Coming Full Circle: Small Business and the Circular Economy

canstockphoto26603076Today, most businesses take a “take, make and dispose” approach to create their products, without much thought as to where these products will go when we dispose of them. But there is an alternative to this traditional, linear model–one that recognizes the reality that natural resources are limited.

The circular economy takes an end-to-end approach to source, develop and dispose of products. Companies applying this approach design and build products and services to minimize waste while maintaining natural resources. Going beyond recycling, the circular economy brings design, manufacturing, distribution and utilization into the picture as well.

This two-part blog series examines the drivers for businesses to shift from traditional, linear economy models to the circular economy. The first post, Reimagining Business: The Circular Economy, explains the differences between linear and circular economies, and discusses Dell’s evolution. This second post, focuses on how two small business owners are using this model to build successful, sustainable businesses, and how your small business can put this concept to work.

Blue Avocado: Making It Easy to Be Green

Amy GeorgeAmy George had planned to go to medical school after college. But when her dad died, she took a job with an architectural firm that designed sustainable buildings. As she learned about sustainability, she decided that what she really wanted to do was to create a sustainable business by “turning garbage into great products.”

After attending business school, Amy founded Blue Avocado. Blue Avocado’s goal is to entice new consumers to join the green movement with functional and chic reusable bags that minimize waste from design to production.

The company’s first products were reusable shopping bags, which she launched as cities began establishing plastic bag bans. When the 2008-2009 recession hit, more people wanted to bring lunch to work, so Amy added reusable lunch bags to the portfolio. These reusable bags are made with Repreve fabric, which is certified by the UNFI, Repreve’s parent company’s proprietary U Trust method to ensure that Repreve fibers are truly made from post-consumer plastic.

blueavocadobagsAccording to Amy, “To really grow consumer momentum, products not only have to be green, but be great. To attract each new wave of consumers, you need to create new solutions and new functionality.” So four years ago Blue Avocado added (re)zip® storage bag line, an alternative to disposable baggies. Since then, the company has also introduced reusable produce bags and this year, reusable trash bags.

Amy estimates that by the end of 2014, Blue Avocado had helped consumers avoid 200 million disposable alternatives. The seven-employee company now sells its products through The Container Store, Amazon, Whole Foods, Bloomingdales, Kroeger, Wegman’s, Target, OfficeMax, and Bed Bath & Beyond. Looking ahead, Blue Avocado is expanding distribution through retailers in Asia, Australia and Europe by 2016. In addition, the company forged a new partnership this year with Terra Cycle that allows BlueAvocado to upcycle all of their products into secondary parts or material versus end in a landfill.

Techway: Turning Trash To Treasure

Cathi High Res HeadshotWith a background in hardware sales, Cathi Coan, CEO of Techway Services, Inc., invested in a company to resell used computer equipment. When the lead investor died, Cathi found herself with a warehouse full of equipment. While she could find buyers for some of it, there was a lot of e-waste–from outdated monitors and PCs to toner cartridges and batteries–that no one wanted to buy.

E-waste is the fastest growing segment of the national waste stream. According to a report by the United Nations Environmental Program (UNEP), the amount of e-waste being produced could rise by as much as 500 percent over the next decade. The United States produces the most e-waste in the world at around 3 million tons each year, with China not far behind at 2.3 million tons (2010 estimate). E-waste contains toxic materials which don’t break down naturally and can cause great harm to the environment, groundwater, and ecosystems if not disposed of properly. These toxic materials include lead, cadmium, chromium, mercury, plastics and many others. In 2010, only 27% of this e-waste was recycled in the United States.

techwayCathi decided that in addition to reselling equipment, Techway Services could also break down unwanted hardware to recover metals, plastics and other materials to be repurposed to manufacture new products. According to Cathi, “Most materials can be reused or recycled. We aggregate, hand disassemble, and separate materials into different commodities. The final material is processed by our downstream partners for future use.”

Techway Services is now a nationally recognized Information Technology Asset Disposition (ITAD) company that specializes in end-of-life IT services. Techway Services helps companies with all aspects of IT asset recovery. Techway Services provides secure onsite data eradication for outdated equipment, reverse logistics, IT resale, and certified demanufacturing, which includes responsible recycling. Responsible recycling keeps hazardous material out of landfills. Techway Services is registered with the EPA with R2/RIOS certifications and is ISO certified to ensure streamlined compliance for its customers.

As regulatory concerns have increased, and businesses have become more environmentally conscious, the business has grown. Companies risk stiff fines if they do not safely dispose of these outdated assets. Techway Services works with large Fortune 500 clients, universities and towns, not only to provide services, but also to raise awareness about sustainability and technology recycling. The company has even developed revenue share models with some of its clients to resell their used equipment in secondary markets.

Making the Circular Economy Work for Your Small Business

How can you put the circular economy approach to benefit the environment and your business? Here are some tips:

  • Establish holistic economic, environmental and social goals for your business. By reducing waste and your carbon footprint, you run your business more efficiently, and save money.
  • Look at how you can extend the impact via your networks; whether with your customer, suppliers or through the community you do business in, and how can you help them start this journey.
  • If you’re starting a new business, remember that green alone doesn’t sell a product. Start with a great idea for an innovative product or service, and then look for opportunities waste can offer.
  • If you’re an established business, apply your existing expertise to create a new, green product line.
  • Check out waste brokerage sites to source waste to use in your products, and/or work with a consulting firm such as Brightworks, which focuses on helping companies build a circular economy business model.
  • Aim to make the B Corp list, which certifies companies that meet rigorous standards of social and environmental performance, accountability, and transparency standards.
  • Remember services companies can get on board too. For example, Green Mountain Power, a Vermont energy company, is bundling new energy products and services to help people save money, and use less energy and fossil fuels. SEEDS offers environmentally friendly green printing services from initial concept to final delivery and distribution.

