Monday, December 15, 2008

Is throwing shoes at Bush green?

On the way to work, I heard the story about an Iraqi journalist throwing his shoes at George W. Bush. After wondering whether the Secret Service wrestled the offending shoes to ground (those of you who have seen Chevy's Chase's old SNL routines will get that one), I began to wonder...was that shoe throwing green?

Since the NPR story gave no information about the nature of the shoes, or what will happen to them now, I had to do some speculation.

Here's what I came up with...

1) If the shoes were worn out, and would otherwise have been thrown away, it was a creative form of re-use. So on that count, it could be considered GREEN.

2) If the shoes were purchased especially for the throwing event, and will be discarded and not worn afterwards, the act would have to be considered NOT GREEN.

3) However, if the shoes were purchased especially for the throwing at George Bush event, AND were manufactured and sold through a Fair Trade company, the shoe throwing could be considered green even IF they would not be used afterwards as footwear. GREEN

4) If the offending shoes will not be worn afterwards, but will be auctioned at a later date to buy humanitarian aid products or to support global warming research, they could be considered GREEN.

5) If the shoes were made from cruelty-free materials, especially if natural and organic fibers like hemp were used to make the shoes, they could score major GREEN points even if they were otherwise unworn and will be disposed of afterwards. Score double GREEN if they are biodegradable.

So here's the tally:

Leather shoes, made in an exploitative factory, bought especially for the "throwing shoes at George Bush" event, disposed of in a landfill afterwards, NOT GREEN.

Organic fiber shoes or worn out and ready to be thrown away shoes, made under supportive and fair working conditions by adults paid a livable wage, and either reused or sold at auction for a good cause afterwards, GREEN.

So tell me, Mr. unidentified male Iraqi journalist, are you green?

P.S. If the shoes in question were new Manolo Blahnik's or Jimmy Choo's, forget the everything above and send me the shoes!

Monday, December 8, 2008

Greener restaurants are here to stay

The November issue of Restaurants and Institutions featured an interview with Green restaurant expert Michael Oshman.

According to Oshman, the current economic problems in the restaurant industry and the economy at large are not likely to reverse or even slow the expansion of green practices in food service. The changes, he contends, are consumer driven and are coming from a real and growing concern for the earth and its resources. That hasn't dropped, and is in fact growing, as resources become more scarce and fears of global warming grow.

Even so, he noted that one of the biggest obstacles to green practices is a perception that's what's good for the earth cannot be good for business. That's a myth he would like to help dispel. In his blog, he also listed ways in which going green is actually good for a business.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Green advertising - Part 3

Advertising doesn't have to involve paper to be effective. Even if your market is not right for online marketing, there are ways to get something in a client's hands without adding to the glut of paper trash.

Here are a few ideas to get you started:

Print your message on something usable -- and re-usable

Whether it's a coffee mug, a water bottle or a t-shirt, reusable and durable products mean your message will be around a lot longer than on any print source. Plus when people use the mug at the office or wear the t-shirt to the park, they help spread your information at no additional cost to you! Try doing that with a mailer!

Offer branded products that help the environment

If your company is committed to a green message, spread the word by getting customers to spread wildflower seeds from a branded biodegradable seed packet. Or even better, offer recycled, soy ink paper embedded with the seeds. That way, all they have to do is stick it in a pot or garden and water. But the message before they plant is that your company cares about the earth. And when the flowers bloom, the message will be reinforced!

Make the paper reusable

Give your customers a punch card or stamp card they need to bring to your store or restaurant for discounts or specials. That will keep your name and message in front of the customer, AND keep the paper of multiple cards or mailings out of use and out of the landfill.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Green advertising - Part 2

In the last post, we talked about mailing frequency, paper type and inks. Now it's time to look at the mediums you're using for advertising.

Are your customers on-line?

A newsletter, weekly or monthly flyer or a catalog are all excellent ways to catch potential buyers' attention. But if a significant percentage of your shoppers or clients are web-savvy, you can provide the same advertising for less online. An e-mailed newsletter or flyer eliminates almost all paper use, cutting both waste and costs for your business -- a big plus in troubled times.

Of course, this might not work for all businesses or even for all customers within a business's client base. Some customers may not be net-savvy. Others may prefer a paper catalog or mailing. But offering the choice could reduce your costs and your un-green marketing.

Piggybacking your advertising

When little thought was given to green issues, putting a dozen separate inserts into a newspaper or magazine was common. Each of these papers was for a different company, and even though most ended up in the trash (or on the ground in front of the newspaper box), the ROI was good enough to make the cash outlay worthwhile.

Factoring in the green issues changes that. What are the costs to the earth for all those separate papers?

There is no doubt that paper inserts and mailers can be effective. But a concept called co-op advertising allows businesses to work with related but non-competing companies to make one paper into two ads.

Some example of good co-op advertising include a travel agency and a luggage store, a pet supply store and a dog training company, or perhaps a car repair shop and a gas station.

