Green Computing

The role of IT in the push towards environmental sustainability


Published/updated: June 2008

By David Tebbutt and Dale Vile

Today’s newspapers are awash with green initiatives. Where computers are discussed it is generally with reference to operational power management, rather than how IT can help a business achieve its environmental goals. The environmental damage caused by our love affair with computers and other electronic devices runs deep. This paper, based on an international survey of IT professionals, examines the broader picture and the part we can all play in resolving the issues.

KEY FINDINGS

Drivers for environmental initiatives are regulatory pressure and cost
Regulation is the primary driver of environmental initiatives, closely followed by cost considerations. PR value is third while genuine concern for the environment ranked fifth out of six criteria.

Staff appear to be ahead of the organisation in environmental concerns
Over 60 percent of respondents are ‘passionate’ about the need to deal with environmental issues, but only a third of organisations take environmental issues ‘seriously’. The highest levels of concern are detected in the very smallest and largest companies. It is not the first time that the mid-ground has proven hard to address but they stand to gain just as much as the other organisations.

IT can improve its own environmental performance
Energy is the big talking point at the moment with consolidation and virtualisation driving power savings. However, the majority of IT departments are not accountable for power usage. If this were changed, it would greatly affect IT decision-making in this area. IT also needs to take a clear look at the lifecycle environmental impact of its purchasing and disposal choices.

IT can help the company with its environmental objectives
Of the six main options offered, the top three ways in which IT can help the company improve its environmental performance all relate to travel. Moving bits instead of atoms can slash travel and accommodation expenses and reduce environmental impact. Home working and teleconferencing are the big winners here. These changes require collaboration between the board, HR and IT.

IT being green is a subset of IT helping the organisation get green and stay green
IT has a dual role, both in becoming greener itself and in supporting and enabling the business’s environmental objectives. It is therefore important to think beyond IT’s immediate jurisdiction such as power and cooling to the overall picture, where the use of technology as an enabler of more environmentally friendly practices can have a significantly greater impact.

Nail the obvious tasks and champion the more complex
Measures such as turning things off to save power and making power efficiency a standard selection criterion when buying new equipment are obvious, but ineffective unless they are actually implemented. Other areas, such as improving asset management and working environmental considerations into project assessments and infrastructure modernisation initiatives require more planning, funding and stakeholder buy-in, but may nevertheless still be championed by IT.

This report is based on the findings of an online research study conducted in February 2008 where feedback was gathered from 1,474 IT professionals on the topic of IT and the environment. The work was indirectly funded by VMware, Intel and Dell via one of Freeform Dynamic’s media partners, though the study was designed, executed, analysed and interpreted on a completely independent basis by Freeform Dynamics.



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