How to: Go 'Green' With Your SMB (Part 1)

By Polly Traylor

November 10, 2008

In this three-part series, we'll lay out the many ways in which adopting green computing strategies can save your business money while also potentially helping to save the world.

If you’re looking to save money and be more efficient, it's time to consider what the ever-present “green" movement means for your small business. At its core, it's the basic operating principle of managing resources and costs – swathed in an earthy robe.

Going green means operating in a way that uses the least amount of resources for the greatest gain; it’s about introducing practices that focus on conservation, reuse and the reduction of a company’s "carbon footprint." For small companies, achieving the latter goal could be as simple as creating telecommuting policies so that more employees can work at home instead of driving and, thereby, contributing to the brown cloud.

Did You Know?

 • In 2006, six months of sales of EPEAT-registered computers saved enough electricity to power 1.2 million U.S. homes for a year.(Source)

 • Two percent of worldwide carbon emissions comes from the IT industry, equivalent to the amount produced by the airline industry. (Source)

What's positive about all this green hype (which indeed, is not just a passing trend but the global economic reality of dwindling resources) is that typically, changes that you make in your business for the environment also generally save money and/or provide other business benefits.

Energy Star, a program funded by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to help small businesses become more energy-efficient, reports that most small businesses can cut their energy costs by 30 percent – the same as a large company. 

And, green practices might be good for your staff retention plan: 52 percent of 2,000 workers surveyed by Adecco USA, a Melville, N.Y.-based human resources firm, said they felt their employers should be taking more steps to reduce or recycle.

Technologically, getting started on green computing practices takes zero or little financial investment.  In this article we'll talk about some ways to quickly ramp up on green IT practices. 

Five Simple Ways to Get Started with Green IT

1. Buy Green.

Perhaps the easiest way to get started is to buy energy-efficient electronics when it's time to upgrade or purchase new equipment.  Energy Star-rated computers, printers and other technology products use as much as 60 percent less electricity than standard equipment, according to the Energy Star Web site.

Over the next five years, Energy Star claims that these products will save Americans more than $5 billion dollars. Softchoice, a Toronto-based business-to-business reseller of IT products has designed a new site where you can compare and buy EPEAT products (EPEAT.net is a rating service for electronics that collaborates with Energy Star). The site includes a calculator to determine your energy savings from purchasing the energy-efficient products.

2. Manage Your Power

Take a look at your control panel on your desktop, and it’s likely you'll see everything you need in a few simple clicks to manage power better on your PC. Your business can save $45 per PC annually, simply through automatic shutdown capabilities, says Melissa Quinn, sustainability programs manager for Softchoice. (Read how GE, University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh, North Thurston Public Schools and others are saving as much as $75 per computer annually simply by activating power management).

Next Steps:

  • To maximize power savings, the EPA recommends setting computers to enter system standby or hibernate after 30 to 60 minutes of inactivity.
  • To save even more, set monitors to enter sleep mode after five to 20 minutes of inactivity.

If your equipment does not have power management features, you can download the free Energy Star Power Management Software.

3. Get a Professional Energy Audit and Track Energy Use.

Yes, this will cost you money – anywhere from a few hundred to a few thousand dollars, according to Jerry Lawson, national manager of Energy Star.  However, if your business is going to be around for a long time, hiring an auditor might be a wise investment.  "We believe you can't manage what you can't measure," he says. 

Next Steps:

  • If an audit's simply not possible due to finances or lack of professional auditors in your local area, Lawson recommends reviewing The Energy Star "Sure Energy Savers" guidelines to help you start a program. 
  • To monitor your ongoing energy use, download the free Energy Star Portfolio Manager tool.  (An ENERGY STAR private sector contractor maintains and updates the software for accuracy, and your information is password-protected for privacy).

4. Just Say 'No' to Paper

How many times have you printed out a 30-page document when you could have read it and made edits and comments to it through online tracking just as easily?  It's a habit, yes – but a bad one that we all need to quit. 

Next Steps:

  • Use double-sided printing and copying
  • Distribute documents electronically
  • Create a portal site for sharing content
  • Recycle what you must print 
  • Invest in digital signature technology and software that monitors paper usage by departments, Quinn suggested. Preo Software and PaperCut are two options.

5. Recycle and Disposal of E-waste

Most people in the technology world know not to throw batteries into the garbage can – same for used printer cartridges, discarded cell phones, memory sticks, old or damaged laptops, and so on. 

Most electronics that people currently own contain high levels of lead and other toxic materials that need to be handled appropriately so they don’t end up in a landfill and leach poisons into the soil and ultimately, our drinking water.  (Fortunately, major tech vendors are increasingly making new equipment cleaner)

“Safe disposal is really important,” Quinn said. “Eighty percent of hardware gets dumped.”

Next Steps:

  • Quinn recommends checking to make sure that your local e-recycler is qualified under the ISO 14001 environmental systems standard to ensure safe disposal and can provide you with a certificate saying that your data has been destroyed.  Green-Tech Assets and Technology Recycling Group are two organizations that provide or help locate recycling and disposal services.
  • Check with your local office supply store to see what they will recycle-- sometimes this can mean cash rebates, which over time can really add up.
  • When it comes to old-but-still-usable equipment such as PCs and printers, consider donating to a charity such as the local elementary school or a nonprofit.  You may also receive a tax benefit from the donation.

In part two and part three, we will look at ways in which you can make green business and green computing more pervasive throughout your organization--and thus reap more benefits. Outsourcing, thin clients and collaboration technology are just a few of the strategies that apply. Essentially, we’ll provide advice on how to take your business to the next level by aligning IT investments and strategic decisions with green goals.

Polly Schneider Traylor is a freelance business and technology writer based in San Mateo, California. Article courtesy of SmallBusinessComputing.com. Click here for Part 2 of the series.

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