Going green... for the sake of IT

Minimising carbon footprint is the CIO’s responsibility

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Going green... for the sake of IT
By  Ramez Shehadi Published  September 21, 2010

Private corporations and the public sector are facing increasing pressures to reduce their carbon emissions and energy bills, driven by enforced legislation and regulation, increasing energy costs, and, perhaps as important, a constantly growing demand from customers for more sustainable operations and products, according to a study by Booz & Company.

In focusing on carbon reduction related to IT departments, many companies respond by attempting relatively simple fixes, such as reducing the number of PCs. However, this is not nearly enough to create a sustainable environmentally conscious programme.

Instead, top corporate management working with CIOs should develop a robust, comprehensive, and holistic green IT model that leverages technology to minimise the carbon footprint of the entire organisation. Such a programme would view environmental sustainability as a business strategy, driving eco-friendly approaches throughout the organisation to improve business operations, better preserve the environment, enhance productivity, and cut costs at the same time.

For most companies, going green is rapidly becoming an imperative, but as critical as green strategies are, many companies are unsure about how to begin.

What’s more, the number of PCs worldwide is projected to double between now and 2014, and mobile voice and data traffic is forecast to rise fourfold by 2012. As a result, total ICT emissions are on track for a 50% increase by 2020. Faced with these realities, many companies take a narrow view of the way IT can help reduce their carbon emissions. The approach they choose is what we call “greening IT” — carbon footprint reduction programmes focused solely on minimising energy usage and non-recyclable waste in corporate IT departments.

A host of activities unrelated to IT operations within a company can yield carbon reduction when green applications are leveraged in areas such as process and building automation, logistics and teleconferencing.

Although it has limited value alone, a greening IT programme can have tremendous impact on reducing carbon footprints when it is integrated with a vigorous campaign of going green through IT. Among the possible facets of a green IT programme are consolidating data centres, adopting cloud computing, installing advanced cooling systems and power management software in data centres, and deploying thin clients.

Corporations, of course, are the largest users of ICT and hence are responsible for a significant portion of its overall carbon footprint. CIOs can work with ICT vendors to participate in — or establish — an asset recovery programme that can extend the life of systems, using strategies such as refurbishing equipment and extracting useful components and materials from recyclable systems.

For strategies of greening IT or going green through IT to be effective, IT governance has to reflect sustainability on an ongoing basis with clear steering mechanisms and key performance indicators (KPIs). Typical governance considerations when creating a successful green IT strategy are extremely challenging, but the effort is well worth it, particularly when the green IT programme delivers cost savings, an enhanced reputation and even new potential revenue streams.

For most companies, going green the right way remains a mystery or a problem too daunting to tackle in a fully-fledged approach. But avoiding this issue in the hope that it will resolve itself via half measures is not acceptable anymore. As many organisations are learning, this can result in continuing inefficiencies, expensive energy costs, wasteful processes and less than stellar relationships with potential customers.

Ramez Shehadi is a partner at Booz & Company.

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