How to: Go 'Green' With Your SMB (Part 3)

By Polly Traylor

November 14, 2008

In the final installment of this series on green computing strategies for small businesses, we examine how tele-commuting and other travel-reducing and mobile technologies, such as Wi-Fi, can help save money and reduce greenhouse gases.

The global information and communications technology industry generates roughly two percent of global carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions, about the same as the aviation industry, according to 2007 research by Gartner, Inc.

So, what can you do about that?

In part one and part two of this series, we discussed the business case for green computing and tips for small-business IT managers around energy conservation: PC power management, buying more energy-efficient equipment, reducing paper, tracking energy use and careful recycling and disposing of electronics.

But there's much more to green technology--green business in general is permeating corporate strategy at many levels.  Just visit the Web sites of the Fortune 1000, and it's likely you will find an environmental sustainability report.  To take your efforts to the next level, think about the bigger picture.  Where do business goals, IT strategy, and environmental concerns meet?

"We encourage business of all sizes, after the basics, to think coherently about what sustainability is ‑ so you can create a vision of what your organization will look like in 20 to 30 years,” said Marsha Willard, CEO of AXIS Performance Advisors, a sustainable business management consulting firm in Portland, Oregon.  “It’s more than just recycling your paper,” she remarked.  “Is there a role for what you do in the world regarding sustainability?”

Here’s an example from Willard: The owner of a pizza chain in Oregon called HotLips Pizza realized he was producing a lot of excess heat from baking, so he figured out how to harness that previously-wasted energy to heat the water in the buildings he rents. He also uses electric cars for delivery, a composter, and he buys local, seasonable organic food. Now that’s thinking green: melding your business operations to serve the environment.

You don’t have to revolutionize your company, but when you're making IT plans two to three years out, strap on some green goggles.  Read our checklist below for ideas on how to think beyond setting your PCs to sleep mode after 30 minutes.  (Fortunately, many of these ideas also save money and overlap with the latest IT productivity and management trends.)

1. Travel-reducing technologies

There’s a common thread between technologies such as unified communications, Web conferencing, portal and collaboration software and mobile computing: all of these applications make it easier for people to work from anywhere.  Thus, your company can potentially expand telecommuting and even cut back on business travel.

"A big selling point of collaborative technologies is going to be resource reduction ‑ in terms of staff time, power, gas and travel dollars," said John Burke, an IT analyst with Nemertes Research. He gives the example of a 1,000-employee global beverage distributor that is saving $3,600 per day by using Web conferencing to reduce business travel.  If you factor in the several hours of lost productivity that go along with most business trips, those time-and-money benefits can make a real difference to your small business.

Of course, reducing commuting and travel means less noxious emissions floating into  the atmosphere. According to data on the travel-reducing technology site of IT reseller Softchoice, eliminating the need to make four round-trip flights between New York City and Chicago for two co-workers can prevent 3.19 metric tons of CO2 emissions a year. Softchoice also claims that one driver making a forty-mile round-trip commute once a week at 24 MPG can prevent the production of three-quarters of a ton of carbon dioxide by working from home.

To justify your investment, there are many other business benefits to deploying collaboration applications. Unified communications software, for instance, which combines instant messaging, voice, video and presence awareness, allows employees to find each other faster and to initiate real-time meetings that can result in better decision-making. 

Web-based videoconferencing is easier to use and cheaper to deploy than traditional videoconferencing systems. Using it can help enrich the quality of important meetings that might otherwise take place over the phone.  Free or low-cost virtual workspace products that include document-sharing, screen-sharing and real-time collaboration tools are widely available (Google, Microsoft and many smaller companies such as WorkZone have products).

2. A slimmer desktop

Yes, we’re talking about thin clients. Again. Yet now there's a valid economic imperative to just do it. After all, it's unlikely that few--if any--people in your organization need a power-hungry, fully-loaded PC.  James Storozuk, CIO for Toronto-based Ontario Realty Corp., recently switched the company's 350 employees to Lenovo thin clients with LCD displays.

“It uses 20 to 25 percent of the power as a standard desktop,” he said.  There are also many IT management benefits to thin clients, since desktops can be managed from one location. And, employees can "transport" their profile from device to device and access their data wherever they are.

The still nascent notion of desktop virtualization is another viable option.  Just like server virtualization, desktop virtualization allows a company to run multiple individual client operating systems on a single machine ‑ saving on hardware costs and energy. 

For some small businesses, Burke said that replacing the desktop PC with a thin client (consisting of only a monitor and keyboard) and using virtualization software from companies such as VMWare and Citrix is a smart practice.  "You could support about seven people per processor core, so 28 people for a dual-core-dual-processor server," he said.  Of course, thin clients and virtualization are not appropriate for every business ‑ it depends on how many PCs and servers are in place, and sometimes, the nature of the work.

3. Outsourcing

Ah, yes, the green movement offers yet another reason to consider outsourcing applications and infrastructure. That's always been a cost-effective option for small businesses with limited or nonexistent IT staff on hand. 

From an energy-efficient standpoint, the beauty of outsourcing is that a single provider can support you and hundreds or even thousands of other businesses--versus each company buying, maintaining, and powering all the equipment individually.  The best way to reduce greenhouse gas emissions is to take the offending machinery out of the equation in the first place. 

4. Mobile computing and networking technologies

To support anytime, anywhere workplaces and telecommuting, it's a good idea to make smart investments in mobile computing.  As always, buy energy-efficient devices, accessories and appliances that also minimize the use of toxic chemicals from EPEAT or the Softchoice EcoSolutions site.

Networking technology is also getting greener.  Just as you can place your PCs in sleep mode when they're not in use, a company called D-Link, has developed Ethernet switches which do basically the same thing.  The company's "Green Ethernet" technology recognizes when a port is active or inactive, and then adjusts the power accordingly. 

According to information at the company's Web site, even when a computer is shut down, switches often remain on and continue to consume considerable amounts of power. D-Link's new switches can detect when a computer is turned off and will respond accordingly by powering down the corresponding port into standby mode. The company's technology also adjusts power usage based on cable length.  The shorter the transmission link, the less power is used. Rest assured you'll see more announcements of green networking solutions like these, in the near future.

5. Monitoring tools

To really make a difference, your company needs a reliable way to control and monitor your energy usage. Many associations and vendors now have free calculators on their Web sites that you can use to set a baseline of your carbon footprint ‑ such tools are easy to find with a keyword search.

Energy monitoring is an emerging area for companies, but growing fast, according to Eric Woodruff, PhD, international environmental consultant and founder of Profitable Green Solutions.  He describes Web-based tools to control lights and workstations and remote-monitoring programs you can run on a mobile phone that can send alerts about a water leak in a facility or something else requiring immediate attention.  "The technology is changing on a daily to weekly basis," he said.

Just like other system statistics such as performance and network utilization, you should consider the regular tracking of energy use.  The Energy Star site offers a free "Portfolio Manager" service to do just that (it also tracks water utilization in your building). The software is maintained and updated by an Energy Star private-sector contractor for accuracy and to maintain confidentiality.

These are just a few ideas. If you think creatively, you probably will find many more technology-oriented ways to save your company money and reduce emissions at the same time.

Polly Schneider Traylor is a freelance business and technology writer based in San Mateo, California. Article courtesy of SmallBusinessComputing.com.

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