At Colibri Digital Marketing, we are fully aware of the inherent powers that accompany the world of marketing. That’s why we make every effort to use our powers for good. We work with clients whose conduct and business practices are in line with our own values (and refuse the ones who aren’t.) We use our platform to promote the kinds of social and professional change we want to see in our industry, our community and our world. As San Francisco’s only B Corp-certified digital marketing agency, we have made a commitment to the triple bottom line: People, Planet, and Profit.
We here at Colibri Digital Marketing are really proud of those things, and it got me to thinking. My name’s Andrew. I’ve been here a couple of years now. I’m a writer, and I’m the resident SEO and Data Analytics guy. I realized that in many ways, digital marketing is the vanguard of the Information Age. Ours is a business that simply could not exist in the twentieth century. Period. As such, we’re totally unmoored from the norms of what it meant to be a commercial enterprise in the pre-Information Age (like the pre-industrial age; one wonders what our age will be “pre-” of.). This gives us a broad perspective on how the Information Age lends itself tidily to those three priorities.
My reason for writing this, today, is to share a happy realization I had. I was sitting by the river, thousands of miles away from San Francisco – where Colibri is proudly based. I’d been having a conversation with a friend who commutes everyday to an office building and I was taken by the idea that this way of doing things is just so much more efficient! It’s leaps and bounds ahead of the twentieth century, in terms of a low-impact, high value business practice.
I’d like to take a moment to dive deeper into this concept, first by exploring…
Six Ways an Office Building Harms the Environment
Those vintage traits of the analog business world caused, and still cause, almost untold ecological devastation. The standard office building, alone, harms the environment six different ways.That may seem a bold claim, so let me back it up.
1. It Requires a Commute
Most of the people who work in an office drive there, usually from a suburb at the outskirts of town. They might take public transit; some might even bike. But the sheer scale of an office building will require a central location that won’t be proximate to the majority of the workers. Imagine one employee who commutes 30-45 minutes in traffic (which is below average) to get to work at 9am. That same employee heads home in 30-45 minutes of stop-and-go traffic at 5pm. In one week, this adds 5 hours of carbon emissions. In one year (with two weeks off)? That’s 250-375 hours of carbon emissions, from just one employee. Imagine 10, 20, 50, 100 employees. Travel time adds up big time, in the short and long term.
2. It Pumps out Pollutants
An office building is typically climate controlled and all that extra cold and heat has to come from, and go to, somewhere. To heat the building in cold weather, it’s going to need to combust something, like gas in a central furnace, or spend energy on electric heat. The fans that carry that warm air through the building will need to be powered as well. The same is true for an air-condition system in warmer weather. All that extra heat needs to go somewhere. That’s just thermodynamics. It gets pumped back through an exhaust vent, into the world abroad, often along with other pollutants. That brings us tidily to the next point.
3. It Consumes a Ton of Energy
An office building hogs a disproportionate amount of power. It powers computers, monitors, copy machines, security systems, ventilation systems, lighting systems, servers (and the cooling infrastructure that keeps them running), refrigerators, microwaves, hot water tanks, and more: all of them mostly idle, most of the time. Of all the workstations in a conventional office, how many are actually in use at any given time? Not over the course of a day, but at the instant of any particular snapshot. Maybe a third? What about the microwaves? They’re all plugged in, drawing phantom power, but how many are actually cooking something at any given moment?
An office building doesn’t have selective brownouts. Even the ones that supplement with wind or solar power still draw from the grid, especially at peak times. Office buildings, when it comes to power requirements, are more than the sum of their parts. The footprints of the people and their specific tasks amount to about a third of the total consumption, with the rest going to supplemental infrastructure.
4. It Distorts Natural Weather Patterns
This one’s more true of an office block, than an office building, but together with other offices, your office building makes up an office block. We’ve all felt the sudden, oppressive force of an office-block wind tunnel. The effect gets even more pronounced on the coast. Here’s a fun read about how the physical structure of urbanization, in general, is impacting climate change and creating more stagnant air systems.
5. It Makes People Sick
You’ve probably heard of “sick building syndrome.” It’s been in the news more and more lately. It refers to the way office buildings incubate and facilitate disease among the workers. When you pack that many humans into an enclosed space with recirculated air, germs spread in a way that we, as a species, have not evolved a defense for. Over most of the past one and a half million years, we existed in tighter-knit social groups, and the spread of germs between populations was more of a drip-feed than a hurricane. Moreover, the ducts that recirculate that air are rarely properly cleaned. This allows bacteria and spore-throwing molds to fester. It’s not pretty.
6. It Eats up Potential Farmland
An office building and its parking lot or subterranean parking complex, is big. To paraphrase Douglas Adams, it’s hard to really fathom how really, bigly, huge it is. It’s the sort of monolith that changes the whole skyline.
