"Plastic or paper?" We're used to making that choice every time we go to the market, and it's not an easy choice. Do we use everlasting plastic or tree-killing paper? The same kind of choice faces us when we market our products and services: paper or electronic? Do we market with email or snail mail?
That, too, is a tough choice.
Computers use up to 10 percent of the electricity generated in North America, according to Susanne Hasulo
, a blogger for Microsoft. Think about that: All those lights and stoves and factories but computers use 10 percent.
Globally, spam uses 33 billion kilowatt-hours of electricity annually, according to Carbon Footprint of Spam,
a report by McAfee, maker of computer security systems, and ICF International. That's equivalent to the electricity used in 2.4 million homes
in the United States and generates the same amount of green house gas emissions as 3.1 million passenger cars
using two billion gallons of gasoline.
Email, it seems, is not necessarily green.
So what's the conscientious leader of a small business or nonprofit to do?
First, minimize the impact of computers. Yes, that means turning them off -- even unplugging them - at night. Just turn off the power strip. Require your staff to set computer options so the computer "sleeps" when not used for 10 minutes. It may take a few more seconds to start back up but approximately 40 percent of the energy used for home electronics is consumed while these devices are turned off or idling, again according to Microsoft's Hasulo.
That's not just bad for the environment, it's bad for your bottom line.
So, too, is throwing away paper that has been printed on only one side. Double-sided printing uses less paper and a double-sided document will cost less to mail.
That's the easy part. To really save the environment - and money - you need to plan ahead. Think about the impact of what you are doing. Use restraint. Here are a few things to consider:
Target the right audience. A well planned campaign is more effective. It may take time up front but it will cost less in wasted mailings (i.e. saves trees) and gives you a better return on investment in the long run.
Moderation is key. Too much electronic mail may be viewed as spam. Make people look forward to your few, but pithy, e-mails.
When putting together a mailing or other printed material, work with the print shop to get the right paper for the job. A good printer will know how to minimize waste with the paper he uses.
Choose your vendors well. Use a graphic designer who knows how to make the best use of paper size, chooses recycled materials, and is willing to work with the print shop.
"Cold calling" by email goes straight to spam. Don't do that to your business's good name.
Use odd-sized post cards, which cost less to mail than traditional letters and don't use envelopes. The odd size will stand out so there's a better chance it will be looked at.
When printing out web pages, print only the pages you need. Check out software programs such as GreenPrint
(free to nonprofits) that eliminate unwanted images or text.
Try soy based inks, which are environmentally friendly and renewable.
Finally, let your customers know about the steps you take. People prefer to do business with socially conscious businesses.
A study by Cone Research found that supporting a good cause attracts customers. Seventy-nine percent of those surveyed indicated that they would switch to a brand associated with a good cause. This is especially true of younger customers -- the ones you'll be doing business with for years to come. Among GenY, 88 percent said they'd switch to a brand associated with a good cause.
What do you do to reduce the carbon footprint of your business? What are you going to start doing?