Being more eco-friendly isn't just about putting out more recycling bins and buying energy-efficient lightbulbs. Small businesses can reduce their carbon footprint by re-examining the way we work – and that starts with embracing cloud-based computing, remote work and less printing.
On Oct. 8, the members of the U.N.'s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released a report detailing what's likely to happen to our species if global warming continues at its current rate. The report predicts with a high degree of certainty that in just 20 years, an increasing rate of harmful events like floods and fires will endanger our lives and everything we've built.
When, as small businesses, we think of reducing our impact on the environment, we often think of actions that are extraneous to our work. We take care to procure the right recycling bins. We try to limit printing resources. We buy a set of energy-efficient lightbulbs.
In fact, it's the way we work that actually has the highest potential impact on reducing businesses' carbon footprints. Companies can become more eco-friendly by simply embracing modern technology, especially cloud-based computing.
According to a study on cloud computing by Microsoft earlier this year, cloud-based technology can help companies become more sustainable. Although focused on Microsoft products, the study is relevant across cloud-computing systems. The results suggest that by migrating operational business to the cloud – an act that includes going paperless and cutting down on hardware and equipment – we can become up to 93 percent more energy efficient and reduce our carbon footprint by 98 percent.
The benefits for eco-forward companies
Other than helping to save the planet, businesses that make an effort to reduce their carbon footprint will benefit in many ways. For a start, some green efforts will simply save companies money. By streamlining processes so that they are less reliant on equipment, paper or other resources, businesses can reduce their operational costs. As a bonus, less reliance on overheads and materials means businesses can be more mobile and adapt quicker to the needs of their industry.
Further savings are also possible when you consider federal and state tax incentives for cutting carbon emissions, as well as possible opportunities from government entities that require eco-friendly products or services.
Becoming more eco-friendly also opens your company to partners, talent and customers with similar values. That includes millennials and Gen Z-ers, the most eco-concerned generations. As numerous studies have shown, younger consumers seek companies that take sustainability seriously. Making your business known as an active participant in curbing climate change could do wonders for your reputation, placing you in an elite class of conscientious companies worldwide. It's these companies that will put themselves ahead as consumers' tolerance for passive eco-friendliness wanes.
Although companies that embrace sustainable practices access these benefits and many others, it can be hard for organizations to make lasting change. Often, the initiatives can either feel too complicated or seem like they will take too much effort for too small a reward. But prioritizing sustainability can be as simple as keeping up to date with modern computing and cloud-based technology. Here are three ways to harness the benefits of going green without disrupting your small business's day-to-day operations.
1. Implement cloud-based computing.
The cloud is one of the business world's biggest opportunities to impact climate change. Cloud providers are growing leaders in emission savings, reducing the impact IT has on the environment with efficient data centers and ongoing innovation. Undoubtedly, more and more companies will embrace the cloud as cloud technology continues to advance and green awareness grows among organizations.
Underutilized IT equipment, such as hardware and servers, are a massive contributor to energy consumption and have a negative impact on the environment – not to mention a small business's all-important bottom line. Onsite equipment is typically overprovisioned, resulting in an abundance of hardware that is inefficient and underused. Because of this, small businesses have been searching for solutions to reduce their energy costs and consumption while maintaining service levels and responsiveness.
Businesses replacing typical desktop computers with hosted clients dramatically reduce their carbon emissions and power consumption due to a reduction in production, packaging, shipping, and the use and incorrect disposal of traditional desktops. By reducing the reliance on costly hardware, cloud providers are poised to make a giant dent in the nation's carbon emissions.
2. Consider going remote.
Remote working and telepresence can reduce carbon emissions in a variety of ways. Studies suggest that fewer work hours can lead to lower greenhouse gas emissions and improved employee happiness and team morale. Not to mention it cuts the need for energy-guzzling, expensive office spaces and carbon-costly commutes and opens up a new world of talent for you to consider. This is an efficient solution for many small businesses.
One large company has seen sustainability-based success with this strategy. Insurance provider Aetna shrunk its carbon footprint by encouraging employees to work remotely. The company developed this idea over the course of 20 years, and now 43 percent of its workforce has some kind of virtual or remote position. The company credits this strategy with reducing its greenhouse gas emissions by 46,700 metric tons – just in one year.
3. Cut paper out of your workflow.
The elimination of paper is a relatively manageable but transformative action that the business world can collectively take to reduce climate change. Computerized management systems allow offices to scan paper documents, thereby creating a highly navigable and secure library and reducing paper consumption by a substantial margin. Eliminating paper even in smaller businesses could make a difference. In 2016, the U.S. pulp and paper industry generated 37.7 million metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent. It's a small percentage of the country's overall greenhouse gas emissions, but eliminating it would be a great start.
In order to stay competitive, appeal to consumers and contribute to a more sustainable world, businesses must reduce their carbon footprints. By finding technology-based ways to limit greenhouse gas emissions and waste, companies can save money, become more socially responsible and align themselves with motivated consumers.