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Green IT: Reaching the Small Business Market

Green IT: Reaching the Small Business Market

Most of the attention devoted to so-called green IT initiatives. (efforts to save money and promote sustainability by encouraging more efficient use of IT and support equipment), has centered on the enterprise market. However, small business owners can gain cost savings and efficiency improvements from green IT by considering power and sustainability factors when they use and purchase technology products and services.

For small businesses, going green doesn't mean using both sides of a sticky note or lighting an office only with the glow from a PC monitor. Small business owners can take a number of small steps designed to promote sustainability that not only help the broader environment, but can also lead to direct savings on the cost of the energy needed to power and cool IT equipment.

For instance, using laptop PCs instead of desktop towers and monitors can offer dramatic energy savings, since most laptops use about half the energy needed to power a desktop and a monitor. If you're going to use a PC monitor, flat-screen models use less energy (and desk space) than old-style CRT monitors.

One of the easiest and most effective ways to reduce a small business' energy cost is to get in the habit of turning off equipment that's not being used. Copiers and fax machines are among the most voracious consumers of office electricity, because they're typically left on overnight "just in case" they're needed. One estimate suggests an office copier that sits idle overnight uses the same amount of electricity as it would take to make 1,500 copies.

Unless a batch process is running overnight, most PCs, printers and copiers that would otherwise sit idle can safely be turned off. A PC left on around-the-clock, for instance, wastes about $150 a year in electricity costs. Most of the energy consumed by idle office equipment is used by cooling fans, which is ironic considering the equipment probably didn't need to be on.

A number of power-management equipment suppliers sell products designed to help small businesses reduce their energy consumption. This can include "smart" power strips that can detect when a PC enters "sleep mode," and then turn off the power to connected peripherals such as printers or scanners.

Hosted applications can also help a small business owner reduce IT and energy-related costs. Using hosted CRM applications or creating documents with online word-processing programs such as Google Docs or Zoho Writer can help a business reduce its use of servers or other in-house storage devices.

Purchase Considerations

The Energy Star program operated by the U.S. Department of Energy has developed energy use guidelines for technology products including PCs and servers, monitors, printers and multifunction devices, external power adapters and more. To earn the Energy Star label, products have to meet standards for power consumption and management, such as the ability to place a computer or a monitor into a low-power "sleep mode" if a device hasn't been used actively for a specified time period.

Energy Star products are also designed to operate at lower temperatures, which in turn can help a business save on air-conditioning and cooling costs. Printers, scanners and other imaging devices that meet the latest Energy Star specifications (adopted July 1, 2009) typically use 25 to 60 percent less energy than other devices, and can save an estimated $115 in energy costs over their life.

Used IT equipment can also boost a business' green IT efforts. Advocates says purchasing used servers, for instance, can help a business save money by recycling a device that, while perhaps not powerful enough for a large enterprise, can serve the needs of a smaller company nicely. One potential drawback to this approach, however, is that an older server is likely to be less energy-efficient than a newer device.

Printing Savings

Printing offers another opportunity for cost savings. Printing on both sides of a sheet of paper is an obvious suggestion, but small business owners can also reduce costs by printing documents using the "fast" or "draft" setting, or printing color documents in grayscale mode. Although the difference in the appearance of the output won't be dramatic, switching to the lower-quality setting can mean using as much as 50 percent less ink for a printed document.

Buying printers with built-in wireless networking allows users to share computers easily, which can reduce the number of idle printers consuming energy while waiting for print jobs to be submitted.

Recycling used ink and toner cartridges also promotes sustainability, and can lead to cost savings. Many leading office-supply stores accept empty cartridges for recycling, and may offer coupons or other incentives to encourage recycling.

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