to customers and distributors, in addition to other employees.

Yet, even more telling is how many applicants this year that are not in an industry that impacts the environment, but which are nevertheless innovative when it comes to green workplace practices and in educating their workers to continue to make a difference when not at work.

A financial services firm in California, for instance, is doing its part to both cut down on vehicle-produced smog and help its workers avoid high gas prices by providing them with passes they can use to take public transportation. And a New Jersey-based shelter and services provider to the homeless solicited private donations to finance the construction of green housing for their local workforce, saving them commuting time and costs.

Common among both firms with eco-friendly missions and those whose goals are not directly tied to helping the environment is the number of small (read: low- or no-cost) measures they have in place to encourage environmental awareness and stewardship. A New York-based advertising and marketing firm, for example, has an active “green team” that is tasked with creating “environmentally-friendly approaches to everyday workplace happenings.” Their seemingly “little” contributions such as installing a filter on the kitchen faucet and using pitchers with filters has eliminated bottle water usage and encouraged similar behavior by employees in their homes.

Other measures you’ll find in the workplaces of the 2008 applicants include:

  • Drafting and fulfilling environmental mission statements.
  • Exploring alternatives to raw materials used in products, such as those that are recycled or otherwise result in a smaller carbon impact.
  • Researching local and state regulations on recycling, and then going above and beyond.
  • Printing on both sides of paper and using projectors in place of handouts where possible.
  • Turning to donations toward key causes in lieu of traditional holiday gifts for clients.

If your organization isn’t doing at least one of the things on the lists above, now is the time to jump on the same bandwagon as the progressive small firms mentioned here. After all, study after study shows that from both the consumer and the employee perspective, that awareness and effort can make the difference between getting the sale or the top talent you need to stay at the top of your game.