Finally, remember you can’t do everything all at once. The important thing is to get started and set incremental goals to get your business moving in the right direction.

This is the second in a two-part series sponsored by Dell that discusses the circular economy, Dell’s role in it, and how small businesses can transition to and benefit from it.

Reimagining Business: The Circular Economy

Closed Loop RecyclingToday, most businesses take a “take, make and dispose” approach to create their products, without much thought as to where these products will go when we dispose of them.

But a movement is underway to redesign traditional business models for the reality that resources are limited. The alternative, circular economy, which takes an end-to-end view of how materials are sourced and used to build products, is taking shape among businesses of all sizes. In a circular economy, products are designed and produced to minimize waste. As this model gains traction, more people are realizing that it can benefit the environment and contribute to business growth.

In this two-part blog series, we discuss how and why businesses are transitioning from the traditional, linear economy to a more sustainable circular economy. In this first post, I look at the differences between linear and circular economies, and discuss Dell’s goals for and journey to a circular economy. In the second, Coming Full Circle: Small Business and the Circular Economy, I discuss how two small business owners are applying this model, and how your small business can put this concept to work.

Where the Buck Stops: The Linear Economy

landfillThe traditional, linear economy is about taking resources, making products and disposing of them. Not much thought goes into where these products will go when we dispose of them, or whether materials can be recovered and reused.

For example, think about all those bright and shiny objects that we all love–from PCs to fitness bands, tablets to TVs, servers to phones. To produce these products, manufacturers source the raw materials that go into these devices, such as copper, mercury, gold, silicon, platinum and petroleum, from around the globe. The journey continues with stops at refineries and smelters, chip fabrication plants, and assembly lines, where products are assembled and shipped.

An amazing journey to be sure, but what happens to the old stuff when we trade it in for brighter, shinier new models? Unfortunately, the answer is not a pleasant one. Most of the trash we create goes to landfills and dumps, creating environmental and health hazards. In many cases, we are also depleting a finite supply of non-renewable resources.

Today, the linear economy is the norm: The United Nations University reported that only one-sixth of the 46 million tons of electronics that were discarded last year were recycled or reused. However, as resources are exhausted and the population grows, the linear model isn’t sustainable.

Bringing the Economy Full Circle

In contrast, the circular economy takes an end-to-end view of how materials are sourced and used to build products. It requires companies to take a fresh look at their business models, product planning and design, materials sourcing and management, and supply chain collaboration. In this model, products are remade, repaired, resold, or recycled.

By recycling products, components, untapped resources and materials back into relevant value chains, a circular economy enables economic growth with less wasted resources. It reduces toxic waste in dumps and landfills, and helps address the problem of the increasingly scarce supply and growing costs of raw materials.

While economic considerations are a key driver for the circular economy, businesses are also seeing more demand from consumers for sustainably produced goods and services.

Dell’s Circular Journey

Dell has taken a proactive stance to transition to a circular economy for over 20 years. In 1994, Dell began its “Design for Disassembly, Upgradeability, Serviceability” initiative, and became a founding member of the U.S. EPA’s Energy Star Program, integrating energy efficiency into every product line.

Ten years ago, Dell established a partnership with Goodwill to offer consumers a free, easy way to recycle electronics. Consumers simply drop off their unwanted electronics, regardless of brand, at Goodwill. Goodwill determines whether a device can be resold or refurbished. If not, it sends the product to Dell’s third party electronics recyclers to recover precious metals, plastics and other components.

Legacy of GoodTwo years ago, Dell significantly upped its commitment when it announced its 2020 Legacy of Good Plan. Among the 21 corporate responsibility goals outlined in the plan, Dell has set 12 goals specific to environmental sustainability. Building on existing initiatives, these 12 environmental goals focus on three areas: reducing the environmental impact of company operations, driving social and environmental responsibility in the industry and supply chain, and promoting technology’s role in addressing environmental challenges.

Dell’s goals are far-reaching and specific, and include plans to reduce the energy intensity of its product portfolio by 80%, decrease greenhouse gas emissions from facility and logistics operations by 50%; and reduce Dell’s use of fresh water in water-stressed regions by 20%. Other goals include ensuring 90% of waste generated in Dell-operated buildings is diverted from landfills, to source 100% of product packaging from sustainable materials, and to recover 2 billion pounds of used electronics.

Getting Results

Dell’s commitment to minimizing waste is evident throughout the company. For instance, Dell is designing its products with fewer screws and more snap in pieces to make it easier for recyclers to dismantle them. It has free electronics recycling programs for consumers in 78 countries, and provides commercial asset recovery to businesses in 44 countries. Through its closed loop approach, Dell also reuses about 2 million pounds of recycled plastics in fifteen products.

WheatStrawPackagingThe company is innovating in packaging as well, using renewable products such as bamboo, mushrooms and most recently, wheat straw. Wheat straw is what’s left over after wheat grain is harvested. In China, the wheat straw is often burned, leading to air pollution. Dell is now using about 200 tons of Chinese wheat straw to manufacture boxes for its products, reducing an estimated 180 tons of CO2 emissions.

Dell is also extending sourcing standards to its suppliers to help design out waste in the supply chain. For instance, in 2013, the company added social and environmental (SER) criteria to its global supplier selection process, including criteria for clean water and air discharges.

Moving beyond products, 20% of Dell’s workforce now telecommutes, saving an estimated 13 million kWh of energy, and 6,785 metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions–and save $14 million annually on facilities expenses.

Finally, Dell is helping customers build proactive, sustainable IT strategies that not only benefit the environment, but save money and streamline operations. Dell Services helps customers assess current technology practices and determine options to green up existing practices, and/or develop new approaches to meet sustainability and fiscal goals.

