E-marketers are missing an opportunity to tell the world how eco-friendly they are

In the SOA industry – infact, any industry that operates at all “in the cloud”, being “green” is a differentiator that can swing business your way. In this digital world where price plays such a huge part in purchasing habits – whether B2C or B2B – it actually gives you an opportunity to up-sell your SaaS services.

While observers in other sectors predict eco-friendliness becoming so ubiquitous it ceases to be a viable USP, the digital world has remained remarkably resistant to being more sustainable.

I caught up with Guy Mucklow, managing director of UK-based web services company Postcode Anywhere, who I (obviously) work closely with and who is an advocate of being green and the green marketing that goes with it: “This shouldn’t be about ‘greenwashing’ – the deplorably cynical business of claiming everything you do is green, indiscriminately, in order to win a few customers cheaply,” he tells me, taking a break from typing.

“Most digital businesses are naturally going to be greener than their traditional counterparts: if we consider e-commerce, for instance, there are less vehicle miles, lower inventory requirements (pre-selling means lower production of obsolete goods), less printed materials, less packaging and altogether less waste made than with traditional businesses.

“The fuel emissions saved by switching to online grocery shopping is estimated at between 18-87%[1] – pretty impressive! So why not tell everyone about it? Because there’s a problem… it’s just not quite enough to say ‘we operate online, we’re green, buy from us.’ It’s pretty lame and certainly not a differentiator if your competition is mostly other companies operating in cyberspace.

“But it’s pretty easy to go that extra distance. Look at other organisations, especially (dare I say it), the public sector. What about carbon-offsetting your website at www.carbon-neutral-website.org ? And if you’re not sold on the benefits of carbon-offsetting, why not switch to a green energy provider?

“Remember: no greenwash! These changes can’t happen overnight and it’s a sensible idea to spend a day drafting up an eco-plan listing all the areas that can be improved and imposing a sensible timescale on achieving them.

“That’s what we’re doing at Postcode Anywhere. We’re already virtually paperless and more changes are on the way. And it fits in with our corporate culture – one of our latest services is a route optimiser that can cut haulage companies’ petrol usage by 30%.

“In fact, excessive fuel consumption is one of the stumbling blocks for e-commerce’s green appeal – if there’s a tangible product to be delivered, they mess it up on the last leg by plotting lousy delivery routes.

“If all the small-medium haulage businesses (who generally aren’t as green as the big players) used our route optimisation, we would see a 13 million ton drop in CO2 emissions every year – more than twice the yearly emissions of Teesside power plant.

“So that’s something to think about too. If you run a large e-commerce company you might want to consider taking the plunge and going with an established software company that offers route optimisation like FleetRoute. For the smaller companies, we have developed a pay-per-use product at Postcode Anywhere which typically costs a few pence per use – opening up route optimisation to everyone. It’s green and it will save you serious money as well.

“There’s so much you can do. You can get free water saving save-a-flush bags from Severn Trent (stick them in your cistern and the job’s done!) and you might be able to get free energy efficient light bulbs from Warwickshire Energy Efficient Advice Centre (WEEAC ) – visit their website at www.weeac.org for advice. And what about working from home where possible? It saves petrol and is very viable for web-based businesses.

“In short, making genuine changes to the way your digital business operates should be a lot easier than it is in other sectors. You’ll help the environment. You’ll offer a more attractive product or service. Going green is a no-brainer. All you need to do then is tell people about it!”

Information on Postcode Anywhere’s affordable route optimisation software is available at their website.

[1] Source: Siikavirta, H, Punakivi, M., Karkkainen, M and Linnanen, L. (2005) Effects of E-Commerce on Greenhouse Gas Emissions, A Case Study of Grocery Home Delivery in Finland. Journal of Industrial Ecology, Vol 6, No 2, 83-97.