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Blogs > Laurie McCabe

Carving A Green IT Pathway for SMBs
Laurie McCabe By: Laurie McCabe, Partner, SMB Group
Published: 4th December 2013
Copyright SMB Group © 2013

In today’s always-on world, we are all using more technology. Chances are, you rely on several devices—smartphones, notebooks, tablets, and PCs. You’re also probably connecting to more servers to access more apps, and using more storage to house all the information you need to access.

Our appetite for technology is likely to continue unabated because, simply put, we like it. It helps us runs our businesses better, work more productively, stay in touch with friends, and get through holiday shopping more quickly. However, our increasing reliance on technology has environmental consequences. From devices to data centers, technological products require metals, minerals, wood products, chemicals, and energy.

Unfortunately, we are not using these resources in a sustainable way. A case in point is our handling of e-waste: just 27% of the e-waste generated in the U.S. in 2010 was recycled. Consider also the fact that most servers run at utilization rates of 25% or less, but require just as much energy as if it they were being used at 100% capacity. This means that when a server is only performing about a quarter of the work that it ‘s capable of, it still uses the same amount of power as if it were operating at full tilt.

As I discussed in the first post of this two-part series, Dell’s Green IT Growth Path: Paving the Way for SMBs, both technology vendors and consumers have an important role to play in curbing the negative environmental impact of technology. In this post, I discuss how Dell is raising the bar yet again, and how SMBs can follow suit.

Dell raises the Green IT bar

Dell has been recognized as a leader in environmental sustainability for many years. Last month, it significantly upped its commitment when it announced its 2020 Legacy of Good Plan. Among the 21 corporate responsibility goals outlined in the plan, Dell has set 12 goals specific to environmental sustainability. Building on existing initiatives, these 12 environmental goals focus on three areas: reducing the environmental impact of company operations, driving social and environmental responsibility in the industry and supply chain, and promoting technology’s role in addressing environmental challenges.

Specifically, Dell’s ambitious goals include plans to:

  • Reduce the energy intensity of its product portfolio by 80%
  • Reduce greenhouse gas emissions from facility and logistics operations by 50%
  • Reduce Dell’s use of fresh water in water-stressed regions by 20%
  • Ensure 90% of waste generated in Dell-operated buildings is diverted from landfills
  • Develop and maintain sustainability initiatives in 100% of Dell-operated buildings
  • Ensure 100% of product packaging is sourced from sustainable materials
  • Reduce the energy intensity of its product portfolio by 80%
  • Use 50 million pounds of recycled-content plastic and other sustainable materials in its products
  • Ensure 100% of Dell packaging is either recyclable or compostable
  • Phase out environmentally sensitive materials
  • Recover 2 billion pounds of used electronics
  • Identify and quantify the environmental benefits of Dell-developed solutions

A Green pathway for SMBs

“OK,” you may be thinking. “Dell is a big company and a major technology producer, so its strong environmental commitment can have a major impact. But for me as an SMB—using technology, not creating it—what role do I have in all this? And why should I bother?”

The answer is: every business has a role, and reasons, to go green. Most businesses waste not only environmental resources, but money and time as well. Often, these are resources that could be invested in developing new products or services, or to hire and train employees. In fact, even if you aren’t a tree hugger, it makes good business sense to green your IT environment and culture.

No matter the size of your business or where you’re starting from, you can take steps to go green and save green. For example:

  • Shop green. When buying new products, shop with vendors that walk the Green IT walk. Look for certifications from ENERGY STAR, the U.S. EPA’s mark designating energy efficiency; and from EPEAT, the mark of sustainability for electronics from the Green Electronics Council, which looks at multiple environmental criteria. Check out this video to learn more about EPEAT. TCO, a Swedish eco-label, is used mostly in Europe, and includes ergonomics, energy consumption, and recyclability factors. Whenever possible, buy from vendors that use eco-friendly packaging to reduce packaging waste, and put recycled plastics to work in their products.
  • Virtualize. Since hardware itself is relatively inexpensive, even SMBs often find themselves with server and storage sprawl. As mentioned above, these systems require the same amount of power at 25% utilization as at higher levels. Moreover, managing 20 servers at 25% utilization is more complex and requires more people than in managing 10 servers at 50% utilization. While you have to invest in initial startup costs, virtualized server and storage resources typically take up less space, require less power to run, and help simplify maintenance. For instance, at just 12 inches wide and 19 inches high (30cm x 48cm), Dell PowerEdge VRTX is a simple and affordable way to run high-end, on-site applications with local storage, standardized infrastructure and centralized management. Incorporating Fresh Air capabilities, VRTX is made for the office environment. It uses standard 100V–240V AC power, and doesn’t require any specialized cooling. You can just plug it into the wall, and it runs as quietly as an air conditioner.
  • Reduce paper and ink waste. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) reports that the average office worker uses 10,000 sheets of copy paper every year. Even in this digital age, paper use in the average business is growing by 22% a year; at this rate, you’ll double the amount of paper you use in just 3.3 years unless you make a conscious effort to reduce. Switch from paper-based marketing, forms and faxes to digital solutions for email marketing, invoicing and other functions whenever possible. Buy remanufactured toner cartridges and get personal ink cartridges refilled to save money and cut waste.
  • Decrease power consumption. When buying new equipment, look for ENERGY STAR ratings of 5.0 and above. Use “set it and forget” tools, such as smart power strips, to automatically turn off peripheral devices when you turn off the main device.
  • Recycle old equipment. The U.S. EPA estimates that only 27% of electronic waste was collected for recycling in 2010. But it’s getting easy to recycle. Dell’s Asset Recovery Program offers an environmentally appropriate and convenient way to dispose of computer equipment. Or you can donate unwanted devices via Dell and Goodwill’s Reconnect Partnership—Goodwill gets the proceeds and you get a tax write-off.
  • Replace travel with web conferencing. Web conferencing reduces fuel consumption and saves time and money. Ecopreneurist estimates that if every small business owner in the United States were to conduct one teleconference in lieu of a domestic business trip, we would save $25.4 billion dollars in travel expenses and 10.5 million tons of C02 in just one year.
  • Embrace telecommuting. While it may not work for every employee or business, research network Undress4Success estimates that the United States could save $500 billion a year, reduce Persian Gulf oil imports by 28 percent and take the equivalent of 7 million cars off the road if workers were allowed to telecommute just half the time. Collaboration tools—from Google Apps to Microsoft Office 365—make working from home and staying connected easy.
  • Think thin. Thin clients are cheaper and simpler for manufacturers to build than traditional PCs or notebooks—and cheaper for you to buy and operate. For instance, Dell Wyse cloud clients use just 7–15 watts of energy on average when in full operation. In contrast, a PC uses 80 watts of energy or more. In addition, it takes fewer materials and less energy to produce a thin client than a PC. Thin clients run web browsers, and/or remote desktop virtualization software, so you can use the desktop environment that you’re used to. Desktop virtualization also frees users from being tied to a specific workstation and creates greater security because it is centrally stored on servers, instead of on local clients.

Perspective

Technology vendors such as Dell are leading the charge to design server, storage and client devices that consume less energy, build and package computers with eco-friendly materials, and provide recycling programs to reduce ewaste.

But creating a sustainable business isn’t just for big business. Everyone needs to think about the environmental impact of technology, and how they can put green technologies and practices in place to contribute to environmental sustainability. As an SMB, you can start taking steps today—not only to reduce your company’s carbon footprint, but to gain significant business and IT benefits as well.

This is the last in a two-part series sponsored by Dell that discusses why green IT is important, and how SMBs can develop and benefit from their own green IT initiatives.

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