SMBs Continue Investment in Green Technology

It isn't always easy to be green, but the future for energy-efficient small businesses is improving, and midmarket companies are continuing their investment in green IT--despite the economic downturn.

A global study sponsored by technology giant IBM found most midmarket companies most have initiatives underway that will reduce the environmental impact of their information technology. Almost two-thirds of all companies say they are currently, or are planning within the next 12 months, to add virtualization technology to their servers, consolidate storage systems, or retrofit their server rooms.
The study, conducted by Info-Tech Research Group, is based on a survey of more than 1,000 information technology executives at companies with between 100 and 1,000 employees across industries and in a dozen countries including the United States, Canada, France, Germany, India, and the United Kingdom.
The study found companies typically fall into one of four Green IT personalities; green advocates, smart spenders, green observers and green seekers. Green advocates, companies that integrate environmental considerations into all areas of their business made up about 25 percent of the companies surveyed.
Smart spenders make up 38 percent of the survey group and are defined as SMBs willing to make upfront investments of long-term cost reduction is viable. Green observers, who make up 30 percent of the survey group, do not have specific environmental goals and need management support for green initiatives. Green seekers, at 7 percent, are interested in adopting consumption-conscious technology but are unsure of where to start and how to quantify results.
"This study demonstrates the clear connection between meeting environmental goals, reducing expenses and driving change that can foster innovation and growth," said IBM's general manager of global midmarket sales Marc Dupaquier. "IBM offers services, hardware and software that can help midsize companies be both greener and leaner."
Ron Kline, IBM General Business director of marketing, said some of the results of the survey surprised him, like Europe's lack of progress on installing remote conferencing, collaboration and telecommuting technologies. "At IBM we've found that these technologies reduce our office space requirements and provide employees with a more flexible work environment," he said.
Controlling cost is the strongest factor driving all 11 initiatives. The reasons most often cited for undertaking environmentally friendly IT projects is decreased electricity use, followed by decreased consumables use, increased features and functionality for the business, decreased future operational expenses or investments, meeting customers' demands and realizing credits or rebates from local utilities and governments.
Saving electricity requires the measurement of IT electrical consumption, something many companies cannot do. However, the survey finds more than 50 percent of companies have implemented some form of energy measurement for their information technology infrastructure, and about one-quarter plan to do so in the year ahead.
As the survey noted, the concept of going "green" has generated a lot of hype among companies interested in realizing business, environmental and corporate reputation benefits. Green IT initiatives, in particular, present SMBs with the opportunity to reduce their carbon footprint while also reducing costs.
"Based upon this research and my other experiences, I think that Green IT initiatives will continue to be important, because a large majority of these initiatives are based upon reducing energy consumption or expense around facilities, and these carry a strong ROI," Kline said. "Mid-sized businesses around the world see an opportunity: By adopting initiatives that have a positive effect on the environment, they save money, and at the same time, use technology more efficiently."
Interestingly, when respondents were asked to weigh the importance placed on business benefits against environmental benefits, the split was approximately 60:40 in favor of business motivators - both before and after the implementation phase. The slight slant towards business motivators substantiates the common sentiment among companies that green IT initiatives must yield financial returns in order to get the green light.
Countries with some of the highest fuel prices in the world have not, up to this point, turned to remote conferencing and telecommuting initiatives to reduce both cost and environmental impact. The survey found while 50-60 percent of North American, British, Indian and Brazilian businesses are up and running with telecommuting and virtual conferencing capabilities, Germany, France, and, to a lesser extent, the Nordic countries have been slower to adopt these technologies.
Initiatives intended to reduce travel are clearly receiving the most attention from geographically "big" countries over the next 12 months. From Brazil to Canada, more than 30 percent of businesses will aggressively pursue remote conferencing and telecommuting strategies.
Virtualization is also being perceived as a major step in a green direction. The rate of server virtualization across most regions (with an average implementation rate of 48 percent) is evidence that initiatives with a business case comprised of clear cost savings and environmental benefits will win first. For new initiatives to gain acceptance from stakeholders who may be skeptical, a clear case for cost containment, savings or other business benefits must be made first.
IT recycling is also gaining traction: Overall, 56 percent of the companies surveyed have either completed or are implementing outdated hardware recycling programs. Approximately 23 percent of IT departments report plans to adopt IT equipment recycling and energy measurement practices within the next 12 months.
In general, companies thinking about implementing a Green IT project should consider that the majority of implementations are considered successful. In 65 percent of all implementations, the study found organizations' initial goals for these projects are met or exceeded. In other words, businesses usually accomplish what they set out to do, and realized additional benefits they weren't expecting.
Green Cells
An ABI Research report on the mobile communications market suggests the mobile industry is going green as well. The report forecasts that in 2009 over 800,000 base stations will utilize alternative energy solutions such as wind or solar energy, and that nearly 70 million mobile devices will be ethically disposed of or will be recycled in 2009.
Small businesses looking to make a positive impact on the environment can often start with something as eco-friendly mobile communications devices and recycling handsets (as well as office appliances) that need to be replaced. At this year's Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, for example, LG and Samsung debuted solar-powered handsets. Samsung even went a step further, manufacturing the "Blue Earth" handset from recycled plastic bottles.