Notice: This is a discussion thread for comments about the article, Living The Green Dream, first published in Issue 250 of Desktop Magazine.
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Green is the new black—companies large and small are jumping on the environmental bandwagon and declaring themselves to be green.

There are, however, many shades of green. Whilst many organisations are genuinely taking steps to reduce the impact that their business has on the environment, others are more intent on investing in marketing campaigns than in changing their practices. Brands like Mobil, Woolworths and SAAB are among those accused of “greenwashing”—using selective statistics or sweeping statements to promote their product as environmentally responsible, when the reality is often quite the opposite.

Like Attracts Like

Roger Burrell, from xert, a web design and development company based on Bruny Island, off the coast of Tasmania, believes it really is possible to reduce the carbon footprint of your business without making huge compromises or operational changes. However, he advises that it’s an all-or-nothing proposition. “It’s all very well to want to change your business, but if you’re not doing it in your own life, it’s very hard to be green at work,” he explains. “You can’t just take your green hat off when you go home.”

Burrell should know—he and his partner, designer/developer Sarah Peeke, have made “being green” a key element of their web design business.
When they founded xert, Burrell and Peeke did not attempt to differentiate themselves from other web design firms, but soon realised that they needed to choose a niche. Having a keen interest in organic produce and renewable technologies, they decided to target businesses in this field.

Once they’d agreed on their company’s focus, the xert team began noticing the benefits almost immediately. The lengthy process of screening inquiries was drastically reduced; qualifying leads became a much more streamlined process, as the inquiries were limited to parties who already knew where xert’s specialties lie.

The xert team was also able to market to potential clients more easily, and quickly developed a reputation amongst businesses in the organic/green space, which in turn led to a lot of referrals.

Additionally, Burrell found that he was able to build instant rapport with his clients, based on a set of shared interests. And when it came to working on a project, the process was that much more enjoyable because the team believed in the project and had a genuine interest in the client’s business.

Going “Off The Grid”

The philosophy of working sustainably is more than a market differentiator for the xert team. Burrell and Peeke are working towards a goal of producing all of their own power, using a mix of solar electricity, wind, and water-powered turbines. Their house, which doubles as the xert office, is heated with solar thermal heating, and supplemented with an efficient wood burner.

“Wanting to live as sustainably as possible doesn’t mean living in a little tin hut in the middle of a paddock, growing corn and not having any lights,” laughs Burrell. “It’s just that a lot of energy is wasted under the false premise that resources are unlimited, but there are so many ways that we can be more efficient.”

Burrell and Peeke grow their own vegetables and engage in community-based trade that minimises the need to import produce from interstate or overseas. “We have neighbours who have chickens and goats. There’s a guy who shoots rabbits and makes his own sausages … the ability to think globally but act locally is something we can all do, even in big cities.”

Geofeat: A Green Business Directory

The experience of building web sites for clients specialising in organic products led the xert team to create geofeat.com, an online directory of green and organic providers.

In addition to being a comprehensive index of eco-friendly products, the service has also been successful in connecting like-minded businesses. “We found that a lot of businesses wanted to network with other advertisers, so it’s evolving into a business-to-business portal,” comments Burrell.

Built with web standards to be as accessible as possible, Geofeat also publishes an extensive collection of articles and other resources for visitors interested in learning about sustainable living, organic products and renewable energy. The site runs regular competitions and other community-building initiatives.

How To Be An Even Greener Web Designer

In a previous artilcle I explored some ways to be a greener web designer. Here, Geofeat’s Roger Burrell offers fifteen tips on how to reduce your carbon footprint, based on his own experiences as an expert in renewable energy and sustainable living:

1. Insulate your home.

“If you live in town, the single best thing you can do is to insulate your home,” asserts Burrell. Indeed, without insulation, much of the heat you generate will be dissipating through the roof. The government is even giving people a $1600 rebate to add insulation, so if your house is not insulated, you should act now!

2. Install solar hot water.

30% of your power bill often goes in hot water. Installing a professional, efficient solar hot water system can cover up to 80% of your bill, and there’s a federal government rebate. With solar hot water systems starting as low as $500 (plus installation), such a system could pay for itself in a year or two.

3. Shop at local markets.

“When I lived in Sydney, I’d visit the Farmer’s Market on the weekend,” reflects Burrell. Buying vegetables from growers, knowing that they’re locally grown, means you’re not buying vegetables from interstate that have been transported long distances.

4. Eat seasonal fruit and vegetables.

When you visit the supermarket, you see strawberries on the shelves twelve months a year. This means they’re often grown and transported long distances; fruits that are in season are more likely to be local.

5. Engage with your community.

Not all of us have the luxury of living near large vegetable plots and livestock, but even in the city, there are likely to be neighbours who grow their own tomatoes or herbs. “You just have to start thinking outside the box, and once you start looking you’ll find that you’re not the only ones doing it,” urges Burrell. “More and more people are looking at the community-based sharing of resources.”

6. Work from home.

Whilst this isn’t an option for everyone, designers who work from home have reduced transport costs. Additionally, because they’re working in a smaller room than a standard office, heating that room is likely to be more efficient.

7. Upgrade your computer or monitor.

Whilst throwing out old hardware comes with its own cost to the environment, it’s certainly true that newer technology often draws less power than older machines. Consider purchasing a laptop over a desktop machine, as portable computers draw less power by design.

8. Unplug unused appliances.

When Burrell commissioned an energy audit for his home, he found that he was using 10% of his electricity on appliances that weren’t doing anything. Mobile phone chargers, televisions, DVD players, fax machines, printers … all of these items draw power when plugged in, even when they’re turned off.

9. Align your appointments.

Organising your day so that you can shop for groceries at the same time as you meet with clients or run other errands is one way to limit the number of times you use your car in a week. Not only can this reduce your carbon footprint, it’s a more efficient use of your time as well.

10. Install LED lights.

Replacing your light bulbs with energy-saving fluorescent light bulbs is a terrific way to cut your power bill, but LEDs use even less power.

11. Shred and mulch.

If paper has been printed on using black ink, it may be suitable for shredding, which can make great garden mulch. Note that there are toxic chemicals used in many colour inks, so paper with colour printing will probably be unsuitable to use in your garden.

12. Use EcoFont for internal documents.

SPRANQ, a Dutch creative agency, has developed a font called EcoFont that uses up to 20% less ink when printed on a laser printer. The typeface resembles Vera Sans, but with holes punched out of each letter in a way that legibility is largely unaffected. Whilst it’s unlikely to be an option for client documents, if you’re printing internal draft documents then using EcoFont is a simple way to use less ink.

13. Choose a green printer.

Whenever you do need to get something printed, always choose a green printer—check what type of ink they use and the paper stock they make available.

14. Use green web hosting.

The xert team offer carbon neutral hosting for clients wanting to be hosted in Australia (the servers are all run on wind power, but there is an element of carbon offsetting). For clients who are prepared a small premium on their hosting bill, xert offer an alternative hosting plan through a California-based company that runs its servers entirely on solar power, making it completely carbon neutral.

15. Inspire and educate your clients.

The great thing about working on the web is that many of the tasks that we perform are already very green compared with other industries. We use less paper, and can update our core product (a web site) easily without having to throw away a pile of out-of-date brochures. If you can sell the green benefits of electronic media to your clients, you may be planting the seed for real organisational change.

As Kermit the Frog famously sang, “It’s not easy being green.” However, with respect to Jim Henson, that was 30 years ago. Should Hollywood ever remake The Muppet Movie, Kermit may well change his tune. The excuses for using our natural resources inefficiently—at work and at home—are disappearing rapidly.

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