More tomorrow! Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Green advertising - Part 1

Have you ever thought about how green your marketing plan is -- or is not?

If you're committed to running a green company, one of the issues you have to consider is the environmental impact of your advertising. Some of the factors to consider are;

Frequency of mailings and the impact of those on your sales.

If a monthly mailing doesn't generate significant increases in sales, consider cutting back to every other month. That would mean half the paper use, half the transportation-based energy use, half the production energy use, and probably half the waste generated (a few consumers might recycle, which would reduce that waste.)

Look at the paper you're using

Are your catalogs, flyers, postcards and other paper marketing tools printed on recycled paper? Switching to recycled paper, especially if you have frequent mailers, inserts or offer large catalogs, could significantly reduce virgin paper use and slow down tree cutting. Even a few trees saved is better than none.

And what about the ink?

Many commercial inks contain heavy metals and other potentially toxic substances. When printed material ends up in landfills, those dangerous substances can leach out and contaminate soil or even group water supplies. Switching to a soy or vegetable ink eliminates that environmental hazard.

I'll give you more issues to consider in tomorrow's post. And then on Friday, I'll suggest some greener advertising choices that just might work for you -- and the earth.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Green Thanksgiving ideas to take home

Okay, so you don't celebrate Thanksgiving at work...I hope! But it's the big event on the radar this week, so I'm going to give you a few Thanksgiving tips for a greener holiday.

1) (And this is a business tip) Give employees the day after Thanksgiving off, if at all possible. Office businesses are typically very quiet the day after the holiday, so save some energy costs by keeping the lights off and letting employees stay off the highway.

2) Encourage employees to bring Thanksgiving leftovers to work as lunches next week by offering recipes or a post-holiday potluck celebration. How is this green? Meals eaten at work mean less time spent at drive-throughs, less packaging in the trash and less food waste.

3) At your dinner, try to minimize disposable flatware, glasses and plastic coated plates. If you use plastic, put a Sharpie next to the dishes and encourage everyone to write their name on cups to reduce waste.

4) Use washable and reusable containers for leftovers instead of zipper bags and other throw-aways.

5) When you're talking about what you're grateful for, be sure to include the earth, clean water and clean air.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Greening your cleaning products at work

It's amazing that most of us survive the workday.

Between the toxic off-gassing from carpets and plastic desks and the toxic cleaners, we are all getting more than our share of dangerous chemicals every day we're in the office.

Fortunately, there are alternative to the toxic soup in which we spend the majority of each weekday.

Green cleaning products have gone mainstream. There are now green choices for every kind of business, from tackling a greasy restaurant kitchen to cleaning office floors and carpets.

Leaving behind the furnishing and carpets (that will be another post), resources like the National Green Pages list dozens of sources for safer alternative to standard janitorial cleaning supplies.

Low cost, "homemade" choices also work well in the office. Using household products like white vinegar, baking soda, fruit oils and other safe alternatives allows your company to maintain a clean property, save the environment, protect employee health -- and best of all, save money at the same time!

With all those incentives, what company wouldn't want to go green?

Monday, November 17, 2008

Green lunchrooms and kitchens at work make a difference

At many companies, the only acknowledgment that employees need to eat and drink is a bare break room...some tables, maybe a few vending machines featuring the popular junk food of the day and maybe a microwave. The result?

Most people go out to eat fast food, order in, or snack on the vending machine fare.

Aside from obvious health issues associated with this, there's a green factor as well. Or rather several green factors.

1) Going to the fast food drive through means employees are using their cars...and contributing to the carbon footprint. Sitting idling in the line is even worse than the to and from.

2) Fast food is typically heavily packaged, so a sandwich, fries and a drink generates a large amount of non-recycled trash including boxes, cartons, bags, straws, wrappers, cups, paper napkins and plastic condiment packages.

3) Ordering in requires a delivery person to drive, again adding to the carbon load.

4) Delivery food may be even more packaged than fast food, including reflective covers or plastic covers, foil trays and plastic flatware.

5) Vending machine food reflects a high level of processing, so factories are using energy to prepare and package the food, the food must be delivered via car or truck, and the food is typically packaged in non-recyclable plastics.

So how can a company make lunchtime greener...and save money on employee health issues, too? Here are some suggestions from readers and others:

1) Create a green lunchroom. Add an energy efficient refrigerator so employees can bring lunches from home. Leftovers and other "brown-bagged" meals are typically lower in fat, sugar, salt and processing than fast food or delivery alternatives.

2) Provide a sink and washing supplies so employees will use glass or reusable plastic containers for their food. Having a way to wash up after eating encourages employees to bring reusable containers.

3) Have enough energy-efficient microwaves to make heating food feasible during peak lunch hours.

4) Give employees enough time to eat a proper lunch. If you only have half an hour, a fast food burger might feel like the only option. A full hour not only encourages healthier eating, it will allow employees to function more productively in the afternoon, as they will have had a significant restorative break.

