Improving environmental efficiency can be a great way to lower overhead and impress ecologically sensitive clients. A clearly defined strategy powers results and ROI.
By Samuel Greengard
Only a few years ago the idea of operating a green business seemed like something best relegated to tree-hugging executives with eco-friendly reputations at stake. Beyond the recycling bin and switching off lights in an empty office, there was little incentive to embrace energy-efficient and sustainable business practices.
It would be an understatement to say that times have changed. Today, businesses are discovering the power of going green. They are plugging into sustainable and environmentally friendly practices with growing frequency … and passion. In addition, business partners and customers are increasingly hinging buying decisions on a company’s environmental image and practices.
“Green business has become a mainstream concept rooted in sound financial practice,” states Jennifer Kaplan, a marketing instructor at Golden Gate University in Los Angeles and author of Greening Your Small Business. “It’s all about eliminating waste and inefficiency from your business. It’s something that every company can benefit from and every company should practice.”
To be sure, there are plenty of ways to amp up the green revolution. Among them are installing more efficient energy and lighting systems, refreshing servers and other hardware, using videoconferencing services such as Skype and FaceTime as a substitute for travel, reducing printing by going digital, and creating ways to boost recycling.
“Unfortunately, there is still a lot of resistance and misunderstanding about what being green means,” notes Gil Friend, president and CEO of Natural Logic Inc., a consulting firm in Berkeley, Calif., that focuses on sustainability issues, and author of The Truth About Green Business.
It’s certainly not your grandfather’s business environment. In recent years, energy prices have spiked and society has steadily shifted to a focus on sustainability. “Even companies that a couple of years ago were not the least bit eco-conscious now understand that they must adopt green measures,” observes Gary Davis, principal at PlanNet Consulting, an IT infrastructure advisory, design, and project management firm with offices in California and Arizona. Social responsibility isn’t a “one and done” issue, and it has to be more than a marketing ploy, he adds.
Friend says that reducing a firm’s carbon footprint helps eliminate business volatility—particularly in an environment of wildly fluctuating oil and energy prices. “Essentially, a successful green initiative removes some of the unknown costs associated with running the business and helps ensure a higher level of predictability.” What’s more, he points out that carbon is likely to have a price in the future, as government agencies attempt to regulate and manage it.
Initiating a green strategy doesn’t have to be complicated or particularly time consuming, Friend explains. As a starting point, it’s important to understand that there’s a clear ROI associated with going green. “In most cases, there is very little risk but there are significant returns. It’s really nothing more than finding ways to trim waste that cuts into profit margins.”
A starting point for a green strategy is an energy and sustainability audit. Unfortunately, many firms lack a clear understanding of where waste and inefficiency occur in areas such as energy usage, greenhouse gas emission, waste production, and resource consumption. Even relatively obvious inefficiencies can fly beneath the radar. For example, “At many businesses, people continue to print email messages and files,” Kaplan points out. “Every company should review how employees use paper and ink. They should identify ways to cut back.”
article continues... Power consumption is another area that presents an enormous opportunity for savings. Green building methods, solar power, water and ambient air exchange for cooling, smart lighting, server and rack configurations, and server virtualization provide tangible benefits. In fact, upgrading to more efficient servers, storage devices, and PCs can trim energy costs by 30 percent or more.
Another significant issue is business travel. Kaplan points out that many companies drastically slashed travel budgets during the recession yet managed to function effectively using the telephone, videoconferencing tools, and collaboration software. However, as soon as the economy improved, many of these firms reverted to the old way of doing things. “There are essential business trips, but cutting back nonessential travel can save a huge amount of money and reduce your carbon footprint.”
A New Era Emerges
Many channel providers are discovering that it’s virtually impossible to avoid the green revolution. Business partners, suppliers, and clients increasingly expect—and often demand—better packaging, less waste, a greater focus on recycling, and a smaller environmental footprint. To be sure, one company’s actions and behavior impact dozens of others within a supply chain.
As this change takes hold, there’s a growing need to communicate about green initiatives and sustainability. Kaplan puts it this way: “Implementing programs and policies is only half the challenge. If a company doesn’t effectively communicate what it is doing it winds up losing out.” As a result, it’s wise to include messages about green business practices on everything from your website and emails to news releases.
At the same time, it’s critical to be honest, forthright, and transparent about environmental policies and green initiatives. “You don’t want to overstate your achievements or present them in an artificial way,” says Kaplan. “There is a lot of ‘greenwashing’ taking place in the business world, and people are wary of all the claims. If you aren’t careful, you can find yourself dealing with a backlash, and ultimately, a tarnished reputation.”
Green business practices are here to stay, and smart companies view sustainability as an ally rather than an enemy. When a green approach is used effectively it can boost efficiency as well as the bottom line. “The thing that many savvy business executives still don’t fully understand is that there’s significant ROI associated with being green,” Friend says. “Unfortunately, people are busy or they view it as a nonessential issue. The reality is that it’s a crucial piece of operating a successful business.”
SAMUEL GREENGARD specializes in business and technology writing.