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.