5) If possible, offer hot or cold healthy lunches at work. Contract with a caterer or restaurant who has adopted green practices, and have them bring in minimally packaged foods.

6) Work with your vending machine supplier to replace highly packaged and highly processed foods with fresh fruit and food in recycled containers. Make sure there are visible recycling bins in all break and lunch rooms, and actively encourage employee recycling.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

New changes in the FMLA mean new paperwork -- and lots of potential waste

Changes approved earlier in the year to the FMLA (Family Medical Leave Act)are expected to go into effect any day now*. The extensive clarifications will make many mandatory labor law posters obsolete. Human resource and labor law handbooks, manuals and forms will also need to be replaced with versions that reflect the changes.

That means potentially millions of sheets of paper and countless laminated (and therefore un-recyclable)labor law posters will be thrown away. Little if any of this material can or will be recycled, and little was on recycled paper to start with.

And this is not an isolated incidence. Every year, dozens of Federal and State regulations change, and with those changes, go waste. Lots of waste. In paper, in landfill space and in money. But the changes are mandatory! So what's a business owner to do? Here are a few suggestions for keeping your business in compliance without wrecking the earth:

1) Choose recycled (and recyclable)products. From labor law posters to file folders, there are recycled versions available. You just have to look.

2) Choose downloadable or printable versions of mandatory forms, then print them on recycled paper using soy or vegetable inks.

3) Only buy or print the forms and papers you really need. Stockpiling 500 I-9 or FMLA forms may save money on each sheet, but when the changes come and you need to replace them with a newer version long before you've run out, any savings evaporate.

4) Recycle obsolete books, manuals and forms rather than throwing them in the trash.

5) Choose non-laminated posters and other materials whenever possible. Laminated paper is generally not recyclable.

*(Information about changes in the FMLA will be posted on sites like G.Neil, ComplyRight and HRdirect as soon as they're finalized.)

Monday, November 10, 2008

Europe ahead of US in green business practices

European businesses have been leading the way when it comes to green business innovation. That's drawing traditionally U.S. companies into the more profitable European green market.

In October, the Miami Herald reported on Office Depot's expanded European market share. The company, which has suffered losses domestically despite several years of green product development and promotion is experiencing large and profitable gains with European businesses and consumers who are more willing to seek out and pay for environmentally friendly products and services.

In Frankfurt, Germany subway station escalators are equipped with sensors so they run only when someone approaches or is on-board.

By the mid-90's, all new construction through-out Europe had to adhere to mandated levels of energy savings. And many European architects make sustainability a central theme in their work.

So why is the U.S. lagging behind?

Some analysts theorize that the high level of E.U. involvement in environmental issues has pushed green consciousness to a higher level. Others believe the profit-driven corporate power structure behind lobbying efforts in the U.S. has quashed green development as unprofitable and therefore undesirable. Others cite the material abundance which has typically characterized American life in contrast to the relative lack that existed in some parts of Europe only a few decades ago as an explanation for a more sustainable lifestyle.

Whatever the reason, U.S. businesses need to work harder to convince consumers to buy green and live green, especially when cheaper non-green choices abound.

What has your experience been as a business owner, employee or manager? Are American less enamoured with green products than our European cousins? How can we break that trend? I would love to hear your ideas and experiences!

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Are hybrids right for your business?

In late October, UPS took a bold move into a greener world with the introduction of hydraulic hybrid vehicles (HHVs) to its fleet of delivery vehicles. This makes it the first package delivery company to adapt hybrid technology.

Earlier in the month, Toshiba American Medical Systems announced they would be replacing their sales and service vehicles with Toyota Camry hybrids. They hope this move will reduce CO2 emissions by as much as 25%.

The hybrids will take us closer to our goal of reducing emissions in logistics from company cars and freight by one percent each year,” said Paul Biggins, director of Regulatory Affairs and head of the TAMS’ Environmental Affairs Committee.

In 2007, Bausch & Lomb announced that their 400-vehicle fleet would be replaced by hybrids. McDonald's in the UK is running their vehicles on recycled cooking oil. And plans are underway to replace high-gas use NYC taxis with environmentally friendly hybrids, a move that is already in place in Washington D.C.

So how do you know if hybrids are a good choice for your business?

Here are some questions you need to ask:

  • How much of your company's business is conducted on the road? If company car mileage is low, the payback time on a hybrid might not make business sense. If mileage is high, especially in cities and on other secondary roads, a hybrid might reduce fuel costs significantly.

  • Can you afford to replace a large enough percentage of your fleet to make a difference? If you're running 300 vehicles, replacing a half dosen with hybrids probably won't save enough fuel to make it worth while.

  • Might switch have PR value or social value beyond the cost savings? Having your company viewed as green and earth-friendly might yield a significant boost to public image. And that could be worth more than the cost of a new hybrid vehicle.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Getting the word out about your green business

Whether your company's move to the greener side has been inspired by a deep commitment to the earth or a keen awareness of the costs of business-as-usual, you'll want to get the message out to customers and business associates. Even the most altruistic managers and business owners will want to leverage the changes into positive publicity for the company.

