Green Business Makes Good Cents

In 2008 and 2009 I saw enough articles on “green energy” to make my head spin, and yet here I am writing one myself. Some of the articles making the rounds in the past couple years have merely been about creating a veneer of environmental responsibility. Many others, though, have put forth real and substantive ideas on sustainable practices, energy savings and other cost reductions that are simply responsible, no-duh stewardship of resources; a natural convergence of environmental intelligence with business intelligence, if you will.

I do think I have a bit of a unique perspective in that we currently own and operate a colocation facility, which offers customers the opportunity to assist in offsetting their carbon footprint with the use of Windtricity and have spent some time picking the brains of industry leaders at the forefront of the carbon war. Additionally, we consult with medium to large corporations on a daily basis so we know what they are willing to spend on, and we have our own discretionary budget which can be analyzed. We are presented with a variety of products and solutions that claim to be green from a number of angles. There are products with high recycled content, renewable energy options such as solar panels, energy efficient equipment, equipment with zero hazardous materials, and so on. How does a company filter through all of the offerings without a highly skilled electrical engineering team (who all happen to be environmentalists), for example, and still make sound financial decisions? To this point, our company’s strategy has been to focus on practical steps that are oftentimes good for both the environment and for our budget. Let’s take a look at some of the more practical things we have done and why.

Travel / Mobile Team Members – We have encouraged everyone who is mobile to have a GPS. While this is not often mentioned as a green strategy, it is very simple and offers time and gas-reducing benefits to the company and to the environment. To foster the use of these devices we have given away portable units to our employees and purchased mobile phones that often have this technology available. These devices not only save time, but according to study by Navteq, drivers with navigation systems use 12% less fuel and reduce their carbon dioxide emissions by 21%. With the prices of GPS devices plummeting, encouraging the use of them in our organization is a no-brainer.

Mobility / Telework / Telecommuting – Throughout my career, I have seen various managers struggle with mobility programs. Some have issues because they are used to micro-managing people. Others struggle with how to support an employee who may not have an ideal home office, and some are just not used to it. I once worked for an organization where I was one of their most productive people, yet often struggled with my boss over my official physical office hours, and how my physical absence might look to others. The company had international locations, so I often conferenced with our organizations from home late at night instead of sending impersonal emails. This resulted in stronger business relationships. I also found I was extremely productive working late at night because there were minimal distractions. Unfortunately, the quantity of work and quality I produced didn’t seem as important as the daily appearance at the office from 8 to 5. This is not to say that everyone should abandon the office, but there are many roles to play and people that can benefit from working at home at least a couple days a week. The main benefits of telecommuting and why we embrace it are:

1) Environmental – Reduces carbon emissions, reduces traffic, limits wear and tear on vehicles.

2) Cost Reduction – Take advantage of reduced corporate facilities, reduced travel time and general office overhead.

3) Staffing – Recruit the best and brightest. With multiple positions does it really matter where they reside? This is a big benefit for many employees who would not be able to relocate or have special family needs. This flexibility often increases loyalty and reduces turnover.

4) Increased Productivity – By simply reducing or eliminating travel time, there is a major boost in productivity. Many companies have also reported the benefit of reduced absenteeism. As I stated in the intro to this section, I actually found myself working much longer hours which served as an additional boost to productivity.

5) Disaster Preparedness – Allowing telecommuting also protects your organization by having a ready-made plan in place should H1N1 or some other unexpected event take place that forces key employees to stay home.

6) Find Out More About Your Team Members – Telework is not for everyone. Some people cannot manage their time properly and some roles are just not suited for it. There are also some beneficial social dynamics of the office that can be lost in a telework environment. But with video conferencing, in-person team meetings and events, it is possible to overcome this drawback. Another benefit is that you can see how your team performs when someone is not looking over their shoulder throughout the day which will offer you insights into their capabilities and potential when left on their own.

In my next installment, I’ll cover other aspects of green business such as purchasing strategies, solar and wind energy, and recycling. What is your company doing in these areas? What can others learn and how can they benefit from these efforts?

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