(Originally published in Small Business Computing, December 29, 2009)
Technology insiders tend to throw around technical terms and business jargon, assuming people outside the industry understand what it all means. By its nature, technology vocabulary is often confusing and complicated, and insiders often add to the confusion by over-complicating things. To help add a sense of clarity to the confusion, each month, Laurie McCabe, a partner at Hurwitz & Associates (a business consulting firm), will pick a technology term, explain what it means in plain English, and then discuss why it may be important to you. This month, Laurie takes a look at Green IT.
What is Green IT?
Green IT refers to the study and practice of using computers and IT resources in a more efficient and environmentally responsible way. Computers and computing eat up a lot of natural resources, from the raw materials needed to manufacture them, the power used to run them, and the problems of disposing them at end of life.
Why Should You Care?
All businesses are becoming increasingly dependent on technology, and small business is no exception. We work on our PCs, notebooks and smart phones all day, connected to servers running 24/7. Because the technology refresh cycle is fast, these devices quickly become obsolete, and at some point—more often sooner than later—we dispose of old devices and replace them with new ones. We use massive quantities of paper and ink to print documents, many of which we promptly send to the circular file.
In the process, most businesses waste resources, in the form of energy, paper, money and time—resources you could invest to develop new products or services, or to hire and train employees. Even if you aren’t a tree hugger, it makes good business sense to green your IT environment and culture.
Fortunately, there are many simple steps you can take to do this, no matter what the size of your business, or how far along you are in the process. Many IT vendors have major initiatives underway to green their products, services and practices. These include building computers with more environmentally friendly materials, designing them to be consume less energy, providing recycling programs to dispose of old systems, developing virtualization and cloud computing alternatives, and providing tips to businesses that want to go green.
What to Consider
Creating a sustainable business isn’t just for big businesses. With help from several vendors (links to their green initiatives are at the end of this article), I’ve compiled some practical tips to help you get started or continue on the path to go green and save green.
- Eliminate paper, printer and packaging waste. Statistics from Infotrends indicate that the average office worker used 130 pounds of paper in 2008. Try tools such as Green Print make people “think before they print” and automatically eliminate things such as printing that extra page with only a footer or disclaimer on it. Buy remanufactured toner cartridges and get personal ink cartridges refilled to save money and waste. If you’re looking for an new printer, shop for one that automatically prints double-sided, such Dell’s 2335dn Multi-function Laser Printer or HP’s LaserJet P2055d. When shopping for new products, look for eco-friendly packaging. For instance, Dell recently announced that it will use highly renewable bamboo as packaging for it’s Inspiron Mini 10 and 10v netbooks.
- Reduce power consumption. The Northwest Energy Efficiency Alliance found that businesses can reduce their average power consumption through effective power management. “Set it and forget” tools, such smart power strips, which automatically turn off peripheral devices when you turn off the main device. When buying new equipment, look for EnergyStar 4.0 ratings and above. Try Edison, a free application helps you monitor energy use and save energy. Intuit QuickBooks users can use Intuit Green Snapshot to estimate their firm’s carbon footprint and get recommendations to conserve energy and dollars.
- Recycle old equipment. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency estimates that only 18% of electronic waste was collected for recycling in 2007—while 82%, or 1.84 million tons, was disposed of, primarily in landfills. But its easy to recycle: At Gazelle you can sell and/or recycle all kinds of electronic devices, from mobile phones to printers. Through Dell and Goodwill’s Reconnect Partnership, you can donate unwanted devices. All proceeds go to support Goodwill—and you get a tax write-off. Or go online to IBM’s Asset Recovery Program, and get a buyback quote for the value of 1 to 250 items.
- Use Web conferencing instead of traveling to meetings. Web conferencing is a great way to go green—and save huge amounts of time and money. Ecopreneurist states that if every small business owner in the United States conducted 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. Web conferencing vendors such as Adobe Acrobat Connect, Citrix GoToMeeting, IBM Lotus Sametime and Cisco Webex offer free 30-day trials. Newer entrants such as Dimdim and Zoho offer free Web conferencing.
- Transition from paper based to digital processes. Paper-based marketing, forms and faxes add a lot of trash to landfills. Email marketing solutions are greener and more affordable, flexible and interactive than direct mail. Free and low-cost online invoicing solutions such as Sage BillingBoss and Freshbooks, and online faxing solutions such as myfax and RingCentral Fax also help cut down on paper waste.
- Use cloud computing and software-as-a-service solutions (SaaS) instead of running a new application in-house. With cloud computing, multiple organizations share the same computing resources, which increases utilization by making more efficient use of hardware resources. For instance, researcher Greenspace found that with more than 6,000 customer companies sharing datacenter resources, NetSuite’s cloud ERP and CRM solution saved more than $61 million in energy bills per year, or nearly 595 million kilowatt-hours (kWh), the equivalent of nearly 423,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide per year. Almost every kind of application in the cloud, from personal productivity applications to accounting to industry-specific solutions—for every size company. If you use dedicated hosting services, shop for green hosting providers that use solar or wind power, and take advantage of energy saving technologies such as virtualization.
- Enable staff to telecommute. While it may not work for every employee or business, the American Electronics Association estimates that 1.35 billion gallons of gasoline would be conserved yearly if every U.S. worker who has the ability to telecommute did so 1.6 days per week. Technologies such as virtual private networks, and collaboration tools such as HyperOffice and IBM LotusLive help employees work together from different locations.
- Server and storage virtualization. Because hardware itself is relatively inexpensive, many midsize and even small companies are facing server and storage sprawl. But by 2012, experts estimate that for every dollar you spend on a server, it will cost $1 to power and cool it. Meanwhile, surveys show that up to 85% of systems capacity goes unused. While you will have to invest in initial start up costs, virtualization can help you improve resource utilization, reduce energy costs and simplify maintenance. Dell, HP and IBM each offer a range of comprehensive server and storage virtualization solutions and services.
- Develop a thin client strategy. Netbooks and other thin clients use about ½ the power of a traditional desktop PC. They are smaller, cheaper and simpler for manufacturers to build than traditional PCs or notebooks—and cheaper for you to buy and operate. Thin clients run Web browsers, and/or remote desktop virtualization software, such as Microsoft Remote Desktop Services,Citrix XenDesktop and VMware View so you can use the desktop environment that you’re used to. With these solutions, you can also extend the life of older PCs and/or buy less expensive refurbished PCs to save money and reduce waste.
Links to green IT initiatives from vendors that contributed ideas to this article: