be-nz logo
Story image

Going green Sustainable business is good business

01 Aug 2010

Ask any organisation concerned with green/sustainable practices how New Zealand’s small businesses view the issue, and they’ll respond: “They’re aware of the need to do better, but they’re worried about what it’s going to cost.”

But what would you say if it was proved that green technology could cut your energy costs by 20% or more? How about having a ‘carbon-friendly’ stamp on your product, which could open up new sales opportunities?

New Zealand is a signatory to the Kyoto Protocol, aimed at reducing the emission of greenhouse gases. Our commitment means we now have an Emissions Trading Scheme.

This puts a price on greenhouse gas emissions (sometimes called a ‘carbon tax’). Big producers will be regularly audited for their emissions, and a limit will be set on how much they can emit. If they exceed it, they will pay.Most small businesses will not be audited; they don’t produce enough carbon individually to qualify. The ETS is specifically aimed at the large enterprises, but that doesn’t mean small businesses shouldn’t be doing their bit – or that they won’t be affected.

“SMEs contribute to climate change through their use of electricity, gas and transport fuels, and their waste, and will face higher fuel and electricity prices and waste disposal costs as a result of the ETS,” the government’s Climate Change website explains.

“Business owners can save money and make a difference in reducing greenhouse gas emissions by using energy more efficiently.”“Making a difference” gives you a good feeling, but good feelings won’t keep you profitable.

That’s where organisations like the New Zealand Business Council for Sustainable Development come in, telling businesses that being green is good for their bottom line.

“The benefits of doing something about reducing your energy use have never been greater and probably are going to get better in the future,” says the council’s CEO, Peter Neilson.

Part of the council’s work involves advising central and local government about policies that will encourage businesses to adapt and become more sustainable, eg: putting a price on waste to landfill, putting a price on carbon, charging for congestion, etc.

By billing the carbon-unfriendly, it’s hoped they’ll “make what is the right thing to do profitable and popular”.And by “popular”, it means the customer has an increasingly big stake in our greener future too.

Large chain stores in the US, Europe and Asia are starting to demand ‘green’ products. Any business wanting to export to those markets needs to take account of this. A ‘carbon-friendly’, or better still, ‘carbon-neutral’ sticker can open doors.

It may actually be a cost of being in business,” Neilson says, “if you want to be in the supply chain for businesses that supply to those parts of the world where there’s a price on carbon.”

Being certified ‘carbon-neutral’ is a time-consuming and expensive process – such an audit can cost $10,000 or more. But getting a ‘carbon-friendly’ rating need not be so costly.

Green Carbon is a company that helps business “change the way they think about the environment and make positive steps towards a low-carbon economy”.

Green Carbon offers a budget-priced carbon audit ($500) which not only shows a business the areas where it can reduce its carbon footprint (and its energy bill), but gives it a ‘carbon-friendly’ certification that it can put on its products. While a business can do its own carbon audit using one of the many calculators available online, Green Carbon’s stamp provides more credibility.

Through Green Carbon, businesses can also purchase ‘carbon credits’ – proof that they actually have done something ‘green’ (cutting their energy use, recycling waste, etc.). Around 75% of the money paid for these credits goes towards ‘green’ projects, such as wind and hydro power.

Also working to raise business consciousness on environmental issues is the Sustainable Business Network, which offers forums, advice and subsidised energy audits, as well as promoting good green and social policies through the annual Get Sustainable Challenge.

SBN also provides online tools to help businesses measure their carbon output, such as GreenFleet, a sustainable transport programme that also runs a carbon offset scheme that plants native trees.

“If you’re dealing into a community level, there’s about 30% of the population currently making decisions around what they know are the environmental and social impacts of whatever they’re purchasing,” says SBN’s CEO Rachel Brown, “and that’s growing really quickly offshore – in places like Europe more and more people are expecting companies to have responsible products and services, so I’d be expecting New Zealand to follow suit.”

The technology is out there, and the benefits are plain. Here are just some of the greener options open to businesses.

Smarter computing technology contributes as much carbon dioxide to the planet as the airline industry, according to research firm Gartner. So it’s logical that dated, power-gobbling hardware should be replaced.