Let's face it: green sells.

So how and where does a business share the information about their changes? And how much change is enough to make a campaign or press release seem meaningful? Let's start with the latter -- what's enough of a change to warrant publicity.

1) The change represents a significant alternation in the way your company and/or industry did business in the past. For example, allowing two or three people to telecommute is not news. Allowing 30% of your workforce to do so IS news. Especially if your industry or region is not heavily invested in the concept at this point.

2) The change involves a technology, process or business model that arose from your company.

3) The change results in a significant or potentially significant savings in energy or a significant reduction in waste or pollution. A process change that saves one tree a year is a nice gesture, but will appear self-serving and insignificant in a press release. A technology that saves 20 trees a month is newsworthy.

Once you've determined that your news is indeed,well, news, the question of where to shout the news remains. Here are a few suggestions:

1) Targeted press releases. A number of press release services allow you to select your audience, and environmental targeting is typically one of the choices. Make sure big names in the environmental news world like the Sierra Club and the World Wildlife Fund are among the release recipients, along with newspapers in environmentally savvy regions of the country. In the U.S., that would include the Intermountain West states like Colorado, Utah and Montana, Pacific Northwestern papers and most areas of California.

2) Print and online resource publications like the National Green Pages, Treehugger or

3) Green magazines and e-zines. Magazines like Mother Earth News or Good are excellent places to discuss your new business choices. Contact their editorial staff with your story idea or submit a query for an article you'd write yourself. New green publications are being added almost daily, so check your newsstand or do an Internet search for new venues to discuss your green company.

4) Word of mouth. One of most effective ways to promote your green business is through word of mouth. Talk with people online in blogs and other social networking sites. Get your employees excited and talking. If customers are enthusiastic about the new changes, ask them to spread the word. Conversation, person to person, is the best way to build a loyal base of staff and customers.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Even executive toys are going green

It was bound to happen. Once the paper and the light bulbs and the water bottles started to go green, the extras could not be far behind.

The green business movement has even begun to impact on Executive Toys!

Environmentally savvy execs can now adorn their desk with toys that reflect their commitment to the earth. Here are a couple of the fun toys we found in our search online:

It Must Be Green

This U.K. company offers elegantly crafted executive toys that work on solar power instead of batteries. From tiny turbines to aeroplanes (airplanes) with spinning propellers, each toy would be a great conversation starter for the boss's office, or as a reward for an employee who starts a new green trend or process at work.


The business experts at G.Neil are making the move into green products, as well. Their Desktop Buddy motivational pens are made of biodegradable, corn-based plastic, and make a fun reward for employees or a light addition to an executive desk. The company also carries an extensive collection of recycled paper greeting cards for customers and employees and offer many essential personnel forms in downloadable formats so customers can print only what they need on their own recycled paper -- a process called "Just in Time Printing". The company has plans to add additional green products in the near future.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Creating a green product line in your business

With the rise in environmental awareness among consumers, many companies are scrambling to add a green product line to their selection. Even B2B companies are feeling the pinch, as more companies want to show their green side to business clients.

So how do you start a green line in your business? Here are a few ideas to get you started:

  • Look at what you already have. Are any of your products made from recycled materials? Are any of them fully recyclable? Do you have products made from earth friendly formulas, like natural citrus oil cleaners or herb-filled heat wraps? Green doesn't have to mean 100% organic and recycled...there are different levels. Pretty much whenever your product is safer, cleaner, lower in energy use or could be considered a realistic part of the "Reduce. Reuse. Recycle." triad, you have a potentially green item to promote.

  • What about your services and processes? Many businesses have employed greener practices as part of their services, manufacturing processes or in-house procedures. You may have made the change for economic reasons, but the effect is greener business. Highlight those choices in your advertising, catalogs, web sites or blogs. Mention the fact that your widgets are made in a factory that recycles 80% of its manufacturing waste. Or that the restaurant is using all natural cleaners and biodegradable paper goods. It won't change the composition of the final product, but it does make your goods arguably greener.

  • Look for greener choices to add to existing product lines. If your company sells business paper goods, find some recycled papers to add to the catalog or website.

  • Use a logo or other symbol to mark the green items. Or create an insert or special landing page that features your new and existing green products. You don't have to have a lot of green choices to make a statement, and a difference.

  • Keep up on green trends in your industry. Make a point of researching changes in practices or products in your industry. As you can, add new green items, incorporate greener practices, make green choices in new construction or equipment purchases and let your customers know what you're doing.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Restaurants are joining the green trend

Just came across this site in my green wanderings online.

Ready to Go Green?: "

When I founded the Green Restaurant Association 18 years ago, the word green was still just a color and its best-known advocate was Kermit the Frog...

It's a new blog from the Restaurants and Institutions site. It's heartening to see so many industries joining the green movement!

