Will sustainability turn BT Global Services’ fortunes?

The IT or, to give it it's full name, the ICT industry has led a pretty charmed life. After being a participant for over forty three years, it amazes me that it still manages to buck trends; from ever more power at ever lower prices to the potential ability to steer the planet and its occupants from environmental disaster.

At least, that's the hope and the intention of the green IT industry. Manufacturers are gleefully chomping out and selling more and more ICT equipment, while claiming that the environmental savings accruing from its use will mightily offset the environmental harm caused by its manufacture, operation and the disposal of whatever it's replacing.

Of course, IT isn't the only game in town. Cleantech industries are working hard on coming up with new things (with their embedded environmental harm) to reduce our overall environmental impact. It's paradoxical and uncomfortable, but it seems we have to do some more harm in order to do even more good.

One company that has an interesting environmental programme is BT Global Services. It also wants to be seen as "the IT provider of choice". It plans to do this by raising the level at which it consults with businesses by using sustainability as a lens. It has the IT in the form of data centres, software and services. And it has the C, because its core business is communications.

Global Services has posted some ghastly results recently and is in the middle of a restructuring. Perhaps it sees 'sustainability' as an opportunity to improve matters for itself and for the environment.

Anyway, if pretty charts are anything to go by, its Sustainability Practice has a comprehensive approach to helping its customers build sustainable organisations. Like many large companies (IBM, Cisco, CA and HP are just four examples), it has drawn heavily on its own experience to formulate its guidance for customers. For example, an early step in the process is a carbon assessment. This focuses on people, power and procurement.

People commute and travel on business and they use laptops, personal printers and mobile devices, for example. Power is used in office devices and data centre equipment, as well as heating, lighting and cooling. Procurement includes third party services, hosted equipment, print services, transport and so on. These three elements are analysed according to the three 'Scopes' of the Greenhouse Gas Protocol. (Scope I is the direct burning of fossil fuels. Scope II is electricity and the carbon created in using it. Scope III is indirect activity such as staff commuting.)

When you look at it this way, it seems obvious, but that's the deceptive thing about a simple framework.

Of course BT has a range of service offerings to match sustainability needs. And, as you might expect, substituting travel with communications looms large. And 'Homeshoring' is offered as a solution for UK contact centres. (With dog-cancelling microphones, perhaps?) The data centre hosting story is the usual one of greater carbon efficiency than a DIY approach.

The individual elements of the BT story aren't particularly original, but its telephony and networking pedigree hint at good service and security levels. It has many years of implementing sustainability initiatives with resulting business benefits. The savings it boasts sound huge, but these have to be considered in the context of BT's size (£21.4bn turnover last year). It saves £37m per year in travel costs and it saved £238m in one year through conferencing. It also reports a 20 percent productivity improvement from flexible working arrangements.

BT has spent years trying to muscle in on IT's turf. Now the industry really is ICT, perhaps this is the best chance it has. And, with the inevitable build up to December's Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen, now seems to be a very good time for BTGS to set out its sustainability stall.

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