CALC-ulated Action to End the Climate Crisis

CALC Pic from Boston TechieIn January, TNB launched a new project: The Climate Action Liaison Coalition (CALC). We saw an unoccupied niche in the climate movement: small to medium sized local businesses taking targeted action to end the climate crisis. CALC is for companies who recognize that climate change is both a major threat to financial well-being and an opportunity to build a new economy based on restoring our environment and fixing our future.

In the United States, businesses are key participants in shaping public policy on environmental issues. Climate Action Liaisons work within businesses to help them meet the challenges and opportunities of climate change. Liaisons educate employees, empower leaders to advocate directly for policy solutions, and collectively influence the business community’s position on climate change issues. Working with organizations such as Citizen’s Climate Lobby, Sierra Club and 350 Massachusetts, CALC’s goal is to recruit five businesses by July 1st. Recently, Spencer Organ Company, a group that services organs in many of Boston’s churches, has hired Richard Cutler, a volunteer with The Climate Reality Project Leadership Corps, as their Climate Action Liaison.

Click here to view the full Boston Techie newsletter.

An Alliance for a More Sustainable Future

Roxbury Technology

Members of the TNB team paid a visit to Roxbury Technology’s manufacturing plant.

Roxbury Technology, LLC, one of Boston’s largest and most sustainable woman-owned businesses in the technology arena, and TNB have formed a strategic alliance. Together, we will now offer complete IT and printer services, including local help desk, remote monitoring, staff augmentation, onsite support, printer repair, and new and remanufactured computer equipment and supplies, including ink and toner, printers, and computers. 

Clients of both firms will now have the opportunity to recycle empty ink and toner cartridges for remanufacture and resale locally in Boston and the surrounding communities. Our onsite service technicians will soon distribute information packets at client sites containing instructions on how to purchase and recycle consumables and other equipment.

Click here to view the full Boston Techie newsletter.

Greening IT in the Hotel Industry

Last week I gave a presentation on Sustainable IT in the hotel industry. It’s surprising how much IT equipment goes into building the IT infrastructure of a larger hotel. There is the server that handles the reservations, another to handle programming the room keys. There are the restaurant servers, the gift shop servers, and the rooms management servers. There’s even a server to handle the in-room movies!

There are computers in the office, computers in the business center, and–in some hotels–computers in the rooms. There are displays in the hallways guiding guests to their conference rooms, computers at the front desk, and in the kitchens. Not to mention the wireless Internet access that is available throughout the hotel.

Server consolidation, server virtualization, and enabling power management are the three fastest ways to reduce IT-related energy consumption in the hotel industry.

Is Big Business Sustainable?

In most industries, large-scale enterprises can extract resources, create product, and distribute finished goods more efficiently than locally-owned, small-scale businesses. They can use their economic clout to develop new products, broadcast marketing messages to a national audience, and influence government regulation to their benefit.

Despite real economic disadvantages, the small business continues to flourish in some market segments. Small biz advantages include agility, understanding community needs, and ability to cost-effectively utilize resources not easily aggregated for use by larger-scale industries.

More recently, small firms have been touted as one of the building blocks for creating strong local economies. Local businesses can contribute to a community’s development by involving more local partners, creating jobs and offering fair wages to employees.  But are small businesses more sustainable?  We could argue that small businesses–unable to take advantage of economies of scale–waste more resources than larger businesses. Think of the prepared foods section at a little-trafficked store.  Markets, catering shops, and restaurants–most of them small businesses–generate  27 million tons of food waste annually.

High-volume distribution centers such as Walmart would appear to be the most efficient method of distributing foodstuffs and consumer goods.  One would think that efficient distribution would be the sustainable choice.  Especially at a store like Walmart, which has the following environmental goals:
1. To be supplied 100 percent by renewable energy.
2. To create zero waste.
3. To sell products that sustain our resources and environment.

So, should we all shop at Wal-mart?  The answer is:  “No.” Sustainability cannot be achieved by centralizing resources and distributing on a large scale. According to “It’s Not Easy Being Green:  The Truth Behind Wal-mart’s Environmental Makeover,” big business means bigger environmental impacts.  The average Wal-Mart supercenter is a 200,000+ square foot behemoth sitting on 20 to 30 acres of land.  There are over 2,200 supercenters in the United States, and they are adding more at such a rate that even if they meet their goal of reducing carbon emissions by 20% by 2013, in the interim, they will have built enough new stores to completely offset emissions reductions at existing stores.

