Top seven sustainable business practices

A few years ago, I worked at a communications company and was part of a team that was tasked to develop the firm’s messaging on its sustainability practices. Looking back on that work I’m embarrassed to admit what we developed.

We touted the firm’s reduction in printing documents, the elimination of paper coffee cups in the cafeteria, and the subsidizing of eco bus passes. We were mighty proud of our database that supported ride sharing, with dedicated parking spaces close to the door for carpool vans, and the bike racks right next to them. Yes, these are all important elements of a business’ effort to move to more sustainable business practices. However, the small actions are so trivial relative to what can be that they should be considered table stakes, not strides in the sustainable direction.

So what are sustainable business practices? Keeping in mind that this blog emphasizes technology-based sustainability I recommend firms consider some or all of the following:

1. Eliminate 50 percent to 75 percent of your office space. There is ample research available that supports the idea that the virtual worker is highly productive. Technologies such as VPNs, cloud-based solutions, mobile computing devices, and conference bridges are all excellent tools that support the work flow as well as collaboration. A friend of mine at Cisco Systems told me over 45 percent of office space is unused, yet consumes lighting, heating, and cooling resources, and is included in the lease square footage. That’s a significant amount of wasted money just to support an image and company footprint.

2. Redefine business travel. Video conferencing is a viable means for conducting business travel. There are times when a high definition version is required, but the bulk of video conferencing does not require a quarter million dollar solution. The cost benefit is significant: elimination of airline tickets, rental cars, hotel rooms, parking, and per diem expenses. By not traveling, an associate has the opportunity to touch more customers in a given day, whether using video with all, or only some contacts. Watch for future posts on the cost benefit analysis of video conferencing technology.

3. Eliminate desktop computing devices. Those software application licensing fees are killing your IT budget. We won’t mention the pain associated with licensing updates, patching, security updates, and complete OS upgrades. Keeping track of technology refreshes on a per user basis borders on insane. Will this desktop support the new software release? Will this software still integrate with their other business critical applications? Why would you want to put the IT team through this exercise? Go to cloud based computing on the most frequently used applications. Working in the cloud supports license pools. Rather than a 1:1 relationship of license to user, it is possible your firm might be able to use a 1:3 ratio. Using netbooks reduces the cost of desktop computing by nearly two thirds. There will be many more posts on cloud based computing, so stay tuned.

4. Are storage and backups an issue for your company? Are you constantly running out of space? This is a common lament for firms of all sizes. For a business seeking to combine technology and sustainability, use the cloud for storage and backups. This eliminates the need to regularly seek funding for storage devices. A storage service provider can work with your firm to determine the optimal storage media for all your needs. There is no need to keep everything on disk, tape is perfectly acceptable for archiving. The service provider will also work with you on data deduplication, reducing the overall storage footprint required for the company. Face it, that huge 100 Mb corporate PowerPoint slide deck, plus all its iterations, resides in at least 20 different email accounts. Seriously, using a storage service provider is one of the smartest moves you can make to save money, improve business continuity and disaster recovery, and reduce your firm’s overall storage technology footprint on the planet.

5. Standardize on communication devices. There is an amazing amount of money thrown away to telecom providers due to too many contracts to negotiate and monitor. Pick a provider, seek support for WiFi, pooled minutes, video support and the applications critical to your business such as email and document sharing. Consider also the opportunity to leverage virtual home office support in your communications contract. There are firms that will help you do contract negotiations to optimize the relationship.

6. Focus on supporting collaboration. Companies grow through innovative products and services. Collaboration across different business units, geographies, channel partners, and distributors opens the door to developing solutions that meet customer requirements. Apple’s Steve Jobs may think customers want to be told what they want, but in reality, businesses have real business problems that need to be solved. A collaborative environment opens the door to looking at the problem from a wide variety of angles. Collaborative environments include some or all of the following: desktop sharing capabilities, video support, audio bridge support, document sharing. These tools do not require any travel and work across every time zone on the planet. They maximize the intellectual capital of the firm without putting any of it at risk.

7. Emphasize security. There are several dozen ways for white collar crime to take place within an organization. To mitigate the opportunity or temptation, focus on a layered security approach. Identity management and role-based access controls are a must-have. The security afforded by a SAS 70 Type II compliant data center is significantly more stringent than anything you can possibly build out at your facility and expense. Setting aside the obvious sustainability and business continuity benefits of a virtual work environment, the security support alone should be enough to drive most firms to a virtual data center work environment.

These are only a small number of suggestions for meshing technology and sustainability. They go well beyond the conversion of paper to ceramic coffee cups. They are real technology-enabled solutions that address business needs in a sustainable manner.

None of these examples are overnight implementations, but with the application of project planning against business objectives and in partner with the IT group each suggestion can bring the firm significant business and environmental value. We’ll cover the idea of incrementalization in a future post.

Share your examples of how your firm has implemented technology to improve the business and achieve sustainable practices.
{pagebreak:Page 1}

Categories: Management & Leadership