Perspective

Dell is playing a leadership role in transitioning to the circular economy. But the circular economy can be as compelling for small businesses as it is for Dell and other big companies. Small businesses can apply the same principles to build more sustainable, differentiated and profitable businesses. In fact, understanding and transitioning to a circular economy can open the door to new opportunities that will help you to future proof your business.

In the next post in this series, I share the stories of two entrepreneurs that have created successful circular economy businesses, and their insights as to how other small businesses can head for greener pastures.

This is the first in a two-part series sponsored by Dell that discusses the circular economy; Dell’s role in it, and how small businesses can transition to and benefit from it.

Six Technology Resolutions for a Happier and Healthier SMB New Year

Happy New Year! While we often make personal New Year’s resolutions, I don’t think too many businesses make them. But you can start to change that in 2014 by resolving to make better use of technology to power your business, and create a more sustainable, competitive business.

With that in mind, here are a few resolutions that can help you work smarter, not harder, and enjoy a happier, healthier business in 2014.

iphone1. Manage your mobile investment. SMB Group research indicates 67% of SMBs view mobile solutions and services as “critical” to their businesses. SMBs are using mobile apps and solutions to help employees work more productively and efficiently, and to boost customer engagement and transactions. But while mobile apps are often easy to use, you also need to provision, support, and track and manage them on the back-end. Unfortunately, many SMBs are not yet using solutions to manage mobile devices and applications, and to protect valuable data from being lost or stolen. The good news is that vendors have taken notice and are offering cloud-based mobile management solutions specifically tailored to SMB requirements and constraints. Just a few to check out include: AirWatch Professional, Mobile Iron, Tangoe, and Dell Cloud Client Manager.

Social Business People Network  inside Speech Bubble2. Tune up your content marketing strategy. Many SMBs feel overwhelmed by the care and feeding that marketing requires these days. Back in the day, when marketing was a one-way street, businesses could get by with creating a marketing campaign and collateral that would see them through a quarter or even the year. But in the digital age, businesses are under pressure to create new content every week or even every day to keep customers coming back. If you don’t have one, put a plan in place for creating and scheduling content to keep everyone on track. When you create fresh content, think upfront about ways to recycle and reuse it. For instance, if you create a YouTube video, write a blog post about some aspect of it, and tweet out bite-size tidbits from the post. In addition, put a system in place to measure what networks and content click for your target customers. Depending on your business, free or low-cost tools such as HootSuite, SocialMention, Facebook Insights, Twitter Analytics, Google Analytics, Bit.ly and/or Buffer may fit the bill. Or, you may want to investigate marketing automation solutions, such as Infusionsoft and Hubspot, that integrate social more tightly with sales, marketing and content management applications to make your content investments more actionable.

men with puzzle pieces3. Integrate key workflows to get more bang for your software buck. The cloud has made it easy for businesses to add applications to address pain points on a piecemeal basis. But integration is often an afterthought. As a result, many SMBs end up with a hodge-podge of disconnected applications and workflows. People end up wasting time and making mistakes manually re-entering data into different systems, and getting accurate reports for decision-making can become a Herculean task. Things start falling through the cracks because the different applications and processes “don’t talk to each other.” This could be the year you do something about it! If you’re looking to upgrade core business apps, such as accounting, HR or CRM, consider pre-integrated suites from vendors with open application programming interfaces (APIs) and marketplaces. This makes it easier to snap in new, integrated functionality as needed. If moving to an integrated suite isn’t feasible, you can still get plenty of value just from the most repetitive workflows in your business. Many vendors (Informatica, Scribe, Actian (formerly Pervasive), Dell Boomi, Jitterbit and Mulesoft, just to name a few) offer integration solutions that enable you to connect, map fields, and integrate business processes between different applications.

Slide14. Go green to save green. You don’t need to be a tree hugger to get value from green technology. Most businesses waste not only environmental resources, but also money and time as well. Often, these resources could be invested in developing new products or services, or to hire and train employees.But its easy to be green. For instance, when you buy new products, look for vendors with green certifications from ENERGY STAR or EPEAT; use eco-friendly packaging to reduce packaging waste; and use recycled plastics in their products. Use “set it and forget” tools, such as smart power strips, to automatically turn off peripheral devices when you turn off the main device, and recycle old equipment so component materials don’t end up leaching into landfills. Moving up green curve, consider making the switch from paper-based marketing, forms and faxes to digital solutions for email marketing, invoicing, etc. Replace some of your travel with web conferencing and consider creating a telecommuting program (cloud-based collaboration solutions such as Google Apps for Business, Microsoft Office 365 and IBM Smart Cloud make this easier than ever) if you haven’t already done so. Finally, if your business suffers from server and storage sprawl, virtualized server and storage resources, consider solutions such as Dell PowerEdge VRTX, which take up less space, require less power to run, and help simplify maintenance.

baroquon_Add_Money5. Upgrade and integrate payments with accounting and financials. SMB Group research shows that many SMBs still spend a lot of time manually re-entering and reconciling payments back to their accounting and financial systems. This not only saps productivity, but also results in errors that end up taking even more time to correct. If you’re still doing this manually, its time to look at solutions that automatically integrate payments with accounting, cutting time and errors out of payment processing, such as those offered by Intuit and Sage. While you’re at it, investigate whether your business would benefit from being able to accept new payment methods. Chances are, you already take checks and credit cards, but getting set up to accept ACH, mobile payments, gift cards or PayPal may be able to help you attract more customers, gain new business, and enter new markets–or just get paid faster.

cloud6. Take to the cloud–but proceed with due diligence.  Cloud computing promises organizations a faster, easier and cheaper route to get the IT solutions they need to create and run their businesses. So it’s no wonder that SMBs are moving to the cloud. However, not all cloud vendors are created equal–and some have backtracked on the original cloud pledge. They have replaced monthly subscription pricing with annual contracts, tacked on fees for all but the most basic support, and created pricing and contracts that are about as clear as mud. Others fall short when it comes to taking security and privacy precautions. Seek out vendors that stay true to the original cloud promise as evidenced with transparent pricing, clear and flexible contracts, free trials and clearly documented virtual and physical (data center) security measures.

