Posted on November 15, 2008
The growth of the Internet world as a means for producing revenue and gainful employment has provided those in it a unique opportunity. Rare is it to find an industry where one can produce little in the way of non-recycleable garbage and can easily and painlessly offset the negative impact they have on the world. Can those involved with the oil industry claim to be eco-friendly? Certainly not (though nothing against them – like it or not we need oil to keep our society running … for now). Can even the food industry with the chemicals they use and the methane they produce claim to be eco-friendly? For the most part … no (though again, no problems here with the people who produce our food).
The Internet world however has opened up new doors where one can reduce their footprint significantly and offset that which cannot be eliminated. As we at Beanstalk have constantly strived to reduce our footprint and have just recently purchased carbon offsets to "zero out" that which we cannot eliminate, I thought it well-timed to write an article on the ease and relative low cost of doing this in hopes that other businesses would follow suit.
First, let's take a look at a problem.
I'm sure I don't have to tell you that global warming is an issue. In case you need more information on this you simply need to watch the news. But that's not the problem, that's the symptom – the problem is pollution and the rapid production of greenhouse gases. Or is that a symptom too? I would present to you that perhaps the production of greenhouse gases is in itself a symptom of another problem, a problem we all succumb to too often – the problem being that the issues seem to large to fix.
When one looks at the issue of global warming one can't help but think of the issue as too large to be tackled. The problem is similar to recycling (also important). What difference is one little scrap of paper going to make in the garbage can? When 7 billion people do it, quite a bit is the answer.
Second, let's take a look at a solution.
I've got to tip my hat to Google and other massive companies that put up solar panels and invest millions of dollars to reduce their impact on the world. Unfortunately Beanstalk is not as blessed as the fine folks at Google and we just don't have those kinds of resources to "go green". So what can we do?
Here are some steps that Internet companies can take to help further reduce and/or offset their impact on the world around them. Before I get into that I'd like to extend a big thanks to Erik Blachford over at TerraPass for answering some questions for me and providing additional information for this article and how we can all help out.
1. Reduce paper consumption – One of the easiest things we did at Beanstalk was to reduce our paper consumption. We print double-sided when possible, we use the reverse side of paper for note paper when we can and we always make sure to reuse any paper possible.
2. Recycle whatever possible – There's the recyclables that we all know about and can recycle conveniently on the curb. The papers and aluminum and plastics. There are recycling programs available however for a ton of other products that we often don't think of. From soft plastics (all those plastic bags and even the plastic covers on the CD sleeves your hardware drivers come on) to Styrofoam – most everything can be recycled. Even your old computers and the batteries that power your wireless devices. It might cost a bit to drop off or have picked up but how much is your planet worth?
3. Offset your impact – Companies such as TerraPass enable others to offset the carbon emissions they produce through transportation, heating and electricity and create clean energy in an amount that will reduce future carbon dioxide emissions by an equal amount. Basically, this enables you to zero out your impact. Of course, producing less pollution and carbon dioxide is the best option but you're running an Internet business – you need power (if for nothing else than for your web hosting). Now we can offset this impact in a positive way.
For years we at Beanstalk have sought to fulfill the first two items in this list. This year we have added in the third and would invite others to do the same. The more we do now, the better the world we leave for those coming after.
Rather than babble on further about all you can do, I'm going to simply put some of the better Q&A information I got from Erik at TerraPass and provide some resources to help those of you who would like to make their office (even if it's a home office) a greener place.
Q&A With Erik Blachford:
Q - What can businesses do to help reduce their emissions?
A - The first step is to measure emissions, which most of our Carbon Balanced Business customers do using our website calculator (www.terrapass.com/business). For most businesses, the main sources of emissions are from things like office or manufacturing energy usage, employee travel and commuting, data centers, and the like. Once businesses have done the calculations, they are in a great position to understand where they make reductions. For example a company whose employees travel often can look for opportunities to combine multiple trips into one, saving on plane rides (saves the company money as well), or skip trips altogether. And a surprising number of companies can save energy in obvious ways such as turning the lights off at night (if the janitorial staff comes through at night, perhaps they can be rescheduled to come during the day). Another popular idea is to provide employees incentives, monetary or otherwise, to take public transportation, ride bikes or walk to work. Quite often companies are already providing subsidies for employee parking, so this again can be a way for businesses to save both the environment and some money.
Q - Internet businesses tend to produce far less waste than most other industries in the form of paper and other waste products. Is electricity really that big a source of pollution?
A - Yes it is, especially for companies that run data centers, though it depends on where the companies and data centers are located. Companies in Quebec, Canada for example are likely getting virtually all of their power from Hydro Quebec, so would have a very low carbon footprint, whereas those in a US state like West Virginia get virtually all of their power from coal-fired power plants, so have very high carbon footprints for their energy use. Electricity is about 79.5% of carbon emissions from commercial energy consumption. Author's Note: This is not to say that people in Quebec should waste energy. That which they don't use can be used elsewhere thus reducing the footprint of other areas. In fact, this is one of the fundamentals of carbon offsets. That which can be created cleanly should be used to offset that which cannot.
Q - What is a carbon offset?
A - I would say "a carbon offset represents an independently verified permanent registered reduction of carbon dioxide emissions in an amount equal to the emissions that are being offset.
Other Important Resources For A Green Office
Tip For A Greener Office – An article by the Environmental Defense Fund with some great tips for a more environmental office. We try to follow as many of these tips as possible ourselves. I recommend that you do the same (and it's pretty easy – they're all common sense).
Going Green At Work – Discovery Channel's Planet Green offers these ten tips for going green in the office. Again, common sense but then – the right thing usually is.
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