As a former restaurant owner, I know that restaurants are a great addition to the trend. From paper napkins and restroom supplies to cleaning products and food waste procedures, they can make a huge contribution to reducing, reusing and buying recycled.

I will be adding this new blog to our sites to watch list on the side. Thanks, Michael Oshman for your new contribution.

I also found this post on EcoSalon about what makes a restaurant green. Check it out for more tips and ideas.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Really green buildings are far too rare

What is a green building? Here's a quote from Time's Chevy sponsored blog post that sums it up perfectly:

If it meets standards for water savings, energy efficiency, materials selection and indoor environmental quality, it can be certified by a nonprofit called the U.S. Green Building Council. The council created its LEED (which stands for leadership in energy and environmental design) certification in 2000 in response to the demand for standardization in the blooming area of green architecture, says Linda Sorrento, director of education and research partnerships. The platinum LEED rating is given to buildings that can minimize their energy dependence by incorporating green principles from the ground up--say, by picking a location near mass transit and using recycled material in construction. Only 41 office buildings in the U.S. are LEED certified at the platinum level, so chances are you don't work in one. You'll know if you do because your employer will have shared the news discreetly on billboards and in full-page newspaper ads.

So why are there so few truly green buildings?

1)It's nearly impossible to retrofit existing buildings to meet the standards, especially since some of the requirements have to do with location relative to transportation.
2)The information is just not out there to encourage businesses to seek this certification
3)Sky high real estate costs in prime "green" areas mean less companies can afford to build there
4)There is no real financial incentive to build completely green, although that is changing

Even if you can't qualify for Platinum Green status, you can still make your company greener with the right building materials and energy technologies. Watch this blog for specific ideas to move your building towards a greener future.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Casual dress could make your company's botton line greener...and cheaper

The way your employees dress can affect the overhead costs...and the energy your company!

Consider traditional business attire...

Long-sleeved shirts.
Wool trousers.

People who are "dressed for success" are also dressed for air conditioning. Lots of it. Turn that thermostat even a few degrees warmer, and you'll have overheated employees. Keeping the temp lower indoors becomes a necessity.

And then in winter, women's business attire can be too chilly for keeping thermostats down. Skirts, even with pantyhose, are hardly warm. So the temp can not go too low, or employees will be shivering instead of working.

Now consider a workplace without a "dress for success" dress code.

Employees could dress in jeans. T-shirts when it's hot. Sweatshirts and hoodies when it's chilly outside. The thermostat can now be moved to a more economical setting, without affecting employee comfort.

A savings for you, and for the earth. But wait, it doesn't stop there!

  • Employees who can dress causally for work don't need to spend as much on work clothes. That a big help to everyone in these times of super high energy costs. Less financially stressed employees are better performers, according to a recent Florida State University study.
  • Casual clothing tends to involve more cotton, and less synthetics. Synthetic fabric manufacturing can involve major pollutants. Cotton is not only natural, but can even be grown organically.
  • Sneakers are a natural choice to go with casual clothes. They are also a healthier choice than business shoes, especially the heels most women wear with business attire. That could save your company money on health insurance and even reduce sick days!

Going green -- and helping your bottom line -- doesn't always have to mean big things like new equipment or changing your manufacturing process. Sometimes the little things like a pair of jeans and some sneakers can make a big difference, too.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Taking a break from green IT to talk about trees

For the past few posts, we've been talking about make the inside of your company greener. Now it's time to step outside. Look around. Look at public areas. Look at the spaces in your parking lots and next to the building. Look at planters. Look at unused land your company owns or controls.


What does the outside of your plant, store or office building look like? How much of it is pavement? How much is dirt or sand? How much is weed? How much is empty grass? How much is mulch with a plant here and there "artistically" spaced?

On the other hand:

How much is trees? How much is natural and native plants arranged in natural ways? How much is dense ground cover or large shrubs?

So which is it? Are you fervently recycling paper inside while the outside of your building is dotted with a few widely spaced decorative plants and yards and yards of resource-devouring lawn...or even worse, pavement as far as the eye can see.

Why should you care?

  • Trees and other large plants create much needed oxygen
  • They also act as scrubbers, removing toxins from the air
  • A building sheltered by trees and large scrubs will need less air conditioning, and often less heating (the trees and bushes act as a wind break, reducing the cooling of outside walls.)
  • A building surrounded by natural plantings won't be contributing to invasion of outside species of plants and will help to maintain the natural ecosystem
  • Heavily planted and naturalized landscapes use LESS water than formal, stylized landscapes. The abundance of roots and shade preserves water and reduces evaporation.
  • People who work in buildings where wooded and shaded spaces are provided for lunch tables and benches are less likely to drive elsewhere for lunch, further reducing carbon usage

What can you do?

