Over the past few years, going green has become such a hot trend in business that even Big Oil is looking cleaner. For instance, Phillips Petroleum (before it merged to become ConocoPhillips) initiated an energy-efficient lighting project that saved the equivalent of what it would cost to plant 940 acres of trees, according to environmental business expert Eric Woodruff, PhD, who likes to express energy savings as real-world benefits.
Yet green business is far from trendy. Operating in a way that is good for the environment is no longer simply about doing the right thing it's becoming a matter of survival. With a global surge in costs for fuel, electricity and raw materials, most companies are feeling the pain of the rising cost of doing business.
According to The National Small Business Association (NSBA) 2008 survey, 77 percent of business owners surveyed said rising energy prices have had a negative effect on their business. In response to rising costs, the survey reports that 37 percent of businesses have raised their prices, 33 percent have reduced business travel, 11 percent have cut their production schedule and 10 percent have reduced their workforce.
Beyond reducing costs, consumers are demanding greener practices. As well, it's only a matter of time before national environmental regulations pass in this country, forcing change, said Woodruff, founder of Profitable Green Solutions, which provides training programs to help clients make more money and simultaneously help the environment.
When it comes to managing IT, "green computing" can take on many forms: PC power management, energy-efficient electronics, paper reduction, outsourcing, recycling and for large companies virtualization technologies and server consolidation. Basically, use less to do more.
The biggest thing we tell customers is to make your IT infrastructure as simple as possible, because then it's easier to manage and you have already made a savings," said Jacques Davignon, CEO of Surf Technologies, Inc., an IT consulting firm in Atlanta that focuses on IT management services, including business continuity and risk assessment.
"Green IT is really thinking about things upfront and making decisions today for tomorrow, while at the same time being kind to the environment, Davignon explained. Recently, he said, Surf Technologies began to offer green IT evaluation and services, because it dovetailed with the company's history of providing guidance for clients to better manage costs and complexity while still deploying solutions that meet business needs.
As an example, a Surf Technologies customer in the logistics industry had a love affair with paper: It maintained 600 filing cabinets of paper records for years, for no clear reason, according to Davignon. Through the help of his firm, the client plans to dispose of the records that are not needed, and scan the rest.
Going forward, the company will scan all records that need to be retained and place them on a storage area network. The firm could have determined years ago what the business truly needed to store from a legal and customer perspective and for how long. Then, it could have created a document retention policy to dispose of paper records after a certain period of time, Davignon said.
This would have saved the company significantly on upfront storage and facility costs. "A good practice is to define a business model upfront and adhere to the policies from the start," he said.