Keep a clear head on environmental issues

Did you see the Act On CO2 quango’s ’bedtime stories’ advertisement? It tells children that if the grown-ups would change their ways, they may (note: only ’may’) be saved from the devastating effects of climate change. It nails ’ordinary things’ that grown-ups do, like warming homes and driving cars, for 40 percent of emissions.

This advertisment is wrong at so many levels: it frightens powerless people, it sets them against their parents, it implies that doing something about cars and home heating might save us. The only good thing about the ad’ is that it has galvanised discussion on the role of humans in climate change. And, if an analysis of the comments on the SkyNews story around the advertisement is any measure, it shows that non-believers outweigh believers by a considerable margin.

What’s this got to do with CIOs? Well, apart from many of them being parents, they are a major part of an organisation’s own environmental efforts. They are at the heart of the discussion – at board level, inside the IT department and engaging with users and client departments. Unlike the powerless target of the television advertisement, companies can take remedial actions. Actions that will benefit the organisation firstly, and the environment as a by-product. And, if it cuts costs, improves reputation and helps meet regulatory obligations, no-one’s going to worry about finger-pointing.

We know the IT department can sort itself out with measures like auditing software and hardware to figure out what can be jettisoned, packing more work into servers through virtualisation and free cooling. And, big wins lie in wait in the body of the organisation. These have been widely discussed, but examples include telepresence suites and desktop videoconferencing to reduce travel and centralised management of the distributed IT estate – powering up and down according to user behaviour and time of day.

But when planning to implement environmental measures, especially if they requires a change in behaviour from management or staff, you need to bear in mind that people will react differently to new initiatives according to their own disposition and values.

Recently, strategic marketing agency, EcoAlign, figured out the mix of motivations of US citizens to use new technologies and participate in new energy programs. The population balance appears to be: Cost-Conscious Saver (41%); Value Buyer (20%); Environmentalist/Green Consumer (19%); Traditional Consumer (10%); and Tech Enthusiast (10%). Over here, the percentages may vary but you’ll still be working with the same mix of outlooks.

This suggests that when embarking on any kind of change with an environmental angle, you might do better to play that down and, instead, centre your primary messages around cost savings, business gains through reputational improvement and regulatory compliance. This approach will hook everyone at the professional level. Then make sure that the secondary environmental messages are there too. This way, you’ll sink the hook deeper into those with an environmental conscience, but you always make it clear that business sustainability has to be the first priority.

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