  • Start by replacing sparse landscaping with naturalized native plantings, densely arranged to aid in water retention
  • Add growing and slow growing...where ever you can on the property
  • Replace water and chemical dependent lawns with tree shaded picnic areas, meditation benches and native ground covers

Before you start

  • Check with your county extension office for information about native plants and their growth needs, sizes and other characteristics
  • If the project seems overwhelming, hire a landscape architect who is committed to xeriscaping or native plant designs. Look at examples of his/her work to see if they are truly naturalizing or just replacing one sparse plant with another.
  • Check out the article on Tree Hugger about truly green enveloped buildings

Friday, September 26, 2008

Choose energy efficient hardware for a greener IT department

Start with the star...

The Energy Star logo is a good place to start when it's time to add new hardware to your IT department, or when you're trying to decide which laptops, desktops or servers need to go.

The Energy Star program allows businesses and consumers to find the lowest energy use electronics and appliances in a wide variety of categories. IT departments can check out existing or planned computer equipment on the Energy Star website. It even allows you to check specific upgrades for their impact on the Energy Star.

Another place to check out is the EPEAT website (Electronic Product Environmental Assessment Tool) for desktops, laptops or computer monitors. This program was developed in response to consumer demand for more information about the environmental impact of electronic equipment choices. According to their website,

EPEAT meets the needs of both the purchasing and manufacturing communities. It provides purchasers with a common standard, a way to evaluate continuing environmental improvements, and an easy way to determine which products meet the standard. It also clearly defines the environmental parameters for manufacturers to incorporate into their product design process.

Whenever possible, choose computer equipment with duel or multicore processors. These powerful processors will significantly increase computational and processing power with only a small increase in power use per machine. That could mean less machines are needed, and you'll save on both energy and equipment.

Finally, make sure your power supplies are efficient (some are rated as high as 80% efficiency) and that your systems cooling fans are working well. Choose variable speed fans for more precise energy control.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Make your IT department greener - Virtualization

One of the areas often overlooked as a business moves toward a greener business model is the IT department and its functions. But computer equipment and servers can eat up a large portion of your energy budget.

Here is the first in a series of posts offering ways to take your company's technology into a greener world, without sacrificing data processing power or storage.

Invest in Virtualization Technology

Servers and other computer hardware can be power hogs, but most businesses are utilizing only a small percentage of their sever capacity at any given time -- some experts estimate as little as 10-15%. That means that one physical machine has the capacity to run multiple programs, and indeed even multiple operating systems simultaneously. Less machines means less energy usage -- good for the earth and your bottom line!

So what is virtualization?

Today’s powerful x86 computer hardware was originally designed to run only a single operating system and a single application, but virtualization breaks that bond, making it possible to run multiple operating systems and multiple applications on the same computer at the same time, increasing the utilization and flexibility of hardware.

Virtualization is a technology that can benefit anyone who uses a computer, from IT professionals and Mac enthusiasts to commercial businesses and government organizations
-- from vmware, the pioneers in VT

Virtualization really saves energy -- and money.

A recent article in Baseline described the savings PG&E (Pacific Gas and Electric Company) realized when they replaced their high energy use systems with a virtualization model. The move allowed them to reduce their total servers from nearly 300 to about 30. That slashed overall energy use, even with an increased need for chillers to maintain server room temps around the clock.

And even with the cost of retrofitting and adaptation of space and equipment to use the new programs, the company estimated a payback of only 1-2 years, with an ROI of almost 30%.

Another plus? Less server and computer floor space means less real estate is needed for data and IT functions. That saves on overhead, including rent or mortgage, maintenance, lighting and other utilities.

Finding a virtualization program for your business

There are a variety of virtualization programs available, including several open source versions. Microsoft, vmware, and others offer adaptable VT software for use on a wide variety of operating systems. While all VT systems work on the same principle, you should talk to several companies to find the version right for your business needs.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Rewards for creating a green business

when you made the decision to make your business a green business, you probably thought of a few rewards that would come with the process:

  • Reduced energy use and energy costs

  • Less wasted paper and other office supplies

  • A reduction in employee stress with the addition of telecommuting

  • A cleaner earth

But did you know that there are financial benefits beyond the savings realized from cutting energy use and paper waste? There are federal, state and local programs that will reward your business for greener practices and more environmentally sound decisions! Some are designed for large corporations, some for small businesses and some will reward enterprises of any size for greener business practices.

Here are a few of the programs that might make going greener an even better choice for your business.

The mother of all clearing houses for environmental grants, loans, incentive programs and information about government rewards for green businesses, this site has dozens of ways to get started in funding and reaping financial benefits for your company large or small. They even include a state and local list for energy efficiency grants and assistance programs.

Federal Solar Energy rebates

This one only has a short time remaining if you want the full 30% rebate, (it drops to only 10% after 31 December 2008), but in the meantime it's a great way to get almost a third of the money back you've invested in solar power and fuel cells. There are also state programs that may add to your rebate, including the California and Arizona programs for energy efficient construction and remodeling of commercial buildings.

TIAP Coalition

An association of governmental and non-profit groups, they provide up to date information on tax incentives, rebates and rewards for the installation and use of energy efficient power sources and consumption reducing technologies.

