Chapter 1. Small Business, Big Impact

Each day, millions of small businesses across the country provide products and services that enrich our lives. There is the local café that serves melt-in-your-mouth pastries for breakfast, a visionary software firm that develops cloud-based tools that make your business hum, the florist shop that arranges a cheerful bouquet for your friend on the mend, the golf course that offers an oasis where your foursome unwinds after work, and the plumbing company that fixes the leak you discover upon arriving at home.

Small businesses are the heart and soul of the American economy. According to the Small Business Administration, ventures with fewer than 500 employees make up more than 99 percent of US employers and generate about half of private-sector output. They also use a significant amount of energy and resources to create this economic value. Based on ENERGY STAR estimates, the nation’s small businesses collectively spend more than $60 billion annually on energy alone. “That equates to nearly half a billion metric tons of carbon emissions each year that impact climate change,” says Daniel Hill, cofounder and president of the Green Impact Campaign, an organization that provides small businesses with free energy assessments to help them improve profitability and environmental sustainability.

Small businesses spend more than $60 billion a year on energy.

ENERGY STAR, Small Businesses: An Overview of Energy Use and Energy Efficiency Opportunities

While Hill and other leaders across the country highlight the economic importance and environmental impact that small businesses have in aggregate, they also point to a missed opportunity. Small businesses rarely factor into most public discussions about sustainability. “One of the issues that our work is trying to shine a light on is the overall neglect of small businesses in climate change discussions, that includes a lack of data on small business energy profiles, water usage, and waste. If we’re not trying to collect that data and measure small business’s impact, we will struggle to truly reduce their impact,” says Hill.

In short, small businesses have yet to receive the same level of attention, guidance, and assistance that have propelled so many enterprise-sized companies to focus on the triple bottom line: economic, environmental, and social performance. What if technology could help level the playing field for them? What if it could provide the resources needed to effectively identify opportunities and capitalize on them? The Web is doing just that.

The Internet is a powerful resource for small businesses. It enables them to compete effectively with the big guys by reaching customers, marketing their business, and transacting deals with relative ease. It helps them drive continuous improvement through quick access to knowledge and experts from around the world. Now with the Internet of Things (IoT)—sensors and controllers embedded in everyday objects networked via the Internet—small businesses can also identify and embrace opportunities to operate more green and lean. 

IoT-enabled solutions earn their keep by revealing hidden insights that help small businesses make better decisions and automate tasks to help owners and employees focus on what’s most important—the core business. For instance, imagine systems that monitor the electricity use of equipment, analyze performance, and generate just-in-time advice on how to reduce energy consumption; smart windows that know just how much light to let in for optimal comfort, productivity, and energy savings; on-board vehicle intelligence that can help lower fuel use in small fleets; and sensors that can help conserve water by detecting leaks and preventing over-irrigation.

These solutions enable small businesses to operate more efficiently and sustainably, giving them a competitive edge. They help drive down the cost of doing business by saving time, labor, and resources. They create a marketable advantage by shrinking the business’s environmental footprint—an appealing proposition for conscientious consumers, as well as corporate and public sector organizations that are seeking to improve supply chain sustainability and resilience. Eco-focused, IoT capabilities can even be infused into the products and services that small businesses produce and sell, spurring new and/or greater opportunities for revenue. Best of all, there is a range of resources available that make it easy to take action. From free consultation to grants and subsidized loans, several initiatives exist that small businesses can leverage to seize these opportunities.

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