By Wayne Balta
IBM Vice-President for Corporate Environmental Affairs
Ever since then-CEO Thomas J. Watson Jr. made environmental stewardship a company-wide priority in 1971, IBM has been in the vanguard among corporations when it comes to protecting the natural environment. And, with more than 425,000 employees in 170 countries, we can move the needle on sustainability.
But in addition to large companies like IBM, the world’s millions of small and medium-size businesses can also collectively accomplish quite a bit. More than 99% of all businesses fall within the SME category—which is typically defined as organizations with fewer than 500 employees. So, based on sheer scale alone, the world’s SMEs are not only the primary source of innovation and economic growth; they’re also the key to saving the planet.
Many SMEs do outstanding work to further environmental sustainability. They meet or exceed environmental laws and conserve fuel, minimize waste and recycle materials. That’s good, smart business. But I believe that numerous SMEs all around the world also have an opportunity to achieve even more that makes good sense for both their businesses and the environment.
Energy consumption is a good example. At IBM, we have proof that energy conservation is good for us as well as the planet. In 2010, our conservation projects delivered savings equal to 5.7 percent of total energy use. Those projects enabled the company to avoid more than 139,000 metric tons of CO2 emissions. They also helped bolster our bottom line, saving $29.7 million in energy expense.
We drive for continuous improvement. After achieving 12% savings in a test of a new intelligent building management system on our campus in Rochester, Minn., we deployed the system in seven major US locations. This year we’re rolling it out to 17 global locations.
I believe that organizations of any size can benefit from a systemic approach to environmental management. It starts with assessing how the organization intersects with environmental issues to determine what matters. Then set specific goals and lay out a process for making improvements. Give people clear roles and responsibilities, set targets, and to measure progress against them. Then, repeat.
Some improvements can pay off quickly. Switching to higher-efficiency lighting is one example. Other gains can come from better monitoring and maintenance. Faulty valves in an air handling system, for instance, can result in heating and cooling systems running at the same time. If you spot the problem early, you save a lot of money. In other cases, investments in new technologies often pay for themselves sooner than you might guess.
As part of our Smarter Planet dialogue, we’ve said that the way the world works isn’t smart enough to be sustainable. Environmental sustainability is a strategic imperative for businesses. That’s true whether a company has 5 employees or 500,000. If you haven’t yet begun to reap the business benefits from environmental leadership, the time to start is now.