Survey: Technology key to SMBs' green strategy

Research finds that 63 percent of small-to-midisze companies employing green tech enjoy savings of $19,200 on average

Motivated to help the environment as well as their businesses, SMBs are increasingly embracing green practices. One of their primary approaches: employing green technology, according to recently released survey results from KRC Research.

Among IT decision makers at 250 small businesses (those with fewer than 50 employees), 69 percent said that having environmentally friendly practices was important to their businesses. As to the driving reasons, 44 percent said they were embracing sustainability for the good of the planet; the same cumulative percentage cited business reasons such as reducing costs (25 percent), improving brand perception (eight percent), improving productivity (eight percent), and luring and retaining new talent (three percent).

Given that the respondents were IT decision makers, it shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise nearly all them, 94 percent, agreed that "technology is an important tool to help conserve the environment." On top of that, 82 percent said that technology is a cost-effective way to help their company be environmentally friendly.

The IT decision makers noted which environmentally friendly technologies are currently in use at their respective organizations. At the top of the list, used by 76 percent of the respondents, was mobile technology. To be completely honest, I don't know how mobile technology in and of itself can be considered green -- with the possible exception of using a laptop computer instead of a PC-monitor combo. A laptop uses less energy, plus it's more portable, meaning employees could use it both for working at home and at the office. That eliminates the need for redundant systems.

Another 68 percent of the respondents said their companies are using PC power management. That's a fairly heartening statistic, though I certainly hope to see more companies embrace the technology. To me, it's a no-brainer investment because it has such as easy-to-calculate, positive ROI. PCs have built-in power management already, so IT admins at small orgs could easily turn it on free of charge, though that approach could be more difficult to enforce. Alternatively, they could invest in software for $25 per license and up from vendors such as Verdiem, BigFix, Autonomic Software, or KACE. Considering you can save $25 and up per year per computer (I've seen some data saying it can reach as high as $75 per computing), the savings are evident.

Back to the survey, half the respondents said their companies allow employees to telecommute. Telecommuting can indeed help a company be greener: It means employees are emitting fewer greenhouse gasses driving to and from work (and saving a nice wad of cash in the process). They're also using fewer company resources to power their systems. Plus, it can result in cost savings through lower real estate costs for companies.

[ Find out how Sun has benefited from its telework program by reading "Sun, employees find big savings from Open Work telecommuting program" ]

Other green technologies being employed by SMBs include upgrading to energy-efficient technology (43 percent) and employing Internet-based meetings for activities such as giving presentations (42 percent), which presumably reduces travel-related expenses and waste.

Beyond asking the respondents which green technologies their companies currently used, KRC asked them what they thought were the top technologies for being environmentally friendly and saving money. Tops on the list, cited by 44 respondents: the paperless office.

This finding surprises me: I didn't think the paperless office was on so many people's radar, as some analysts dismiss it as an unattainable goal. But technologies such as electronic document management, e-signatures, supply chain automation, HR software, and printer-management software can all help cut paper waste at an organization.

Second on the list of promising green technologies was PC power management, mentioned by 28 percent of the respondents. Next was allowing telecommuting, cited by 26 percent of the pool. Sixteen percent said that upgrading server infrastructure to the most energy-efficient technology available was the most eco-friendly, money-saving effort. Another 16 percent said "using more software to streamline operations." 15 percent mentioned using mobile technology, while 14 percent said conducting live meetings over the Web.

Perhaps one of the largest looming questions in the minds of IT decision makers is, can green save you money? Judging by the survey responses, the answer is mostly yes: 63 percent of the respondents reported that green practices save them some cash -- an average of $19,200, according to the survey results. 17 percent said it didn't cost them or save them any money. Another 13 percent said it cost them money.