Let’s return to small businesses and vibrant local economies.  Suppose that local businesses are created to fulfill local needs.  When local businesses use local resources, sustainability and environmental protection become a necessary component of the production life cyle.  More importantly, it will not be possible to produce locally-made goods at the same variety and scale that we do in today’s global market.  Not all resources required for producing products will be locally available. Also, production labor will be priced at the local prevailing rate.  This means that the price of locally-made goods will be more congruent with the time required to produce it.  It will once again be less expensive to have a product repaired than to replace it.

Sociologist Paul Ray, who pioneered the concept of “cultural creatives,” estimates that 36 percent of Americans (45 percent of voters) fall into what he calls the “Wisdom Culture Paradigm.” Among its characteristics are: an “anti-materialism . . . that comes partly from movements like voluntary simplicity and ecological sustainability”; an “emerging post-Eighties dimension [that] wants outright prevention of ecological destruction, a slowing of economic growth for saving the environment . . . and an anti-big business, anti-globalization position”; and “a mainstream concern for relationships, altruism and idealism.”

Much of what we hold dear is neither enhanced nor accrued through improved efficiency.  We do not seek to love efficiently, to eat efficiently, or to experience beauty efficiently.  Then let us not praise big industry for consuming our natural resources efficiently.  Small, local businesses are more sustainable in the long run not because they are more efficient, but, because they are less efficient.

Meet Justine

Meet Justine, our new Green Services Coordinator. She’s smart, enthusiastic, and a hard worker. We hired Justine to help Tech Networks on all sustainability fronts. But, for now, she’s doing most of the heavy lifting on our Green IT services methodology. Today she was diving in to the subject of uninterruptible power supplies (UPS’s). Did you know that a UPS hooked up to equipment that draws less than 30% of the rated output of the unit, the UPS’s efficiency can drop dramatically?

The toughest problem Justine is facing right now is with computing “in the cloud.” So-called “Cloud Computing” is a catchall phrase to describe the various types of Internet-based solutions, from Gmail to Salesforce.com. With cloud computing, you don’t know where your data is actually stored, much less how much it is contributing to global warming.

When our Green IT services methodology is released to the public, we hope that we will be able to call on Cloud computing providers to be more transparent about where they are storing their clients’ data and how much energy they are using to do it.

Don’t Buy Green

Want to be green?  Really green?  Then don’t buy green products.  In fact, don’t buy anything.  Be like the early New Englanders, whose maxim was:  Use it up, wear it out, make it do, or do without.

Do you really need another organic cotton T-shirt?  I don’t.  Most of my apparel is at least 25 years old.  It’s well-made, high-quality clothing.  I don’t need to replace it.  I did, however, come upon a great way to refresh my wardrobe without adding to my carbon footprint.  I went to the Garment District and found some cool vintage clothing.  When I returned home, I picked out some items I didn’t enjoy wearing and brought them back to the store, where they accept free donations.  (They also buy used clothing, by appointment only.)

Sustainable Business Leaders Program Launch Event with Mayor Menino

As a board member of the Sustainable Business Network, and the originator of the concept for the Sustainable Business Leader Program, I represented SBN at the launch event for the Sustainable Business Leaders Program (SBLP) today.

Here’s my speech:

On behalf of the SBN, I want to thank Mayor Menino, the Mayor’s Green Task Force, the Environment Department and the BRA for all their efforts to make Boston a more sustainable place to live and work. Working with the City of Boston has been an amazing experience for us. We are thrilled that the City sees the power and recognizes the value of working with committed small business owners. When we first started meeting with the City in January 2006, we did not imagine that our colleagues at City Hall would be so interested in our ideas. We were just a group of Boston business owners who wanted to help make a difference. We are happy to report that many of our proposals  have been met with incredible enthusiasm and interest on the part of the Mayor’s Office, the Environment Department, and the BRA.

The  SBN is proud to support the City of Boston’s Climate Action Plan. We hope that the Green Business Awards, the Green Business Roundtable, and now the Sustainable Business Leader’s Program are just the beginning of a meaningful partnership between small businesses and City Officials as we work together to make the City of Boston not just the greenest and most livable and workable city in the United States, but also true example of municipal leadership in the fight to stop global warming.