Green impact

Green IT is a popular term and one that lets companies beat their chests over how much they have reduced their carbon emissions. Nathan Statz investigates the real motivation behind the earth's corporate crusaders.

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By  Nathan Statz Published  September 13, 2009

Green IT is a popular term and one that lets companies beat their chests over how much they have reduced their carbon emissions. Nathan Statz investigates the real motivation behind the earth's corporate crusaders.

More than three years have passed since Al Gore let the world know of a few less-than-convenient truths about the state of the planet. Whether you subscribe to the climate change theories of the technical winner of the USA's 2000 election or not, most people realise that we should be doing everything possible to look after the earth we live on.

Much like all good-intentioned ideas, talking about it is far easier than actively getting involved and doing something. This basic principle crosses over into the IT realm, where collectively outstretched fists are doing anything they can to tighten their grip on the elusive dollar and hold little interest in wearing green gloves while they do it.

Erwin Bamps, CEO of Gulf Craft, has a theory on being green in the IT sphere. Specifically that it is not so much about the environment, but about spending company funds wisely. He relates that IT is still seen by a lot of companies as an expense, rather than a strategic investment and this attitude trickles across to the topic of going into bat for the environment.

Being in the boat building business, Bamps relates that green IT is not so much about the environmental impact for the company, but rather one of lean manufacturing and doing everything the business can - including slimming down the IT infrastructure. Towards that end, Gulf Craft has been extending the shelf life of its existing computers in order to cut down on e-waste, as well as analysing floor plans so the company can fit as many people in as possible and cut down on air conditioning.

These types of initiatives are driven by business needs, such as the electricity costs for air conditioning - which Bamps explains is one of his biggest expenses. Moves like this have other beneficiaries - besides the bottom line - like the trees that have to breathe in less carbon emissions because the enterprise is siphoning less juice.

"Green IT for me is a bit like lean IT, it is considering how you manage and organise your IT so that you actually waste less. We're talking about e-waste in terms of the environmental impact, but also [avoiding] duplicating equipment inside and continuously upgrading your user," says Bamps.

Naturally the public relations agencies and marketing departments the world over like to dress these types of initiatives up as a nature-saving move designed to stave off the tide of tree-killing doom. It may be going too far to paint an organisation up as being an incarnation of the children's cartoon hero Captain Planet, because in reality most businesses are looking to cut costs, not take pollution down to zero.

"One of the key elements that's driving interest in green IT in the Middle East at the moment is where we can demonstrate short term savings - money talks. When they say green IT, they really mean the colour of the green US dollar rather than plants and vegetables," says John Hoonhout, managing director and technology solutions group lead at HP Middle East.

Hoonhout has been on the road for several months as part of the CIO forums run by research firm IDC, where he has been working on raising the level of awareness of how to minimise the energy consumption of IT infrastructure. He points out that from his dealings with CIOs has come the conclusion that most don't pay their own power bill - these are usually paid by someone else like the CFO - and their performance is not measured on this.

Global Green

The analysts at Gartner have released a survey which shows many organisations are pushing ahead with green IT initiatives, despite the current economic conditions. Of the 620 organisations surveyed, only 60 had no green IT projects, with 40% of those in the US claiming they were likely to launch projects in the future, along with 58% in Europe.

"As far as green IT is concerned, we anticipate continued focus on projects that improve energy efficiency and save money," said Simon Mingay, research VP at Gartner.

"Despite the apparent strength of green IT projects highlighted by the survey, for most organisations not looking to exploit the opportunities of climate change strategically, 2009 will be a gap year for green projects lacking a short-term cost-cutting and efficiency focus. Longer term, we believe environmental sustainability will remain an important business issue," he added.

Gartner also found that 22% of those surveyed had a specific capex budget for green IT. Of those, 46% in Europe anticipated spending more than 15% of their IT capital budgets on green IT projects, along with 38% in the Asia/Pacific region and 36% in the US.

"The broad area of green IT covering areas such as carbon reporting and offsetting, videoconferencing and green procurement will continue to be a key pillar of IT strategy and architecture during the next 10 years," said Rakesh Kumar, research vice president at Gartner. "This is because the political and scientific imperatives around climate change will continue to push governments, international bodies and organisations as stakeholders increase the pressure to focus on environmental sustainability."

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