How to use green IT without breaking the bank

Most small businesses want to be environmentally conscious – but probably aren’t keen on investing in a lot of expensive upgrades. But going green doesn’t have to break the bank, and in the long run it could end up saving money.

For smaller businesses that want to go green, there’s good news and bad news. The bad news is that a lot of green technology requires scale, said Aaron Hay, research consultant with Info-Tech Research.

A classic example is virtualization. If you have four servers and move them onto one virtualized server, you’re going to save on power consumption and the environmental footprint of those four servers. But, obviously, a much larger business with hundreds of servers would make more of an environmental impact.

The good news is that the state of green IT is now such that a small business can grow in a sustainable way, which is something that up until the past two or three years has simply not been possible. “If they don’t have a data centre, they can build one that’s energy-efficient, that has dedicated cooling and ventilation and maximizes the square footage and employs virtualization and logical storage techniques,” said Hay. “There is an opportunity for small businesses to go ahead and do these things the right way.”

Fortune 500 companies, on the other hand, have such a large installed base of computing infrastructure that it’s going to take them decades to switch over to a greener IT environment.

There are also environmentally sensitive actions that small businesses can take without worrying about scale, such as recycling old computer equipment. Another way is to manage their printer fleet, such as removing the colour cartridges in their photocopiers so they can only be used when absolutely necessary. And they can convert to a paperless office by rolling out some solid communications policies.

While small business owners are often concerned with upfront costs, spending an extra five or 10 per cent upfront could actually save you over the life of a technology, said Hay. Rather than looking at just the upfront costs, figure out the cost of maintenance and supplies for the piece of equipment you’re buying. “The lifecycle costing model may show you that an environmentally preferable purchase is of similar cost to something that’s just a lowest-cost option,” he said.

In a recent survey by Ipsos Reid on behalf of the Canadian Federation of Independent Business and HP Canada, 83 per cent of small business owners said that green factors play a role when they purchase technology for their business – and 43 per cent said it plays a significant role.

“It’s noteworthy in terms of how that’s really come up the priority list of small business owners in Canada,” said Michael McAvoy, director of SMB and commercial marketing with HP Canada.

HP has rolled out an initiative called Design for Environment, which looks at how the company goes to market with its products and strategy, whether it’s packaging, product recycling or research and development. By 2010, it plans to reduce the combined energy consumption of its operations and products by 20 per cent, compared to its 2005 level. It also has a goal of recycling a billion pounds of e-waste by the end of this calendar year.

“A small business has a lot more recycling options for their old technology,” said McAvoy. HP uses a partner called SIMS, based in Brampton, Ont., for the vast majority of its hardware recycling – its facility can recycle around 10,000 pounds of e-waste per hour.

For a small business owner, it’s a way to feel better about how old computer equipment is recycled – rather than leaving it on the curb to end up in a landfill. (There are chemicals in electronic waste that are harmful to the environment and eventually to your health.)

Newer technologies are much more energy-efficient, such as smart AC adapters that monitor notebook power requirements – this contributes to power adjustments that add efficiencies and potentially allow for longer use. A number of the new processors from AMD and Intel also feature lower power consumption.

One key thing small businesses can do is purchase green energy from companies such as Bullfrog Power, said Jennifer Foulds, communications director with Environmental Defence. It may cost a bit more per kilowatt hour, but in the long run it helps add more green energy to the energy mix.

The next time you need to buy electronic equipment, make sure it’s Energy Star rated because that means you’re using less power, and see if the equipment has energy-saving settings (most laptops, for example, have sleep modes). And make sure you’re shutting off all equipment – have everything on a power bar and just flick it off at the end of the day.

“Since we all moved to e-mail, we’re printing more than ever before,” said Foulds. “Don’t print unless you need to.” It’s best to use paper that’s 100 per cent post-consumer recycled, made white without chlorine processing – which will cost the same or slightly more than regular paper. Another option is FSC (Forest Stewardship Council) certified paper – trees are still cut down, but it’s done in a more sustainable way.

Employers can encourage workers to use public transit or car pools, and to use as many reusable supplies as possible, said Foulds. Have a kitchenette stocked with reusable dishes or containers, for example, so if employees are going out for takeaway, they can bring those containers with them. Provide coffee mugs and start an informal ban on disposable coffee cups.

“Your employees are probably looking for ways to be greener at work,” she said. “It’s another reason why people will want to work for your company.”

If you’re working out of a home office environment, there are federal and provincial programs for upgrading to energy-efficient appliances. While it’s more common in the U.S. at this point, some utility companies offer grants and incentives to go green.

But organizations don’t have to overhaul everything overnight. “If you start now, it will become a habit for IT to think about the environment when they’re implementing various solutions,” says Hay.

Comment: info@itworldcanada.com

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