Tools and Systems That Can Make Your Business Environmentally Sustainable
When you look up ways to keep your business green, you see the same old, low-tech advice that business leaders heard decades ago: Put recycling bins in the office, turn off the lights when you leave for the day, buy from sustainable suppliers, urge your staff to come to work by bus or bicycle, reduce, reuse, recycle ...
Tech has revolutionized every other part of business. Where are the technological solutions for sustainability?
As it happens, some of them are easily available. Each of them serves at least one of two purposes: business with its finger smack dab on the pulse." Among the most highly regarded tech podcasts:
- Reducing the consumption of resources that damage the environment (like paper, because making it destroys trees) or are running out (like coal, oil, natural gas, and other fossil fuels).
- Reducing waste and emissions such as carbon that trap heat and cause worldwide temperatures to rise.
A computer server in a company's office will emit 160 kilograms (353 pounds) of carbon per year, according to GoClimate, a Swedish firm that helps businesses calculate and offset their carbon footprint. But there's a greener way to compute. "Moving on-premise workloads to large-scale data centres can lower the workload carbon footprint by 88%," says the news site Energy Post.
Moving to cloud servers and other large data centers does more than just shift pollution from your office to the data center sites. Cloud servers are also more energy-efficient than single-company servers. The National Resources Defense Council has said that a typical single-company server is active and working only 12 to 18 percent of the time - but it consumes power all the time. Cloud servers that support multiple companies waste less power, since they're active 40 to 70 percent of the time. Moving common software apps to the cloud "could save enough electricity annually to power Los Angeles for a year," says the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.
The biggest cloud computing providers in the Western world are Amazon Web Services, Microsoft Azure, and Google Cloud Platform. Together, they account for about two-thirds of the market. The Earth-friendliest of the three is Google, with Microsoft coming in second, according to experts ranging from Wired magazine to Greenpeace. Google Cloud is superior because it's carbon neutral, "meaning it has planted trees, bought carbon credits, and funded large amounts of wind power in places where it is abundant to offset its tapping of coal and natural gas power in other regions," according to CNBC.
"Solar energy systems/power plants do not produce air pollution or greenhouse gases," says the U.S. Energy Information Administration. "Using solar energy can have a positive, indirect effect on the environment when solar energy replaces or reduces the use of other energy sources that have larger effects on the environment."
Solar power can help you even if your region doesn't get much sun. "It might not generate enough power to sustain your company all day," says the news site European Business Review, "but it can lower your reliance on [fossil-fuel] energy companies."
Wind-turbine power is clean, too. "Wind energy doesn't pollute the air like power plants that rely on combustion of fossil fuels, such as coal or natural gas," says the U.S. Department of Energy. "Wind turbines don't produce atmospheric emissions that cause acid rain, smog, or greenhouse gases."
You don't necessarily have to put solar panels or wind turbines on your property to get clean power. Several energy utilities offer power from solar, wind, and other clean energy sources. Here's a list of them.
Switching to LED light bulbs "is the easiest and most simple way to be a more sustainable business," says Emmy Scott, a renewable-energy researcher at the University of Northern Colorado. "Not only are LEDs' lifespans 2-4 times longer than most fluorescent and halide bulbs, but they have been proven to be an increase of 60-75% energy efficiency." The more efficient your lights become, the more sustainable your company becomes.
To use even less energy for light, add sensors. "You can install motion or occupation sensors in bathrooms and other rooms that are commonly used but not occupied for long periods of time," Scott says. When the room is empty, the sensors turn the lights off.
The more people in an office, the more resources they use. If your staff can work at home, your office will use less energy and materials. And your people won't have to drive to work, which means that they'll consume less fossil fuel and pour less pollution into the air.
"Thanks to the incredible innovations made over recent years in digital communication technology (such as video chat), it's now possible for people to telecommute to work with ease," says the small-business finance company Fundbox. "Online applications such as Zoom and Google Suite allow for remote team collaboration in real time." You can also use this technology to meet with investors, suppliers, customers, and leads.
Eco-friendly office equipment
When you need to buy office electronics, look for the ENERGY STAR label.
The Environmental Protection Agency established the ENERGY STAR program to certify products that don't need much power. "ENERGY STAR certified office equipment - from computers and monitors to imaging equipment, such as printers and copiers - save energy through efficient design and power management options," says the ENERGY STAR website. "They use less energy to perform regular tasks, and when not in use, automatically enter a low-power mode." You can find a guide to ENERGY STAR certified products at energystar.gov/products/office_equipment.
Old-fashioned paper mail may not seem like a drain on the Earth's resources. But using paper and ink to copy it and using file cabinets to store it can eat up resources. The longer you accept incoming paper mail, the more damage it can do.
Fortunately, a digital mail service can erase nearly all the damage. Digital Mailroom, for instance, can receive, scan, and digitize your incoming mail and upload the digital version to a secure web portal. You can write notes on digital mail, black out confidential passages, distribute it to your colleagues, and archive it with only a very mild effect on the environment.
Customers want to do business with sustainable companies, the government wants you to reduce your carbon footprint, and the best job candidates want to feel good about their employer's ability to live lightly on the Earth. You'd probably like to be eco-friendly, too.
Why not let technology help you?