Small businesses are keen to embrace a more environmental approach, but the resources necessary to make that change are so diffuse it can be a challenge to even get started.
The Canadian Federation of Independent Business is doing its best to make a difference for its members, but it’s an uphill battle, said Corinne Pohlmann, the organization’s vice-president of national affairs, based in Ottawa.
“What we’ve found overall is that there’s a real interest in doing something to help the environment, but it’s difficult to get through the noise,” said Pohlmann.
The CFIB recently published a paper on the topic (which can be found here) and conducted research by talking to 11,000 Canadian businesses. The organization discovered that businesses are very interested in embracing a green philosophy. About 70 per cent had already taken some steps, but they tended to be minor improvements, like using low-energy light bulbs.
One of the main issues is that small business owners tend to work long hours with very little time to spend on initiatives that don’t directly affect the bottom line, said Pohlmann. Researching green technology can be a labour-intensive endeavour.
“It’s one of those things that everyone wants to do . . . but to try to figure out where you go as an individual can be difficult,” she said.
One of the biggest hurdles facing small businesses is that government hasn’t really got its act together in terms of providing a solid set of information. Industry Canada seems to be the leader, so far, said Pohlman (see the CFIB report page 19 for more information.)
Aaron Hay, an analyst at Waterloo, Ont.-based Info-Tech Research agreed that it can be difficult for a small business embark on a green strategy. The information is there, but “there are no best practices from the government,” he said.
There’s a disconnect between environmental regulations set forth by provincial and federal government, he said. The situation is much the same between state and federal government in the United States. “It’s hard to say what’s happening at the government level. It’s widely varying at this point.”
Info-Tech will devote more of its attention to green IT research in future, said Hay, and attempt to steer its business clients towards more cohesive government resources. Hay has also posted a green podcast here to help companies get started.
Another major impediment to getting on the green bandwagon is the cost associated with buying and installing environmentally-friendly technology, said Pohlman. Small businesses simply can’t afford the initial costs associated with replacing or upgrading IT.
But small businesses may have an advantage that larger enterprises lack: thanks to their size they can react more quickly to change. In less than a year, Roberta Fox, principal of small technology consulting firm The Fox Group, has seen a massive difference in her own office.
“This whole trend is very fast. Although we may be cutting edge, but as an SMB we have a chance of getting there faster,” she said.
Fox is perhaps more ahead of the game than other small businesses because she works in the technology industry and has been more proactive than most. She says she took steps to reduce her company’s environmental footprint by making small but effective changes like cutting back on physical storage space. The logic being, if you give a person room to store paper, they’ll oblige you by filling it. By cutting down on the amount of space allotted per person, the company has seen a reduction in paper usage.
“I consciously do most of our work with our team digitally,” she said. Her firm has since taken a large HP printer out of the office since it’s no longer required for day to day business.
Paper reduction is an easy but effective first step but Fox has been more ambitious than most. She’s in the process of installing a composting toilet in the office, and is also considering replacing her back-up generator with one hooked up to a turbine powered by a waterfall.
Not everyone will have such resources at their disposal, said Fox. Her office is located in East Gwillimbury, a bucolic spot north of Toronto. The town as a whole is making an effort to be environmentally conscious in order to preserve its natural beauty. It’s an ideal place to be pro-green, said Fox, and the town is supportive of her efforts.
Finding the right help from provincial and national resources is more of a challenge, said Fox, but SMBs may have to find their own motivation. But being green can reap rewards. Fox said that many of her clients specifically ask for the company’s environmental policy before signing a contract. What’s good for the environment is also good for business.