SMB Group Top 10 SMB Technology Trends For 2014

Here are SMB Group’s Top 10 SMB Technology Trends for 2014! A more detailed description of each follows below.

1.     Progressive SMBs Use Technology as a Game Changer
2.     Cloud Adoption Accelerates, But SMBs Steer Clear of Dark Clouds
3.     Mobile Management Becomes a Priority as SMB Mobile App Use Soars
4.     Social Media Marketing Stalls as SMBs Re-focus Marketing Practices
5.     SMBs View Payment Systems in a New Light
6.     SMBs Prepare for the Insight Economy
7.     SMBs Integrate to Gain Higher Solution Value
8.     The Affordable Care Act Puts Workforce Management in the SMB Spotlight
9.     It’s Easy for SMBs to Go Green and Save Green
10.  Make Way for an SMB Influencer Shake-Up

2014 Top 10 SMB Technology Trends in Detail

  1. Progressive SMBs Use Technology as a Game Changer. Technology continues to fuel changes in what, where, and how SMB (small and medium businesses, with 1 to 999 employees) work gets done. Back in 2011, SMB Group identified the “Progressive” SMB segment. Progressive SMBs invest more in technology-based solutions, view technology as a business enabler, and are much more likely to expect revenue growth than other SMBs. This gap continues to widen as we enter 2014, and is further fueled by generational shifts–including the rise of millennials in the workforce and older exiles from the corporate world. Progressive SMBs are blending technology and business savvy to reshape business models, carve out new market niches and invent entirely new businesses. Their adoption of cloud, mobile, social and analytics will soar as they strive for both growth and agility. They will also increasingly turn to technology-fueled services—from Elance and oDesk for staffing, to shared office space and IT infrastructure services—in pursuit of these goals. As they forge ahead, they will not only continue to outpace peers, but reshape what it means to be an SMB.
  2. Cloud Adoption Accelerates, But SMBs Steer Clear of Dark Clouds. SMBs have bought into the cloud promise: a faster, easier, cheaper and less risky route to get the IT solutions they need to create and run their businesses. SMB Group research shows SMB use of cloud business and infrastructure applications poised to grow to from 33% to 44% over the coming year. However, some cloud vendors—threatened by Wall Street and high churn rates—have backtracked on their original faster, easier, cheaper cloud pledge. They have replaced monthly subscription pricing with annual contracts, tacked on added fees for all but the most basic support, and created pricing models that are almost as confusing as those of the traditional software behemoths they once berated. As SMBs push further into the cloud, they will favor vendors that stay true to the original cloud promise, and steer clear of dark clouds.
  3. Mobile Management Becomes a Priority as SMB Mobile App Use Soars. SMBs have been adopting mobile solutions at a fast and furious pace. SMB Group research indicates 67% of SMBs now view mobile solutions and services as “critical” to their businesses. 83% have already deployed mobile apps to help improve employee productivity; 55% are using mobile apps for specific business functions, such as CRM or order entry. 49% of SMBs are building mobile-friendly websites, and/or deploying mobile apps to engage and transact with customers. However, mobile management has failed to keep pace with this explosion, and with SMBs’ increasing business reliance on mobile solutions. Concerns about security, manageability, provisioning and cost will make mobile management a top priority for more SMBs. They will be looking for easy-to-deploy, cost-effective mobile device and application management platforms and solutions to reduce management headaches and get more value from their mobile investments.
  4.  Social Media Marketing Stalls as SMBs Re-focus Marketing Practices.  Many SMBs now “get” that they need a social media presence. SMB Group research reveals that more than half of small businesses and more than two-thirds of medium businesses use social media for marketing purposes. Some have invested tremendous amounts of energy to create content to feed the voracious social media beast. But the ever-increasing pressure to create fresh content, keep up with changes in users’ social network preferences, and uncertainty about the return on social investments is taking its toll. In 2014, SMBs will focus more on what networks and content really click for their target audiences, and put more time into figuring out how to convert social connections into customers. Some will integrate social more tightly with sales, marketing and content management applications, and use analytics to develop more actionable social metrics. Marketing innovators will explore new opportunities, such as online mobile advertising powered by geolocation. Others will redirect some of their efforts back to marketing basics–including surveys, competitive analysis, email marketing and attending more conferences and events.
  5. SMBs View Payment Systems in a New Light. SMB Group research shows that although checks and credit cards are still the top forms of payment SMBs accept, there’s no question that new payment methods are growing in use and importance. 27% of small businesses and 43% of medium businesses already equip employees with mobile payment processing solutions, and about one-quarter of SMBs intend to add this capability over the coming year. Meanwhile, mobile wallets and gift cards, PayPal and even Dwolla—a payment network that allows any business or person to send, request and accept money for very low fees—will continue to provide additional payment options for consumers. More SMBs will recognize that having the capability to accept and process a broader range of payment methods can help them attract more customers, gain new business, and even enter new markets. SMBs will also seek ways to cut time and errors out of payment processing with payment solutions that integrate with accounting and ERP, such as those offered by Intuit and Sage.
  6. SMBs Prepare for the Insight Economy.  It’s been hard for many SMBs to relate to the “big data” story that most vendors have been pitching. SMB Group research reveals that only about 18% of small, and about 57% of medium businesses utilize business intelligence and analytics solutions. However, SMBs understand the value of getting the information they need, when they need it—especially as they try to compete with new, nimble born-on-the-Web startups that view data as the new business capital. In 2014, SMB-focused vendors will retool the big data story for the little guy, focusing less on zettabytes, speeds and feeds, and more on how their solutions enable and empower better insights and decision-making. Business solutions vendors will embed better and more accessible analytics and reporting tools within their solutions. Cloud-based, visualization and scenario-driven business intelligence and analytics solutions will also help SMBs take a more data-driven approach to running their businesses.
  7. SMBs Integrate to Gain Higher Solution Value. While the cloud has made it easy for businesses to add a lot of new applications, integration has often been an afterthought. As a result, many SMBs are struggling to make sense of disconnected information silos, and IT is under pressure to integrate cloud-to-on-premises solutions, as well as cloud-to-cloud solutions. In 2013, integration moved up from the #4 to the #1 technology challenge for medium businesses. In 2014, we expect that integration will be a higher priority even among small businesses. After all, it doesn’t take too many disconnected applications to feel the pain of productivity drains, errors, and a lack of solid data to support decision-making. Fortunately, technology vendors of all stripes are emphasizing the importance of a unified, reliable data store as the foundation for solid analytics and reporting. Business solution vendors are increasingly offering SMBs pre-integrated suites, opening up their application programming interfaces (APIs), and creating marketplaces to make it easy to find integrated partner apps. This makes it easier for SMBs to start small, with just one or two applications, and then snap in added functionality as needed. Finally, vendors that specialize in integration solutions, such as Informatica, Scribe and Dell Boomi (just to name a few), are making their solutions more accessible to SMBs. Integration still isn’t sexy, but the improved productivity, time savings, error reduction and decision-making benefits that it enables are.
  8. The Affordable Care Act Puts Workforce Management in the SMB Spotlight. Revenue growth, attracting new customers and increasing profitability are perennial goals for SMBs.  To help achieve these goals, they have been steadily moving ahead to automate and integrate sales, marketing and other customer-facing solutions. Although improving employee productivity has also been a top goal, SMB adoption of automated, integrated workforce management solutions has lagged behind other areas. Many SMBs continue to limp along with a patchwork of disconnected solutions and manual tracking to manage components such as time and attendance, payroll, scheduling, HR and benefits.  But with the Affordable Care Act set to take effect on January 1, 2015 for organizations with more than 50 full-time equivalent (FTE) employees, that situation is about to change. Worried about uncertainty, costs and regulatory risks, SMBs will look for better solutions to calculate employee eligibility and benefits, and to develop proactive strategies to manage ACA compliance and costs. This will drive a significant uptick of interest in, and adoption of automated, integrated workforce management solutions.
  9. It’s Easy for SMBs to Go Green and Save Green. The push for greener IT solutions isn’t new, but in 2014, we’re moving into a perfect green storm. Due to a rash of hurricanes, tornadoes and extreme weather, the sustainability of Mother Earth is taking center stage. According to a recent Harris Poll, over 74% of American adults believe in the global warming theory, and over 73% of U.S. citizens approve of the Kyoto agreement requiring countries to limit carbon monoxide and greenhouse gas emissions. IT vendors are prepared to capitalize on this opportunity with new, energy-saving products. From Dell’s Dell PowerEdge VRTX applications and storage server, which runs on standard 100V-240V AC power and doesn’t require any specialized cooling, to IBM’s patent for a “green” button that helps cloud providers “greenify” their businesses and lets customers choose whether or not to tap clean energy to run offsite servers, it’s easier than ever for SMBs to be green and save green.
  10. Make Way for an SMB Influencer Shake-Up. SMB Group research shows that in-house IT still plays a key role in all phases of the technology solution decision-making process. But now, enabled by the cloud and the swipe of a credit card, business decision-makers are much more involved: in small businesses, 69% of owners/presidents help evaluate potential solutions, and 81% help make the final decision. In medium businesses, departmental and line-of-business executives are the most likely personnel to identify the need for new solutions. This is changing the influencer landscape. Business decision-makers aren’t as likely to turn to traditional technology guidance sources as IT decision-makers. And many of us—especially millennials—are growing skeptical of traditional media sources that increasingly push paid “native content” in the guise of news. So who will the new influencers be? Accountants and other professional advisors (for line-of-business or industry) that the SMBs have an established relationship with will become more powerful influencers. Digital word-of-mouth, references, trade associations and non-technical groups and organizations will play an increasingly important role in shaping technology purchase decisions among both business and IT professionals. Finally, technology vendors that provide unbiased education—and can clearly demonstrate how business benefits from their solutions—will have a decided advantage over those that don’t.

