You, too, can be an accidental environmentalist

As you can imagine, those of who write about green issues receive a lot of pitches, many of which portray themselves as compelling stories of how some company or another has saved money by deciding to be green. The truth is that most of these businesses really weren't that focused on the green element when they looked into adopting some new piece of IT infrastructure or embracing a program to help cut back on paper.

As you can imagine, those of who write about green issues receive a lot of pitches, many of which portray themselves as compelling stories of how some company or another has saved money by deciding to be green. The truth is that most of these businesses really weren't that focused on the green element when they looked into adopting some new piece of IT infrastructure or embracing a program to help cut back on paper. They were simply trying to save money; being green using technology was a fringe benefit. One they're exploiting after the fact.

Mind you, there is NOTHING WRONG WITH THIS. I think now more than ever, the cost-savings message associated with technology that ALSO happens to have a positive environmental impact is what tech companies SHOULD highlight foremost. Not that there's anything bad with emphasizing the green message prominently, it just needs a stronger justification on the money side.

Two cases in point from two companies that I spoke with last week.

The first, Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory, reports that it has saved itself about $80,000 per year in power costs by adopting Sun x64 systems to replace a 200-system cluster.

Paul Henderson, head of systems and network integration, said the lab started contemplating the project in 2004 and 2005 (way before the hype-ness of the green hype) and was actually looking more for "robust and reliable technology" than anything else. The sorts of experiments that the facility runs are highly sensitive. The fact that the dual-core Opteron technology that Princeton Plasma opted to buy resulted in a 300 percent to 400 percent increase in performance AND the aforementioned power-consumption savings AND took up less space to boot, was a "great surprise," Henderson admits.

Likewise, Best Western agreed to participate in a pilot of a new program in direct mail marketing being tested by InfoPrint Solutions Company, which makes product printers, NOT because it would save paper (although that's what happened) but because it could help make its marketing more personalized and actionable.

The TransPromo (which means transaction document plus promotion messaging) initiative focused on better using quarterly rewards program statements as a means of pushing new services and building awareness for the Best Western credit card. You've already seen these sorts of statements, these are much more personal.

Ryun Lambson, marketing programs manager for Best Western, said his team agreed to the program because they wanted to earn better return on investment for their marketing budget. And, indeed, the test yielded some demonstrable upside in this area: For one thing, the test group that received the TransPromo mailing booked more hotel stays and generated more revenue than the control group that received a traditional sort of mailing, according to the early feedback shared with me last week.

On the green side, InfoPrint believes that a midsize TransPromo mailing (the Best Western pilot involved 100,000 customers, about half of which received the personalized marketing statements), can have the following green impact:

- Saves 180,000 trees - Eliminates 216 Olympic-size swimming pools of waste water - Diverts 609 garbage trucks of solid waste

Of course, the thinking is that a company would have to invest in printing its billing statements with InfoPrint technology to get these sorts of marketing and environmental results. The Best Western pilot was printed on the InfoPrint 5000, an inkjet "drop-on-demand" printing system.

Here's more about the promotion.

Anyway, the point I'm trying to make, I guess, is that if your team is studying some sort of cost-cutting measure or new systems designed to optimize your IT infrastructure or business processes, it can't hurt to ask the environmental questions as well. That way, you won't just be saving money for your company, you'll be helping its green cause, as well.

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