Waste not, want not

Corporate social responsibility is all very well, but a company has to answer to its bottom line, even when it's thinking about going green. Brid-Aine Conway asks if there's a way to save the planet and save on costs with IT.

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By  Brid-Aine Conway Published  May 3, 2008

Corporate social responsibility is all very well, but a company has to answer to its bottom line, even when it's thinking about going green. Brid-Aine Conway asks if there's a way to save the planet and save on costs with IT.

Phrases like "carbon footprint", "climate change" and "corporate/social responsibility" are ones we are all now familiar with. There are some in fact, such as the managing director of EcoVentures, Shezan Amiji, who consider climate change to be "the defining issue of our generation".

EcoVentures is a company based in the UAE which advises on innovations in greenhouse gas reduction and the development and use of renewable and sustainable energy and water resources.

The industry of which it is a part is still a small one, but entrepreneurial companies such as recycling enterprises and environmental consultancies are seeing that saving the environment could be a profitable business.

The datacentre’s kind of interesting because to a large extent, for many organisations, it’s not even a green issue.

Meanwhile, at the other end of the scale are enterprises that are still ignoring the tide of popular opinion, missing the obvious signs in the fact that governments are beginning to issue environmental regulations, and failing to see any profit at all in going green.

According to a study by the Gartner group in 2007, ICT accounted for 2% of global carbon emissions - to put that in context, PCs, datacentres and telephony are affecting the environment as much as the aviation industry is, the analyst firm pointed out.

The hue and cry about how badly flying is damaging the environment has been loud and long and eyes are also turning to the similarly heavy carbon footprints of other industries - including ICT.

"Given that it's obviously a sizable chunk of the global carbon footprint, that makes it very important to examine and address," says Amiji, "Per square foot, datacentre energy costs are ten to 30 times more than that of a typical office building.

So given their relative footprint vis-à-vis other types of business environment, I think there's a large responsibility.

Datacentres are a good place for enterprises to start if they want to go green. A lot of talk has centred on energy efficiency, power conservation and smarter cooling, not to mention virtualisation, and most of the marketing is focused on two things - it'll save money and save the environment.

"In order to make people do good, you sometimes have to make it as easy for them as possible," according to Amiji, and in the case of datacentres, the math couldn't be simpler.

"The datacentre's kind of interesting because to a large extent, for many organisations, it's not even a green issue. Whether they're concerned about the environment or not, they simply can't build datacentres that aren't power efficient, because you can't get enough compute power out of that datacentre.

Building datacentres these days is really about trying to get as much compute power out of as little space and as little electricity as possible," says Stephen Kleynhans, analyst and vice president at Gartner, and author of the March 2008 paper ‘Cutting Back on Green PC Initiatives Leads to False Economies'.

Everyone - vendors, CIOs, environmental activists - wants to talk datacentres to businesses because they're an easy sell. If datacentres are using less power and are more energy efficient and if they need less rented space because servers have greater capacities and are virtualised, the savings for the IT budget and the business are obvious.

The fact that they also reduce carbon emissions by increasing energy efficiency is a happy bonus for businesses and the environment alike.

This is not a bad thing - bringing cost-saving and the environment together is something that benefits everybody. What many enterprises don't seem to realise as readily as in the case of datacentres, is that there are other areas in the IT industry that have seen this happen.

Another example is e-waste, in particular the disposal of unwanted hardware when an enterprise (or individual) is done with it, which with IT happens fast. Kleynhans notes that this too is an area where environmental objectives were attained somewhat accidentally.

Vendors started takeback programmes not necessarily for green reasons. It was a lot like what happened in the car industry many years ago, where car manufacturers realised if you wanted to sell somebody a new car, you needed to make it easier for them to get rid of their older car.

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