About SMB GROUP

SMB Group focuses exclusively on researching and analyzing the highly fragmented “SMB market”—which is comprised of many smaller, more discrete markets. Within the SMB market, SMB Group areas of focus include: Emerging Technologies, Cloud Computing, Managed Services, Business and Marketing Applications, Collaboration and Social Media Solutions, IT Infrastructure Management and Services and Green IT.

Carving A Green IT Pathway for SMBs

electric_circuitIn today’s always-on world, we are all using more technology. Chances are, you rely on several devices – smartphones, notebooks, tablets, and PCs. You’re also probably connecting to more servers to access more apps, and using more storage to house all the information you need to access.

Our appetite for technology is likely to continue unabated because, simply put, we like it. It helps us runs our businesses better, work more productively, stay in touch with friends, and get through holiday shopping more quickly. However, our increasing reliance on technology has environmental consequences. From devices to data centers, technological products require metals, minerals, wood products and chemicals, and energy.

Unfortunately, we are not using these resources in a sustainable way. A case in point is our handling of e-waste: just 27% of the e-waste generated in the U.S. in 2010 was recycled. Consider also the fact that, most servers run at utilization rates of 25% or less, but require just as much energy as if it they were being used at 100% capacity. This means that when a server is only performing about a quarter of the work that it ‘s capable of, it still uses the same amount of power as if it were operating at full tilt.

As I discussed in the first post of this two-part series, Dell’s Green IT Growth Path: Paving the Way for SMBs, both technology vendors and consumers have an important role to play in curbing the negative environmental impact of technology. In this post, I discuss how Dell is raising the bar yet again, and how SMBs can follow suit.

