According to research by the Forum of Private Business (FPB), 95% of all small businesses (SMBs) experienced increased costs during 2012. Yet, while annual inflation has dropped from around 5% to 3%, the study also finds small business inflation running at 6.7%, meaning prices have risen far faster for micro, small and medium-sized businesses than for the rest of the UK.

Energy costs remain a major concern for these organisations with 85% of the survey sample reporting an increase. To make matters worse, the report identifies that around one in three SMB owners admit to being unable to pass these rising costs onto customers.

Energy Matters

So how can small companies start to tackle these costs, drive business efficiencies and protect the environment – all at the same time? The rewards of success are potentially far-reaching. With research indicating that a company’s print spend typically represents 1-3% of its revenues, exerting tighter control of office printing can deliver extensive benefits – not least in reducing energy consumption.

According to the Carbon Trust, printers can consume 30–40% of their peak power when idling between printing and standby mode. When you consider that for 77% of the month there is no-one in the average office to use the printers, many businesses have devices that spend large amounts of time switched on but not actually doing anything.

Unsurprisingly, as the cost of energy rises, cutting energy consumption moves higher up the agenda for many organisations. Indeed, 46% of European SMBs cite energy usage as a major concern around printing, according to a recent IDC report on ‘SMB buying considerations for smarter business printing’.

Additionally, many businesses are looking to align with green IT policies and in turn, reduce their impact on the environment. For example, the second tier of the European Union Energy-using Products (EuP) directive came into effect this January, placing further emphasis on environmental considerations when purchasing a new printer. The directive requires all print devices sold after January 2013 to have an ‘Auto-Off’ mode, which powers down the device after a prolonged period of non-usage.

Tip Top Technology

In order to drive greater energy efficiencies, SMBs should consider upgrading their print devices. Recent IDC research indicates that newer printers typically use 30% less energy and 20% less toner than older devices and print vendors are investing heavily in developing ever more efficient printers to meet both new green regulations and the business needs of SMBs.

While today, some of the newer printers offer features such as ‘Auto-Power Off’ technology, which automatically turns off the printer after extended periods of non-usage, the most important energy measure is the amount of power used when devices are in ‘Sleep mode’ or ‘Deep Sleep mode’, waiting for print jobs. Again, significant efficiencies are being achieved in this area. A modern colour printer will typically use 1 to 2 watts of power compared to 15 to 25 watts a few years ago.

SMBs should also consider the use of LED (light-emitting diode) printers. They offer users consistent quality and print performance within a highly compact design as they use a smaller dot size when printing. This is far more precise than an average laser printer, even at higher printing speeds.

As a result of all of these new techniques and technologies, a reduction in both energy consumption and costs can readily be achieved through little more than the deployment of new technology.

Following Best Practice

However, it is not just the introduction of new printers that can reduce costs and energy consumption, how they are used is equally important. The small changes to the way staff carry out simple daily tasks can really make a difference. To drive green efficiency, devices should be set to print in mono as standard, thereby reducing unnecessary colour printing. In addition, by configuring printers to print duplex as standard, SMBs can cut paper usage in half at a stroke.

Tracking printing volumes can also help identify opportunities to consolidate the office printer fleet, combining desktop inkjet printers for example with a reduced number of high speed, high quality workgroup printers. SMBs could also benefit by integrating printing, copying, faxing and scanning needs within one multifunction printer (MFP) instead of retaining separate devices.

Make the Most of Managed Document Solutions

If an SMB doesn’t want to reassess their print processes independently, they can turn to an expert print vendor that offers a best practice managed document solutions programme. Such an approach unifies and manages all document management and output processes, while ensuring printing operations are more closely matched to an organisation’s workflow and specific goals, such as reducing costs, energy consumption and carbon footprint reductions.

The first part of a programme often delivers an all-inclusive analysis of the print environment. The results of the audit are then used to develop a long term solution, one that ensures print devices are used in the most resourceful manner and that printing practices are unified and managed more closely. An experienced print vendor will also point out any previously unseen overheads such as the cost of man-hours spent supporting disparate systems so that savings can be made.

In fact, an SMB who draws on all the resources a vendor has to offer could well be the one making the smartest move. They have very little to do as part of the process and incur minimal costs themselves, while at the same time achieving reductions in costs and energy usage.

Time to Take Action

SMBs today can achieve cost savings and drive environmental efficiencies at the same time. They just need the right guidance. Working with the latest technology and implementing the most efficient print and document management practices can go a long way towards this and today, SMBs don’t even have to take these tasks on themselves – they can lean on and learn from an expert vendor. It couldn’t be easier.