Sustainability Efforts to Help SMBs Improve Efficiency and Gain a Competitive Edge

By leveraging an array of technologies and practices, smaller companies can find ways to improve workflows, increase productivity, cut costs, and enhance business performance—all while running a more energy efficient operation.

When you think about corporate sustainability efforts, large global enterprises often come to mind because of the huge environmental impact these organizations can have due to the size and scope of operations. But sustainability is by no means limited to these corporate behemoths; it should be a priority for small and medium businesses (SMBs) too. By leveraging an array of technologies and practices, smaller companies can find ways to improve workflows, increase productivity, cut costs, and enhance business performance—all while running a more energy efficient operation.

Based on recent industry research, sustainability is clearly on the radar for a majority of SMBs. Manta, one of the largest online resources dedicated to small business, surveyed 1,174 small business owners online in April 2016, and 93% said sustainability is important to their business.

Those that have initiatives in place are deploying a variety of sustainability solutions. Among them are cloud computing; server and storage virtualization; software-defined data centers; networking and storage; telecommuting; and installing more energy efficient office equipment.

Leveraging the Cloud

Cloud services have forever changed the way small businesses can provide IT services to end users and offer access to data and applications. By creating an IT infrastructure that resides largely in a hosted cloud (whether it’s a private or public cloud), companies can greatly reduce their reliance on hardware such as servers and storage platforms. 

By largely replacing on-premises equipment with network-accessible services, the cloud is transforming the concept of the data center. And the traditional data center has been among the biggest corporate consumers of energy. According to a 2016 report by the U.S. Department of Energy's Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, in 2014 data centers in the U.S. consumed an estimated 70 billion kilowatt hours (kWh), representing about 1.8% of total U.S. electricity consumption.

Based on current trend estimates, U.S. data centers are projected to consume about 73 billion kWh in 2020. A combination of efficiency trends has resulted in a relatively steady U.S data center electricity demand over the past five years, the report said. “Along with the energy efficiency resource already achieved, there are additional energy efficiency strategies and technologies that could significantly reduce data center electricity use below the approximately 73 billion kWh demand projected in 2020,” it said.

Among these strategies is greater use of the cloud, as well as server and storage virtualization. Software to virtualize IT hardware has been around for years, and it would be wise for SMB leaders to consider deploying virtualization if they have not done so already.

The deployment of virtualization technology among SMBs is on the rise, according to a 2015 report from Techaisle, an SMB IT market research firm. The firm’s SMB Server Virtualization adoption market trends study showed that U.S. SMB server virtualization penetration had reached 54%, up from 41% two years earlier.

Software-Defined Everything

Among the latest technologies that can help SMBs in their sustainability efforts are software-defined data center, software-defined networks and software-defined storage platforms. In these types of environments, the management and control of storage, networking, or data center infrastructure is automated by intelligent software rather than by hardware components. Because there’s less hardware involved, energy consumption is reduced.

There is growing demand for software-defined technology solutions, as organizations look to increase the efficiency of their data centers and reduce costs. Having software-defined capabilities lets companies increase automation in the data center and also cut hardware costs. The technology also provides greater agility through the faster re-provisioning of resources. 

Research firm International Data Corp. (IDC) in February 2016 projected that the worldwide software-defined networking (SDN) market, comprising physical network infrastructure, virtualization/control software, SDN applications, and professional services will be worth nearly $12.5 billion in 2020.

Software-defined networking continues to gain market traction as an innovative architectural model that’s capable of enabling automated provisioning, network virtualization, and network programmability for data centers, the firm said.

Working From Home

Technology advancements, including the increased availability of higher bandwidth connections and the growing use of mobile devices, has made telecommuting much more feasible for many workers—and this can contribute to SMB sustainability efforts because employees are not commuting to work and companies can operate with less office space.

According to January 2016 statistics from Global Workplace Analytics, a firm that helps organizations and communities understand and communicate the business case for emerging workplace strategies, 3.7 million employees (or 2.8% of the workforce) now work from home at least half the time. Half of the US workforce holds a job that is compatible with at least partial telework, which Global Workplace Analytics defines as the substitution of technology for travel.

Finally, small and midsize businesses can bolster their sustainability efforts through the use of more energy efficient office equipment, such as energy efficient lighting that operates on timers or motion sensors and replacing desktops with laptops. They can also deploy printers that reduce the carbon footprint and use less energy.

HP PageWide printers can aid in an SMBs goal to become more sustainable organizations. This new category in professional printing can decrease carbon footprint by up to 55% per printer, use up to 84% less energy than comparable printers, and generate up to 90% less in supplies and packaging waste. 

For businesses seeking advanced printing solutions, only HP PageWide printers can deliver the fastest speeds, affordable color printing, and at a surprisingly lower cost than expected. It all adds up to best-in-class total cost of ownership.