Dell Raises the Green IT Bar

delllogoDell has been recognized as a leader in environmental sustainability for many years. Last month, it significantly upped its commitment when it announced its 2020 Legacy of Good Plan. Among the 21 corporate responsibility goals outlined in the plan, Dell has set 12 goals specific to environmental sustainability. Building on existing initiatives, these 12 environmental goals focus on three areas: reducing the environmental impact of company operations, driving social and environmental responsibility in the industry and supply chain, and promoting technology’s role in addressing environmental challenges.

Specifically, Dell’s ambitious goals include plans to:

  • Reduce the energy intensity of its product portfolio by 80%
  • Reduce greenhouse gas emissions from facility and logistics operations by 50%
  • Reduce Dell’s use of fresh water in water-stressed regions by 20%
  • Ensure 90% of waste generated in Dell-operated buildings is diverted from landfills
  • Develop and maintain sustainability initiatives in 100% of Dell-operated buildings
  • Ensure 100% of product packaging is sourced from sustainable materials
  • Reduce the energy intensity of its product portfolio by 80%
  • Use 50 million pounds of recycled-content plastic and other sustainable materials in its products
  • Ensure 100% of Dell packaging is either recyclable or compostable
  • Phase out environmentally sensitive materials
  • Recover 2 billion pounds of used electronics
  • Identify and quantify the environmental benefits of Dell-developed solutions

Slide1A Green Pathway for SMBs

“OK,” you may be thinking. “Dell is a big company and a major technology producer, so its strong environmental commitment can have a major impact. But for me as an SMB —using technology, not creating it—what role do I have in all this? And why should I bother?”

The answer is:  every business has a role, and reasons to go green. Most businesses waste not only environmental resources, but money and time as well. Often, these are resources that could be invested in developing new products or services, or to hire and train employees. In fact, even if you aren’t a tree hugger, it makes good business sense to green your IT environment and culture.

No matter the size of your business or where you’re starting from, you can take steps to go green and save green. For example:

  • Shop green. When buying new products, shop with vendors that walk the Green IT walk. Look for certifications from ENERGY STAR, the U.S. EPA’s mark designating energy efficiency; and from EPEAT, the mark of sustainability for electronics from the Green Electronics Council, which looks at multiple environmental criteria. Check out this video to learn more about EPEAT. TCO, a Swedish eco-label, is used mostly in Europe, and includes ergonomics, energy consumption, and recyclability factors. Whenever possible, buy from vendors that use eco-friendly packaging to reduce packaging waste, and put recycled plastics to work in their products.
  • Virtualize. Since hardware itself is relatively inexpensive, even SMBs often find themselves with server and storage sprawl. As mentioned above, these systems require the same amount of power at 25% utilization as at higher levels.  Moreover, managing 20 servers at 25% utilization is more complex and requires more people than i managing 10 servers at 50% utilization. While you have to invest in initial startup costs, virtualized server and storage resources typically take up less space, require less power to run, and help simplify maintenance. For instance, at just 12 inches wide and 19 inches high (30cm x 48cm), Dell PowerEdge VRTX is a simple and affordable way to run high-end, on-site applications with local storage, standardized infrastructure and centralized management. Incorporating Fresh Air capabilities, VRTX is made for the office environment. It uses standard 100V – 240V AC power, and doesn’t require any specialized cooling.  You can just plug it into the wall, and it runs as quietly as an air conditioner.
  • Reduce paper and ink waste. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) reports that the average office worker uses 10,000 sheets of copy paper every year. Even in this digital age, paper use in the average business is growing by 22% a year; at this rate, you’ll double the amount of paper you use in just 3.3 years unless you make a conscious effort to reduce. Switch from paper-based marketing, forms and faxes to digital solutions for email marketing, invoicing and other functions whenever possible. Buy remanufactured toner cartridges and get personal ink cartridges refilled to save money and cut waste.
  • Decrease power consumption. When buying new equipment, look for ENERGY STAR ratings of 5.0 and above. Use “set it and forget” tools, such as smart power strips, to automatically turn off peripheral devices when you turn off the main device.
  • Recycle old equipment. The U.S. EPA estimates that only 27% of electronic waste was collected for recycling in 2010. But it’s getting easy to recycle. Dell’s Asset Recovery Program offers an environmentally appropriate and convenient way to dispose of computer equipment. Or you can donate unwanted devices via Dell and Goodwill’s Reconnect Partnership—Goodwill gets the proceeds and you get a tax write-off.
  • Replace travel with web conferencing. Web conferencing reduces fuel consumption and saves time and money. Ecopreneurist estimates that if every small business owner in the United States were to conduct one teleconference in lieu of a domestic business trip, we would save $25.4 billion dollars in travel expenses and 10.5 million tons of C02 in just one year.
  • Embrace telecommuting. While it may not work for every employee or business, research network Undress4Success estimates that the United States could save $500 billion a year, reduce Persian Gulf oil imports by 28 percent and take the equivalent of 7 million cars off the road if workers were allowed to telecommute just half the time. Collaboration tools—from Google Apps to Microsoft Office 365—make working from home and staying connected easy.
  • Think thin. Thin clients are cheaper and simpler for manufacturers to build than traditional PCs or notebooks—and cheaper for you to buy and operate. For instance, Dell Wyse cloud clients use just 7 – 15 watts of energy on average when in full operation. In contrast,  a PC uses 80 watts of energy or more. In addition, it takes fewer materials and less energy to produce a thin client than a PC. Thin clients run Web browsers, and/or remote desktop virtualization software, so you can use the desktop environment that you’re used to. Desktop virtualization also frees users from being tied to a specific workstation and creates greater security because it is centrally stored on servers, instead of on local clients.

Perspective

Technology vendors such as Dell are leading the charge to design server, storage and client devices that consume less energy, build and package computers with eco-friendly materials, and provide recycling programs to reduce ewaste.