These are just a few of the resources out there/ I'll be adding more to the list on the right as I find them. And please let me know about the resources you find so i can add them to the list.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

But that's a perfectly good desk chair!

Several years back, I worked for a large government agency in a big western state. You know, one of those states where people consider hiking boots an essential part of a business wardrobe? This was a place where green awareness was in vogue long before the rest of the country had a clear grasp on the concept of recycling.

In my office, I had a wonderful, huge, comfy desk chair. I tend to sit cross legged in my chairs, and this was ideal. One day, only a few months after I started working there, someone came around with a catalog.

"We need you to pick out your new desk chair," she said, handing me a catalog of sleek, allegedly ergonomic and decidedly small desk chairs.

"No thanks. I have the perfect chair."

"But you have to order a new one."

A few more minutes of frustrating conversation revealed the rest of the story. It seems that shortly before I started, the entire building had been re-outfitted with new desks, dividers, chairs, and shelves. My beloved chair had been overlooked. It also came out that the "old" furniture had been mostly thrown away, but some was at the state surplus for sale. After begging and pleading and extracting a promise that my chair would remain in place, I went down to the surplus building.

There, in an largely abandoned old school, were stacks and piles of beautiful solid oak desks, solid wood bookcases and file cabinets, and rows of big comfy leather chairs. All deemed by the state to be trash. Whatever did not sell that day would be sent to the landfill. That day. Sadly, I did not have the time or the means to rescue more that a couple of bookcases and a library table. But I decided to find out why all of this furniture had been scrapped.

The reason? It was not modern. It was not new. And the new department director wanted new. And sleek. He did not like wooden desks and big leather chairs. So into the trash it went. In came row after row of plastic cubicle walls adorned with hideous carpeting that was probably off-gassing toxins. In came plastic desks with no drawers and hanging bookcases that could not support more than a few books. And into the landfill went tons of oak and cherry and pine and metal and leather. Why? Because it wasn't new. That's it.

So what is the green alternative? What is the lesson here? It's a matter of priorities. Appearance or sustainability? New for the sake of new (at great expense to the taxpayers, by the way), or functional and already in place? In your green office or company:

  • Use existing desks and chairs and bookcases as long as they are functional.
  • If you need more or need replacements for broken items, look for used office furniture instead of new. Choose the earth over a sleek looking office.
  • If you need to buy new, buy only what is needed to replace or supplement current furnishings.
  • Avoid plastics and synthetics with a lot of off-gassing potential. Opt for renewable woods, glass or recycled metal components.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Making your business greeting cards earth friendly

Many businesses send greeting cards as a part of their marketing plan. And a growing number honor their employees with birthday cards, job anniversary cards and even job-well-done cards. Business greeting cards are a wonderful, and relatively inexpensive tool for keeping in touch with the people who keep your business working.

But all those cards can add up to a lot of paper. And a lot of potentially toxic inks and dyes. So is there a way to maintain the marketing power of an annual company Christmas card or the morale boosting power of wishing an employee happy birthday, and not create a mountain of wasted paper?

Look for cards that are made from recycled paper

This may seem like an obvious first step, but in reality many people shy away from the idea of recycled holiday cards because they remember the way recycled cards used to look. But the days of brown cards with poorly printed images on rough paper are long gone. Today's recycled papers are available in colors from white to pastels to deep jewel tones.

Be sure to check the percentage of recycled material used in the cards...and the envelopes.

Recycled paper can range from as low as 10% to 100% recycled content. Look for cards that utilize at least 20% post consumer waste. At this level, you'll be making a significant difference in the use of virgin paper.

Choose soy inks and avoid foil embellishments

The type of ink you choose and the embellishments use on the cards makes a big difference in whether the cards can be recycled after your clients or employees have finished with them. Soy inks and cards free from foil trim or printing can be added to recycling bins and make another trip around, reducing both paper use and landfill volumes.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

The low down on low energy bulbs

The move is on to shift from incandescent to low energy LED and CFL bulbs. For a business looking for a way to reduce their carbon footprint and reduce overhead expenses, these low energy use bulbs are a popular choice.

So what are the pros and cons of low energy bulbs?

  • On average, a low energy bulb uses about 20% of the electricity of a standard incandescent bulb.

  • The older low energy bulbs with their annoying flicker have been replaced with new designs that eliminate the flicker, and allow for dimming.

  • LED lights, which provide the brightest, cleanest light and the longest life are being designed to illuminate larger areas.

  • The UK and several U.S. states are looking at legislation to ban traditional incandescent bulb, so making the switch now could save a rush to adapt later.

But there are some drawbacks

  • Low energy bulbs last longer but they also cost more -- in some regions, a lot more

  • CFL bulbs contain mercury, which can be hazardous if they break. It can also present disposal issues.

  • LED bulbs are only available in a uni-directional design at this time.