Dell and HP, two of the world’s biggest makers of IT hardware, are both seeking to be leaders in green/ sustainable technology.“Each product branded by Dell meets one or more environmental standards set by environmental certifications like ENERGY STAR, Electronic Products Environmental Assessment Tool (EPEAT), Blue Angel, TCO or other environmental organisations across the globe,” proclaims Dell’s Green Store website.

These various standards rate such things as power consumption. An ENERGY STAR rating requires a minimum of 85% energy efficiency at 50% of rated output.Dell ships its systems configured with the highest possible power management settings, so a computer sitting unused for a period of time will gradually power down and eventually go to sleep.

Dell also offers tools that allow centralised management of computers on a network, as well as online calculators that demonstrate the savings possible from moving to more energy-efficient platforms.

Increasing desire for portable computing power creates another set of environmental issues. The latest processors installed in notebook computers use less energy and therefore offer longer battery life. HP now offers a three-year battery warranty on its higher-end notebooks; the standard used to be one year. This has been achieved by adjustments to the way the battery is charged – although the trade-off has been a reduction in upfront capacity. HP’s notebook and desktop computers also have a built-in utility called Power Assistant, which shows the user the power consumption of the computer’s various functions, so they can be adjusted or turned off if not immediately required.

Another tech-energy area businesses should look at is printing. Apart from their power consumption, printers can also use up far more paper than necessary, if sustainable practices aren’t in place. HP estimates some SMEs could cut their printing costs by 10-15% with a green printing policy. This includes such practices as duplex printing (automatically printing on both sides of a page) and pool printing, which requires a user to insert a swipe card before printing a document.

Most new printers will power down if unused for a specific time (40%-plus power savings are claimed on some new models), and managers can also install default settings, eg: some users may print only in monochrome. Coming soon from HP: the Print Effectiveness Index, an online tool that shows businesses how they can better manage their printing, and save costs.If you haven’t switched to the Windows 7 operating system yet, Microsoft says it’s a smart move, energywise.

The power-saving features of W7 offer cost savings of between 24 and 33%. Then there’s Office 2010, which gives access to the Business Productivity Suite, a set of cloud-based communication and collaboration tools that, because they are hosted online, help a business reduce its carbon footprint.Virtualisation is the newest tool on offer for energyconscious businesses. This allows multiple servers to be condensed into one box, and even hosted remotely. For more about Microsoft’s online services, see the green IT picture is unified communications.

As we’ve reported previously, telephone and video conferencing can save on travel costs, and less air travel means a smaller carbon footprint. But IT no longer ends at the computer; now it can manage your building’s environment too.

Smart buildings

Most of us have also been getting the message about turning computers and lights off after hours, but we’re only human, and it’s easy to forget when you’re rushing out the door at the end of a long day. That’s why technology is also available to manage your office’s energy consumption for you.

Many new commercial buildings have so-called ‘smart technology’ built into them. The power to computers, lighting and heating can be centrally controlled, so that they switch off outside working hours. Light and heat can be adjusted according to natural daylight and weather conditions.

Of course this is a pricey option and the amount of cabling required means it’s currently a proposition best designed for new buildings. But for SMEs, a cheaper solution will soon be available.

Control4 specialises in power management for homes, and will move into the commercial sector this year. The company markets a touchscreen device that plugs into a building’s electricity meter. It not only monitors power consumption by area and/or device; it allows you to manage power usage. It can schedule particular devices to turn on and off at set times of the day, and perform functions like dimming the lighting when it senses the sun is shining. For business use, the device can integrate with a PC. A home installation costs around $500, and power savings of 20% or more are claimed. SMEs are already enquiring about it because it saves on cabling (it can communicate wirelessly).

So even if your small business doesn’t generate a big carbon footprint on its own, “making a difference” will save you money and probably attract new customers. Setting an example is Urgent Couriers, whose Managing Director, Steve Bonnici, decided to adopt a sustainable approach to business in the 1990s. He now runs the country’s only carbon-neutral courier service. Low-emission vehicles (LEVs) comprise more than 75% of the company’s fleet, and GPS allows efficient management.

Fuel costs are down about 30%, and smart energy management in the building has meant a 20% saving on power costs.“Probably 10% of the new business we get is because of our leadership position in sustainability,” Bonnici says. “There’s probably another 30% of customers say it will factor into their decision and give us an edge as long as our price is the same. “Overall, 80% are aware of it.”