But creating a sustainable business isn’t just for big business. Everyone needs to think about the environmental impact of technology, and how they can put green technologies and practices in place to contribute to environmental sustainability. As an SMB, you can start taking steps today— not only to reduce your company’s carbon footprint, but to gain significant business and IT benefits as well.

This is the second in a two-part series sponsored by Dell that discusses why green IT is important, and how SMBs can develop and benefit from their own green IT initiatives.

Dell’s Green IT Growth Path: Paving the Way for SMBs

Slide1We are all becoming increasingly dependent on technology–connecting more devices to more servers and networks to communicate, collaborate, automate and get our jobs done. New mobile and cloud technologies put more information and resources at our fingertips than ever before. We’re updating solutions, devices and infrastructure sooner rather than later to leverage technology that can help us to improve employee productivity, attract new customers and streamline operations.

But we also need to think about the resources required to develop and use technology. What chemicals, metals and synthetic materials are needed manufacture and package bright and shiny new technology devices and systems? Where do these materials come from? Where do they wind up when we discard them for newer ones? How much energy does it take create technology products? And how much power is required to cool massive cloud and corporate data centers–or even just a couple of servers in your office?

While we tend to think that only IT vendors and big businesses can have a significant impact on the environmental impact of technology, all businesses, regardless of size, can use green technologies and practices to contribute to environmental sustainability–and at the same time, reduce costs.

What Is Green IT?

Green IT is the practice of managing technology resources in a more efficient and environmentally responsible way. Relevant areas include:

  • Reducing e-waste. Many metals, minerals, wood products and chemicals required to make and package technology devices. According to the Foundation for IT Sustainability (http://www.ffits.org/), ten percent of the world’s gold production is used in electronics, but only 30 percent of this gold is recovered from scrap. Even worse, only 10% of the copper used in electronics is recovered. Overall, the U.S. EPA estimates that in 2010, just 27% of the 2,440,000 tons of e-waste generated in the U.S. was recycled. This means that 73% is sitting in someone’s attic or trashed–potentially oozing into the soil and eventually into rivers, streams and oceans. In addition, many of these resources are not renewable–so we hasten depletion of a finite supply if we don’t reuse them.
  • Decreasing energy consumption. Consider the energy used to power our devices and data centers. For the most part, this energy is generated through coal-fired plants, which creates the greenhouse gas emissions that are a major cause of global warming. According to this Digital Power Group report, today’s technology and telecom ecosystem now consumes almost 10% of the world’s electricity-about 50% more energy than global aviation industry.
  • Solving environmental issues. Technology solutions can help us understand and remedy and/or prevent environmental issues. For instance, climate change modeling requires super-fast computers to crunch through data to calculate things such as a how fast sea levels are rising, or the likelihood of hurricanes and storms becoming stronger.

According to a recent BLS Green Technologies and Practices (GTP) survey, 57% of U.S. businesses use green technologies or practices to improve energy efficiency within their establishments, and over half use these green IT to reduce waste materials.

SMBs that want to start or build on a green IT strategy should consider not only how they can use technology in a more sustainable way, but also purchase solutions from vendors with a commitment to developing green IT solutions and services.

Why Dell Cares About Green IT

delllogoTechnology vendors have a major role to play in green IT. They can build computers with more environmentally friendly materials, design them to consume less energy, provide recycling programs to dispose of old systems, develop virtualization and cloud computing alternatives, and provide service to help businesses that want to go green.

Dell embraced green IT from early days, when it began its “Design for Disassembly, Upgradeability, Serviceability” initiative. In 1994, Dell became a founding member of the U.S. EPA’s Energy Star Program, integrating energy efficiency into every product line.

The company’s impetus is to make it easier for customers to be green. Dell makes it a point to design with the environment in mind and by embracing sustainability in its own practices, it helps customers reach their own sustainability goals while taking control of resources that create value.

Since then, the company has become an innovator in environmental sustainability.

In its fiscal year 2013, Dell has achieved several environmental milestones:

  • Doubled use of green electricity in Dell facilities. In 2013, 16 Dell facilities purchased 100% renewably generated electricity, more than double the number doing so in 2012.
  • Slimmed down packaging. By switching to padded envelopes for more than 500 items, Dell has reduced shipment weights by 73% to decrease packaging waste.
  • Increased use of recycled plastics. Dell has put 7.8 million pounds of recycled soda bottles and other plastics back to work to create backings for monitors and housing for desktops.
  • Expanded its EPEAT program. Dell customers can now recycle over 200 products, including printers, in nine countries. Dell has recycled more than 1 billion pounds of electronics since 2008.
  • Grew its employee work from home program. 20% of Dell’s workforce now telecommutes, saving an estimated 13 million kWh of energy, and 6,785 metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions–and save $14 million annually on facilities expenses.

Spreading the Green Around

Dell has extended its sustainability initiatives well beyond its own internal operations and goals. For instance, in 2013, the company added social and environmental (SER) criteria to its global supplier selection process, including criteria for clean water and air discharges.

In addition to broadening its EPEAT imitative, Dell is helping customers build proactive, sustainable IT strategies that not only benefit the environment, but save money and streamline operations. Dell Services helps customers assess current technology practices and determine options to green up existing practices, and/or develop new approaches to meet sustainability and fiscal goals.

With each new generation, Dell products consume less power. For instance, Dell has reduced energy consumption in its desktop and notebooks 25% since 2008, and Dell servers are warranted to run for extended periods at up to 113°F/45°C with only fresh air cooling.  Dell KACE Appliances offer green IT management capabilities that conserve energy by controlling how quickly desktops go into low power states.

