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Greening your online business

Posted by Michael Bloch in ecommerce (Monday October 15, 2007 )

“Going green” is the latest big trend to hit the business world – small businesses and large are rapidly discovering that making an effort towards helping the planet isn’t just a nice thing to do – it’s generating another type of green too.. increased revenue. Here’s some simple things you can do to help make your business more environmentally friendly.

If you’re running an online business, particularly if you’re working from home – congratulations; you likely already have far less of an environmental impact compared to other traditional bricks and mortar companies. With a few additional simple, cheap and sometimes free actions, you can easily green your business even further!

In case you hadn’t guessed, this post is my contribution to 2007’s Blog Action Day – a special event where bloggers around the world are combining their digital voices in a push to raise awareness about environmental issues.

Peak oil, global warming and a myriad of other environmental threats are no longer someone else’s problem or possible dark scenarios for the future – they are real and happening now.

Every single one of us, particularly in countries where overly-consumptive lifestyles rule, need to make changes. We are not heading towards critical mass – we have arrived. The challenge now is to minimize the damage and hopefully over time reverse it. We in the business community have a special responsibility in these efforts.

I’ve been blogging and writing about environmental issues for some time now on one of my other sites; Green Living Tips.com – so if you’re looking for general lifestyle and some business related tips, head on over when you have a minute and check out some of the ideas and articles I’ve published.

Getting back to online business; going green isn’t just a good thing to do from a warm and fuzzy perspective. It’s simply good business because:

a) Without a healthy environment to sustain the species, there will be very little commerce as economies will simply collapse.

b) Consumers are becoming increasingly eco-savvy and looking to purchase from companies that demonstrate a serious environmental commitment.

Here’s just a few simple things you can do to “green” your online business

Computer system

When it comes time to buy another computer system, instead of a desktop, consider a notebook. There are substantial electricity savings to be had in making the switch. For example, my notebook consumes 90 watts maximum. A comparable desktop system including LCD monitor would consume at least twice that amount. Equally as important is to utilize the power saving features of your computer.

On a somewhat related note – standby power consumption for electronics is also an issue worth looking into.

Lighting

Have you made the switch to CFL (Compact Fluorescent Lamps) yet? CFL’s now only cost a couple of bucks each, last 8 – 10 times longer than incandescent bulbs and use a quarter of the electricity to generate the same amount of light. My office is lit by a measly 10 watts worth of CFL’s and it does the job very nicely!

If you wanted to go uber-green in your lighting – LED’s are even more efficient than CFL’s and are rapidly improving in quality as well as improving in price.

Paper

So much for the digital age heralding the paperless office! We seem to be still in somewhat of a transition period where we continue to need to “feel” information. Pick up 30 tips for minimizing paper use in my article – The Paper Reduction Diet.

Hosting

In 2005, the electricity consumption for data center servers around the world was equivalent to the production of 14 power plants. One medium-sized conventional coal-fired plant emits approximately 3 – 4.0 million tons of carbon dioxide a year. While new technologies are being introduced to reduce emissions from coal, “clean coal” is somewhat of an oxymoron in my opinion.

Consider switching your site to a “green” web hosting service – quite a few hosting services are either now directly powered by wind and solar energy or are purchasing green tags to offset their energy use. Given the increasing competition among green hosts, pricing is now very similar to their non-green counterparts. When choosing a host, dig down past the “renewable energy” marketing blurbs and check out what other environmental initiatives they have in place – for some, “green” is purely a marketing ploy.

Electricity

Coal fired power generation is one of the greatest contributors to the anthropogenic (human related) production of carbon dioxide – a greenhouse gas accelerating global warming. Additionally, coal fired electricity production is also responsible for a variety of highly toxic emissions, including mercury and other types of greenhouse gases.

While we can’t all whack solar panels on the roof or stick a wind turbine in the back yard; we can offset our electricity use through the purchase of green tags; which I explain in more detail here. It’s also worthwhile checking with your utility as many already offer green power programs. Expect to pay a few cents more a kilowatt, but by reducing electricity consumption through strategies such as the use of notebooks and CFL’s, that added cost can be easily absorbed.

Travel

If you do travel to an office to run your business and/or have employees that do; consider implementing a telecommuting program whereby you/they work X days each week from home. This can save substantial amounts of fuel, associated greenhouse gas emissions and also general office running costs.

Coffee

I think coffee rates a special mention when it comes to online businesses as many of us run on the stuff :). Coffee has a huge impact on the environment in a number of ways.

a) Take out disposable coffee cups litter our landscape. Some of these contain plastic linings that aren’t biodegrade, aren’t easily recyclable and the production of these cups consumes an incredible amount of trees. Whether the cups wind up in landfill or blowing around our streets, it’s still a problem. Take your own refillable mug to your favorite coffee shop, or better still, just make it in your office – you’ll save a stack of cash!

b) Much of the world’s coffee is produced using unsustainable methods. Thousands of acres of forests have been destroyed to grow coffee. According to the WWF, Of the 50 countries in the world with the highest deforestation rates from 1990 to 1995, 37 were coffee producers and the top 25 coffee exporters had a combined average annual forest cover loss of 70,000 square kilometres during the same years. Purchasing fair trade certified coffee can help ensure that the crops were grown responsibly and furthermore, the farmers who toiled to cultivate it were paid a fair price.

Offset what you can’t “green”

There’s some things we do connected with our businesses that are difficult, if not impossible to “green” at this point in time – for example, travelling to an important conference two thousand miles away.

We can minimize the impact of attending the conference by travelling in a way with the least impact, but it still leaves a major footprint. This is where services such as tree offset programs can be helpful. Do be a little cautious when selecting one of these programs as there are a few shady offset programs around.

A tree offset program helps you to calculate your carbon impact for various activities and then you can buy/sponsor trees to help offset that impact. Trees are very efficient in removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and given the massive deforestation around the world over the last hundred years, we’ve effectively been removing much of the planet’s lung capacity. .

Important point: Tree offset programs shouldn’t be seen as a way of justifying overly consumptive behavior; it’s just a good way to offset what impact you find you’re unable to reduce through other means. For example – need to grab something from the store just a few hundred yards down the road? Jump on a bike or walk rather than driving your car and thinking “I’ll just offset this” :).

Raising awareness

This is something that every web site owner, rich, poor and everyone in between, can do – raise awareness of environmental issues among your visitors. Choose a cause and promote it on your site. It won’t cost you a cent, but will help promote awareness of the chosen cause and benefit the folks behind it; and earn you some kudos with your own visitors. Learn more about cause marketing and social conscience.

The above tips are just barely scratching the surface of various things you can do to make your online business more environmentally friendly at little to no added cost. It’s just about sitting back and looking at your operations, trimming consumption (e.g. switching off lights and computers when not in use) and looking for eco-friendly alternatives for what you do consume. As mentioned, while some green products may be more expensive, the money you’ll save by cracking down on consumption should balance things out, or perhaps put a few more bucks in your pocket.

As you achieve small successes, that provides great encouragement to continue in your greening efforts; perhaps getting into more complex issues such as supply chain and general product impact. There’s green alternatives popping up for just about every product now and it will really pay to take notice of these items as they hit the market – consumers will want them and many will be prepared to pay a little more for these items.

Don’t forget, going green can be very good for your business; so be sure to flaunt your environmental efforts to your visitors – implement a page entitled “environmental commitment”, detail the steps your business is taking and link to it from every page on your site. If you’re genuine in your efforts, your customers will take notice and reward you for your efforts through increased sales and recommendations to others.

Good luck in your greening efforts!



 

 
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