There are a lot of reasons why online retailers should start seeing green in a whole new way: Conserving energy and supplying environmentally sound products and services is good for the environment and the bottom line.
Large retailers like Target, Wal-Mart and The Home Depot naturally use a lot of energy and produce a lot of waste. However, they’re taking steps to reduce both by building energy efficient storefronts and reducing waste through aggressive recycling programs.
For example, Target is reducing the environmental impact of its buildings by following the U.S. Green Building Council’s Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (Usgbc.org) benchmarks for design, construction and operation. Target also claims it has reduced waste through recycling and reuse by 70 percent.
Wal-Mart claims it is cooperatively working with suppliers on products including the Charmin 6 Mega Roll pack. The product enables Wal-Mart to ship 42 percent more units on its trucks, eliminate 89.5 million cardboard roll cores, eliminate 360,087 pounds of plastic wrapping and reduce its diesel consumption by 53,966 gallons.
Vendors are also making strides. Earlier this year, Intel, Google, Dell, HP, IBM, Microsoft and others cooperatively launched the Climate Savers Computing Initiative (Climatesaverscomputing.org) which aims to save $5.5 billion in energy costs and reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 54 million tons per year. The caveat is that power supplies must reach the 90 percent efficiency target set by the organization. If the Initiative is successful, its reduction of greenhouse gas emissions would have the same effect as removing more than 11 million cars from the road, according to Pat Gelsinger, senior vice president and general manager of Intel’s Digital Enterprise Group.
Urs Hölzle, a Google senior vice president and a Google Fellow, points out that the average desktop PC wastes nearly half of its power, and the average server wastes one-third of its power. To combat the waste, computer and computer component manufacturers involved in the Climate Savers Computing Initiative have agreed to build energy-efficient products that conform to the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA’s) ENERGY STAR guidelines at Energystar.gov.
In 2006 alone the EPA estimates that its ENERGY STAR certification program reduced greenhouse gas emissions by an amount equal to what 25 million cars would have produced. Meanwhile, American homes and businesses saved $14 billion on their utility bills. The ENERGY STAR program requires manufacturers to build products that meet standards set by the EPA and the U.S. Department of Energy.
On a local level, The Bay Area Green Business Program, a cooperative effort developed by San Francisco Bay Area local governments, governmental agencies and the business community, verifies that businesses meet certain environmental performance standards. Since 1997 more than 1,000 business and public agencies have been certified. The Program is also part of a network of similar organizations operating in various counties throughout California.
In the ecommerce space, things seem to be moving slowly, at least from an organizational standpoint. The Ecommerce Merchants Trade Association (Ecmta.org) and its sister organization, The Professional eBay Sellers Alliance(Gopesa.org), have not defined formal green policies, guidelines or green best practices, according to Sandra Prytherch who manages the resource centers for both organizations. She did say that some of the members are actively reducing waste through recycling and reuse because it is economically efficient to do so. The Internet Merchants Association did not respond to the same query nor does it appear to have a green initiative at this point. US GREEN Commerce, a new online chamber of commerce, is actively trying to recruit members and plans to unveil a seal of approval.
Meanwhile, independent e-marketplaces are cropping up, such as BuyGreen.com, which serves both consumers and businesses. BuyGreen’s demand-oriented philosophy is this: When mass consumers make demands on manufacturers and retailers, the results are innovation, lower prices and greater product selection. This not only reflects the basics of macroeconomics; it raises an important point.
Green products have historically been more expensive than their mainstream counterparts and they’ve been harder to find. The Home Depot is making progress here. It offers an Eco Options brand that makes it easy for customers to find and buy green products.
Wal-Mart has created “Sustainable Value Networks," or SVNs, that provide sustainable and affordable products while reducing waste. Currently Wal-Mart has seven SVNs that are focused on specific products like seafood, jewelry and electronics. Another five target internal operations such as climate, logistics and waste.
Smaller etailers can emulate what the big guns are doing on a limited scale simply by making different choices about the products they use and sell, and by focusing on energy efficiency. If you want to make a bigger difference, lobby your favorite association to start a green initiative or get involved with one or more green associations that will happily promote your business.
Ten Tips For Going Green
Use energy efficient lighting systems and bulbs. According to Pacific Gas & Electric Company (PG&E), one compact fluorescent lamp (a small fluorescent bulb) reduces lighting costs by 75%.
Adjust power management functions on desktops and laptops.
Choose laptops over desktops. PG&E claims laptops use 90% less energy than desktops.
Choose products that bear the ENERGY STAR label. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimates these products saved American homes and businesses $14 billion in energy costs in 2006.
Unplug chargers and turn off equipment that’s not in use. Otherwise they will continue to draw power.
Choose products such as paper and packaging that have a high degree of recycled content. Goods made from recycled material typically require less energy to produce than goods made from virgin materials, according to the EPA.
Conduct an internal energy audit to find out how much power you’re using and how much it’s costing you. Then devise a plan to reduce power consumption.
Increase your air conditioning trigger temperature by five degrees. According to PG&E, you’ll reduce your cooling costs by about 10 percent.
Stop spamming customers and prospects. Spam has a “massive carbon footprint,” according to Spamfrit.org, because it increases hardware usage, transportation costs, and waste.
Encourage carpooling and employee use of public transportation. For a great example, check out Adobe’s Commute Alternatives Program.