  • Adapters are needed to use alternative bulbs in some fixtures and lamps. And some lamp shades do not work with alternative bulbs.

Businesses considering making the switch should look at the availability of low energy bulbs in their area, the cost of the new bulbs, the ability of new bulbs to work in existing fixtures, and the net savings from making the switch.

There are few websites to help you with information about low energy bulbs, including Carbon Footprint and Energy Saving Trust. Check out more sites in our sidebar.

Monday, September 8, 2008

Reducing employee energy usage

What part of your employees' daily activity uses the most energy? It is paper? Lighting? Computer and other equipment power?

Nope. It's commuting to and from work. Traveling from home to work and back again, plus any errands and lunch runs uses 10-20 times more energy than any other aspect of your company's carbon footprint. And yet most companies are still operating the way businesses did decades ago when onsite was the only way work could get done, and WiFi didn't exist.

Why? Why isn't telecommuting the norm instead of the rare exception? The biggest problems are habit (we've always done it this way), fear (how will anything get done), and misinformation. Ready for the facts?

Here are some myths about daily on site work, and some facts to help you make better decisions for your company, your employees and the earth.

Myth #1 Gasoline costs don't come out of company funds, so there is no need for a business to address it.

Fact: If employees are feeling the pinch, it's a certainty that your company will be hurt. A study at Florida State University found that as costs go up, employee productivity goes down. And that hurts your company's bottom line. When employees are having trouble paying their bills, including the cost at the gas pump, their ability to focus on work tasks will be impaired. That could mean less attention to detail, more rejected product or more accidents. And that costs your business real money. Saving employees money on gas and tolls can save your company money, too.

And the reduced commuting means less oil use, less air pollution and less new roads cutting through what's left of our green spaces.

Myth #2 If we let people work from home, they're going to be watching soap operas and walking their dog instead of working.

Fact: Employees working from home are actually MORE productive than their in-the-office counterparts doing the same job. Studies of this phenomenon have credited everything from reduced family stress to the absence of an exhausting commute. Plus the money remote employees save works like an instant raise, too -- that's also been credited for the higher productivity levels. Job commitment and retention also increased for employees allowed to work from home.

Myth 3# There is no way to evaluate the work of people who work at home, because we can't see what they're doing or how long they're doing it.

Fact: Warming a chair for a given number of hours a day was never a good measure of performance, so why are we trying to link at-home work to such an unreliable metric? Most jobs that work well for remote assignment involve some measurable performance goal...customer calls handled, reports or articles completed, items assembled. Whether it takes an employee 3 hours or 10 hours to complete the same level of work an onsite employee produces each day should be irrelevant. As long as the work is completed correctly and on time, you have your metric.

Myth #4 Providing computers, printers and WiFi for at-home employees would cost too much.

Fact: Many people already have the necessary tools for working at home. And even if you need to provide basics like a laptop and a WiFi connection, the investment is small compared to the huge potential energy and real estate savings your company will reap by allowing people to work where they live. In fact, the net energy usage per off site employee is usually far less than per on site employee, since homes seldom have the high ceilings, corridors and public spaces like lunch rooms most corporation must heat, air condition, light and maintain! So the earth benefits, too!

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Green solutions for paper

One of the most common sources of waste in an office is paper. Fortunately, it's also one of the easiest eco-problems to address. Here are some tips for reducing the environmental impact of paper use in your office:

1) Switch from virgin paper to recycled paper for copiers, printers, and notepads. The Conservatree site has an excellent list of copier papers , along with their recycled content, availability and color choices.

2) Find downloadable or printable sources for common business forms, required employee paperwork and other paper products you would ordinarily buy in packages. Not only will you have the option of printing them on 100% recycled paper, you'll avoid the waste that occurs when official forms change before you've used up the package. And you'll avoid the materials used in packing and shipping.

3) Choose green sources for paper goods you have to buy. From labor law posters and job applications to file folders and business greeting cards, there are now green providers for most paper office products.

4) Make "Reduce, Reuse, Recycle" standard business practice. Encourage less printing. Many documents can be read, edited and shared electronically. Make printing a last resort. Encourage employees to reuse unwanted papers as scratch paper. Provide recycling bins and teach employees what goes in which bin. Look for more green ideas in the article "Going green in your business."

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Starting from the ground up

Going green at work...where do you start?

If your business is just beginning to move towards a more environmentally friendly style of business, the choices can seem overwhelming. There is the paper you use, the plastic bags you send home with customers, the light bulbs that illuminate your office....


Choose one thing. What does your company use the most?

If it's the printed word, start with paper.

If it's sales or manufacturing, begin with the packaging.

If it's a call center, perhaps lighting.

Take one thing. Just one. Change that.

Switch the copiers to 2-sided mode. Buy paper with a high recycled content. Place recycling bins next to the copiers and throughout the building.

For the next 30 days, just do this one thing. Combine the changes with education. Tell your employees (or customers or vendors) why you are making this change. Enlist their help.

Start there. You have already made a difference.