by Jennifer Kaplan
There’s a revolution going on in the American marketplace. Businesses across the country are changing the way they operate by incorporating green practices, products, and objectives into their business models. And some savvy entrepreneurs are getting in on the ground floor. At the same time, others are still wondering where small businesses fit into this new paradigm.
If you are wondering where small business fits into the green revolution let’s start with the recognition that 27 million small businesses can have a big impact. There are many business owners, however, who are doubtful and wonder whether small business has a role to play in managing climate change. Surely, they think, most small business’ individual impacts are minuscule, possibly immeasurably small. But the reality is that, in aggregate, the total climate-related impact of small businesses adds up. Without question every business, no matter the size, has an indirect impact on climate; the electricity, heating, cooling, transportation, and other services they use all translate into CO2 output with global warming impact. Then there’s the law of large numbers—a small action multiplied by 27 million has a significant impact.
Take the example of green information technology.
For a small business, IT may not seem like a likely candidate for greening, but given the scale of computer use among small businesses, it is. Although the environmental impact of a businesses’ IT operations varies greatly depending on how much computer hardware is needed to run the business, reductions in energy consumption and energy expenses can be made for operations that have a single computer on site. It may be that there is no area of business more subject to the law of large numbers than information technology. Consider these facts: Having a single computer on-site can increase the amount of electricity a business uses per square foot by an average of 60%, and the percentage generally goes up as you add more computers. The Energy Information Administration forecasts that electricity consumption for computers and office equipment will grow more than twice as fast as electricity use as a whole, and notes that the energy consumed in commercial buildings by PCs and other types of office equipment consumes about as much as is needed to air-condition those same buildings. It is also estimated that CO2 emissions related to the operation of PCs, computer servers, and telecommunications networks contribute more than 2% of the world’s annual greenhouse gas emissions. That’s generally the same amount of greenhouse gasses being produced by all the world’s airplanes.
At the same time, technology is one of the greatest assets in the greening movement. Nothing is more effective for reducing use and waste of resources than technology. Internet technology is expected to contribute significantly to reductions in energy consumption in the future. E-commerce replaces energy intensive bricks-and-mortar stores. Electronic content management systems replace paper processes. Digital advertising replaces paper-based advertising. GPS systems reduce idling. The list goes on and on. The ultimate goal is to design operations so that you employ the most energy-efficient technology available to implement the most resource-reducing practices possible.
And finally, industry is being forced to change the way it thinks about the life cycle of the technology it produces. Everything about the electronics lifecycle is in flux—from the way materials are sourced to the way goods are constructed to the way end-users manage power to managing global regulations that put limits on toxic chemicals and emissions to the development of adequate end-of-life recycling programs. Environmental groups are working to educate consumers about the environmental impacts of manufacturing processes and about the critical need to embrace responsible e-waste recycling. Because the awareness surrounding the environmental impact of technology is changing, there are few universally agreed-upon rules and best practices. As a result, advice to small business owners varies widely. It can be more confusing than ever to green your IT operations. But, whatever your industry, managing costs is good for your business; and increasing energy efficiency and reducing energy costs does just that. Given rising energy prices and a growing awareness of the importance of energy conservation, carefully conceived energy management with a green IT strategy may well be one of the most important steps you can take to sustain and grow your business.
So, if you’re still wondering why small businesses should care about sustainability, the answer is pretty simple. Wasted resources increase the cost of doing business. As it has been said before, sustainability is just a new name for an old concept: Reducing waste and streamlining costs. These are two lessons from which all businesses—large and small—can benefit.
This article first appeared on Climate Progress
© 2010, Jennifer Kaplan. All rights reserved. Do not republish.