And it doesn’t need to be. That’s the issue. All of these difficulties stem from the office building’s implicit assumption: that it’s prudent to bring hundreds of people into the same cubic soccer field, just so they can do their jobs. On their computers. In an age when yesterday’s supercomputers live in our pockets.
The Information Age Facilitates Greener Business Practices
It’s time for the way we work to catch up to our digital reality. Forcing employees to fight traffic and create pollution to get to a building to sit down at a computer just isn’t realistic anymore. The average working person in the Information Age does not need to be working from any particular place, as long as the work gets done. That doesn’t apply to jobs with a physical element (selling real estate, manufacturing, construction, and so on), but for a growing majority of workers, their job requires an internet connection and little else.
Employees aren’t bound by physical proximity anymore and that means there are more job opportunities for workers and much broader pools of talent for employers. It’s possible to assemble a supergroup now in a way that was unimaginable for all but the loftiest of enterprises just a few decades ago. That kind of synergy paves the way for better group dynamics, more productivity, happier people, and more revenue.
Here’s what that looks like in practice.
The Life of a Digital Nomad (aka Remote Worker)
As I write this, I’m sitting by the river, typing contentedly on a laptop that isn’t connected to the web. Google Docs will sync this offline version with the server as soon as I wander within about twenty feet of home and reconnect to my wifi. I might as well be at the nice coffee shop two blocks over or the pub with the patio half a mile towards the lake.
I could walk, or bike, just about anywhere I chose, and I can do the lion’s share of my job just as well from anywhere I land. I’m an email or a phone call away in case of emergency.
Colibri Digital Marketing is in San Francisco, and I’m about 4400 kilometres (yep, Canada) away. That’s 2,700 miles for my American friends, co-workers, and employer. And that isn’t even particularly remarkable. What is remarkable is that our team, regardless of timezones, works efficiently together from Canada to the US to Venezuela and beyond!
My daily commute is somewhere between thirty feet and half a mile. Colibri doesn’t have to worry about overhead costs like air conditioning, janitorial staff, security guards, receptionists, and so on. My personal habits don’t require a second set of shared appliances in an office kitchen. At night, I require one lamp and not a strip of fluorescents.
Our carbon footprint, as a business, isn’t all that much bigger than our individual carbon footprints as regular urban humans.
What Sets Digital Marketing Apart?
At the outset of this piece, I referred to our industry as something of a vanguard for the Information Age as a whole. Unlike other businesses, ours simply could not exist without the Information Age. It’s not fair to call us an extension of more conventional marketing, in the same way that it’s not really fair to call hockey an extension of lacrosse. They’re related, but disparate entities.
And here’s why that gets fun.
Our business has an unmistakable connection to the digital age in general, and that makes for an extremely tidy bit of parallelism. Our business connects people across the globe, who work on their own devices in their own spaces, and who come together to get a job done.
It’s our awareness of this interconnectedness that makes us better digital marketers. We are incapable of forgetting, even for one moment, that interconnected texture of the internet. It comes up when we think about producing content for widely diverse and separated audiences. It comes up when we think about building a strong link network between individual websites, and the way the discrete nodes contribute to the broader whole. It comes up when we think about SEO, and how different users might have different purposes behind identical searches. And it comes up when we think about how our work, and our values, come into play in our broader industry.
People, Planet, and Profit
The Triple Bottom Line of People, Planet, and Profit considers the various ways in which a business can profit not just the stakeholders but also the wider community. Any good business should be taking in more revenue that it spends, sure, but consider the long-term return on investment of ecologically friendly business practices. By decreasing reliance on limited natural resources, or by curbing pollution, the business will have helped to ensure a reliable revenue stream, as well as made the whole world a better place.
And what about the profit from people? If a business is acting in a way that provides for the well-being of the people in the surrounding community (say, by providing a strong health plan or allowing flexible working hours) those people will live happier, healthier lives. From a purely business perspective, they will be more productive, and more loyal employees. That care and attention will help with employee retention, decreasing training and acquisition costs and increasing overall efficiency.
In both cases, a focus on pure profit is best addressed with a genuine care and concern for people, and planet as well. By acting well, and using our choices as a force for deliberate good, we make a positive contribution to the world around us, and that’s exactly the kind of profit we want to focus on.
Any good business should be taking in more in revenue than it spends. When we talk about the Triple Bottom Line, we’re not just talking about our own profit, but rather the way we help our industry, our clients, our community, and our world in general, to profit.
By acting well, and using our choices as a force for deliberate good, we add positive change to the world, and that’s exactly the kind of profit we want to focus on.
Colibri Digital Marketing
We are proud to be San Francisco’s only B Corp-certified digital marketing agency. Our focus on the triple bottom line influences all that we do. We work with like-minded businesses to tell their stories, connect with new customers and clients, and affect change in our communities. If that sounds like you, connect with us on Facebook or Twitter, or book your free digital marketing strategy session now!
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