IT essential for businesses’ green success

Life is tough for IT management. Not only does it have to juggle the conflicting demands of ’business as usual’ but many managers are now expected to add a layer of environmental concern to their workload.

Except, of course, it’s not expressed this way. If it were, it would get scant attention. No, it’s expressed in business terms: “We must slash our energy bills.” “We must comply with new regulations.” “Our customers must see us as a good company to do business with.” You know the sort of thing.

The primary way in which IT can help improve an organisation’s environmental performance is by saving energy. This saves the company money and may allow it do to things it otherwise could not – for instance, extend that datacentre because now it has the necessary power.

According to research from Freeform Dynamics, a mere 27 per cent of IT departments track or measure their own energy use. Without accountability, motivation to change is very low. To be fair, we have seen a lot of enthusiasm for virtualisation in recent years that suggests ’common sense’ plays a part when looking to create energy efficiency.

But nothing beats measuring, monitoring and reporting to keep everyone on the straight and narrow. The technology to do this is easy to implement. All manner of sensors, senders and software are available at all manner of prices and degrees of complexity.

In a datacentre, auditing the IT estate, removing redundant applications and equipment, virtualising the rest, and consolidating resources will dramatically reduce the energy consumed.

You can concurrently tackle personal computers, printers and networking equipment in the wider IT estate, not only managing the equipment remotely but also encouraging changes in user behaviour. ’Eliminate’, ’reduce’, ’reuse’ might be your watchwords. Nothing saves the environment more than cutting the use of something – whether energy, paper or ink.

One thing to watch: while extending the life of a piece of equipment is theoretically an excellent idea, it doesn’t always make sense from an environmental perspective. If the hardware is an energy hog (like a CRT) or woefully inefficient (like an old server), an upgrade might be the ’greenest’ course.

When you do buy new kit, keep the environmental credentials of the vendor in mind because the creation of hardware can use up a lot of resources such as CO2, energy, water or various chemicals.

Looking out to the wider organisation, IT is presented with a host of opportunities to improve the company’s environmental footprint. Reducing travel through online conferencing and optimising transport logistics are two pretty obvious ones. These options may increase electricity use but they can save on the overall energy bills. The travel reduction also lessens accommodation bills and introduces a better work/life balance for the participants.

Facilities management is another area of great potential for energy savings. IT could reach out to the building managers to make sure the office is as energy-efficient as possible. Just beware the facility manager who is wary of the digital automation commonly used to track energy usage and is hesitant to share this information with the departments that need it.

Once you’ve established the basics, you could consider whether remote sensing – of storage tanks, reservoirs, tunnels, farmland, etc – would be useful in reducing your business’s energy usage. It could be possible to reduce unnecessary maintenance journeys to field locations and also get early warnings of problems.

Plenty has been written on these subjects and sources such as the Global Sustainability Institute or the WWF can provide plenty of food for thought.

What’s clear is that IT’s role is ever more closely bound to a company’s commercial and sustainability strategies.

Organisations that want to cut deeply into their energy use and general environmental harm are unlikely to achieve optimum results without involving IT. But, in order to participate in the debate, IT management needs to show it understands both the issues and the potential benefits that the IT department can deliver.

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