Taking a green IT approach can also provide companies with benefits beyond energy reduction and cost savings:

  • The University of Nebraska-Omaha slashed energy use by 93% and also increased student access to client computers by replacing traditional desktops with Dell Wyse thin clients.
  • Amerijet cut facility costs by 60 percent through energy efficiency and reduced the time to print a manifest and close flights by 96 percent by implementing a virtualized data center and new business processes.

Perspective

Dell and other IT vendors have a huge role to play in ensuring that we use consume and use technology in a more sustainable way.

But the green IT story isn’t just for Dell and other big businesses. SMBs can develop green IT strategies to reduce their carbon footprint, and gain business and IT benefits in the process.

In the next post in this series, I’ll provide some practical tips to help you get started or continue on the path to help your business reap the benefits of going green.

This is the first in a two-part series sponsored by Dell that discusses why green IT is important, and how SMBs can develop and benefit from their own green IT initiatives.

Standing Out in a Sea of Green IT: IBM’s Scalable Modular Data Centers for Midsize Companies

As a follow up to my post What Is Green IT and Why Should You Care?, I had the opportunity to talk with Steve Sams, VP for IBM’s Global Site and Facilities Services, along with several other members of IBM’s green team. As part of its Smarter Planet mission, IBM is active on all fronts in the green IT movement, with many technology-related products and services that help companies be more environmentally responsible.

We discussed several of these, from desktop virtualization to supply chain and transportation management. One of the initiatives that I was most interested in is IBM’s Scalable Modular Data Center (SMDC) for midsize companies. SMDC provides end-to-end consulting and implementation services (including planning, design, construction and full production testing) to help firms run their IT operations in a greener, more cost-efficient way. Despite the sluggish economic recovery, take up for the service has been phenomenal. Since announcing SMDC about 30 months ago, IBM has implemented more than 200 scalable modular data centers for midsize organizations, and helped another 200 to 300 customers a year to restructure existing facilities to achieve energy and cost savings and improve IT reliability and performance.

With so many green IT offerings vying for midsize customers’ attention, why is SMDC gaining so much momentum? I see a few key ways in which this solution stands out in the sea of green IT, including:

  • Connecting the dots to illustrate big picture value. Many companies want to reduce their carbon footprint, but they also need a clear and compelling connection between energy-efficiency and financial and IT performance gains. IBM has developed a strong business case for SMDC and provided customer metrics to back it up. For example, IBM and Business Partner American Power Conversion (APC) worked with Bryant University, a small private college in Rhode Island, to improve IT service levels, cut energy costs and reduce operational costs.  Bryant replaced four server rooms—none of which were providing the reliability and performance it needed—with a SMDC. As a result, Bryant has reduced energy consumption by 15% and operational costs by 21%, while providing a 12 to 15% improvement in service delivery.
  • Starting with an upfront assessment service to determine if a company can stretch the life of an existing facility, or if it needs to build a new one. The first question the SMDC service helps customers answer is whether they can retrofit an existing facility to achieve the reliability gains and energy and cost efficiencies they need, or if they need to replace it.

If the customer has a traditional data center, IBM can often help the customer redesign it to increase utilization and efficiency. According to Steve Sams, most organizations use only 10% to 20% of their available technology capacity—and sometimes utilization is as low as 5%. Servers are cheap, so customers often end up just adding more servers to satisfy different requirements, without regard to the total operational costs. As a result, a company may be spending up to ten times more than they need on software licenses, maintenance, management, etc. As alarmingly, they also overspend on energy to power, heat and cool under-utilized equipment and space. In many cases, IBM can help customers use existing space and technology assets more efficiently. Simple things, such as turning up the temperature in the data center, moving things around for better airflow, and consolidating servers can generate up to 23% in energy savings, and about 40% to 50% of the total operational costs of the running the data center.

In other cases, such as with Bryant University, the organization doesn’t have a purpose-built data center. Servers, storage and networking gear are stashed in closets or spare office space. IBM helps them to replace this type of jury-rigged space with a modular data center that reduces energy costs up to 15% and improves IT reliability and performance.

  • Centering design on midsize business requirements. SMDC services can serve companies with data center needs as small as 500 square feet. When a customer needs to start from scratch, SMDC provides a modular approach. New space can be added as needed in a plug and play fashion. With this approach, companies can reduce upfront capital costs by as much as 25%, and shrink ongoing expenses for electricity, maintenance, and energy consumption by 15%.
  • End-to-end project lifecycle support. In addition to technology and energy assessment and implementation services, IBM provides data center construction planning when required. While Big Blue doesn’t pour concrete, it does develop design criteria and specifications, and provides a construction project manager to run the project. This includes monitoring and managing recycling for both construction material, such as steel and wood, as well as IT equipment. This end-to-end engagement is an important value-add for midsize companies.
  • Helping to overcome cultural obstacles. Politics is often the obstacle that stops companies from making strides to consolidate IT operations in a more environmentally friendly facility. In some cases, strong business owner across different functions or departments want to control “their own IT”. They don’t want to let go of physical and operational control of IT infrastructure. IBM consulting services can provide companies with the facts and data points to convince skeptics of the business benefits of streamlining and centralizing IT facilities. Stakeholders can improve energy efficiency and cut costs for the organization, and get better IT performance and reliability. Furthermore, by reducing ongoing IT facility, maintenance and energy costs, they can free up resources for new initiatives.

The bottom line is that IBM has a very good story to tell as to how SMDC can help midsize companies gain significant capital savings, reduce ongoing expenses and cut energy consumption. IBM is also currently piloting a scalable modular server room service in India. This program provides a similar approach and benefits for smaller companies, whose data center footprint needs range from 10 to 50 square meters (roughly 100 to 500 square feet). IBM recently published its first success story in this space with Karad Urban Cooperative Bank.

As this pilot wraps up in the first half of 2010, I hope to get another update from IBM so I can give you some ideas as to how smaller companies can also go green and save green. In the meantime, let me know what’s motivating your business to explore green IT solutions in this poll.

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