A green desktop computing strategy is not only beneficial in terms of corporate responsibility credentials. It can also significantly reduce energy costs across the organisation.
Yet only a few forward-thinking organisations have embraced the concept of green IT, given that an environmental or sustainable approach to business lends an organisation ethical kudos, and also substantial bottom-line savings in terms of energy costs.
A study from IT services supplier Computacenter and Fujitsu Siemens Computers, for example, shows that the UK's top 200 listed companies waste more than £61m in electricity a year by not maximising the energy efficiency of their desktop computers.
Other research estimates that, on average, up to 20% of energy used in offices is wasted - much of which could be saved by purchasing more efficient IT equipment and managing them more effectively.
In addition, the Climate Change Levy, introduced by the UK government in April 2001, is set to push up the electricity bill of most organisations, with the levy initially set at 0.43 per kilowatt hour (plus VAT), but set to rise year on year.
According to figures from not-for-profit government organisation the Carbon Trust, office equipment such as desktop PCs, monitors, printers, photocopiers and projectors accounts for about 15% of the UK's total energy consumption, and this figure is expected to rise to 30% by 2020.
The good news, however, is that there is a growing acknowledgement by the IT department that an energy-efficient approach to computing can significantly reduce the energy footprint of an organisation, and therefore energy costs.
According to an Intel survey of 200 IT managers in the UK, 66% said that energy consumption had become a board-level issue, and 69% stated that decreasing energy consumption was viewed as a business priority going forward.
Despite the clear intention to reduce energy consumption, less than 20% of survey respondents had conducted an energy audit.
There also appears to be a perception that energy-efficient IT equipment is more expensive than non-specialist systems, which can impact the procurement decision. Richard Edwards, senior research analyst at the Butler Group, believes this is a short-term view.
"In some cases there might be a cost premium on the original purchase price, but that is not the only factor to consider. CIOs have to think about the lifelong operation and maintenance costs of equipment, as well as the disposal angle. Even within product ranges from the same PC manufacturer there can be significant differences in power consumption, which across the estate of IT equipment will have a major impact on energy costs."
The PC processor box and monitor are two of the more power-hungry devices on the increasingly cluttered desktop, accounting for 66% of IT's total energy consumption. Photocopiers and printers consume another 25% of the total.
Edwards calculates that a notebook with power-efficient components can provide energy savings of up to 80% compared to a PC connected to a CRT monitor with incorrectly configured power management features.
"A large office block housing 1,250 employees consumes about 2.5 gigawatt hours annually, at a cost of approximately £134,000. If notebooks reduce that by 80% then it is worth having. Even if energy bills are cut in half, that is an annual saving of £50,000 in energy costs," he says.
Manufacturers of processors and PCs have been working to reduce this energy footprint, and most now offer low-energy, high-performance, business-grade PCs incorporating power-saving features.
Intel, for example, says that its Core2 Duo desktop processor provides a 40% improvement in performance over a Pentium processor, while offering a 40% decrease in energy consumption.
The PC manufacturers themselves - including Fujitsu-Siemens, Dell, IBM and HP - have also introduced energy-saving elements into the design of desktop computers, as well as incorporating these high-power, low-energy processors.
Fujitsu-Siemens' Esprimo PC range, for example, is smaller, which equates to less packaging and materials, and has been designed to maximise airflow throughout the system. The design reduces the power used by cooling fans, which are required less frequently and at lower speeds, thus reducing energy consumption, heat and noise.
Power consumption in idle mode has also been reduced in the Esprimo PC. Paul Craddock, product marketing manager for static, client and display devices at Fujitsu-Siemens, says the dual-core AMD Athlon 64 processor in its Esprimo "E" series uses less power than a lightbulb when in idle mode - 54W compared to 64W.
This translates to a 35% reduction in energy consumption. Taking a typical European energy price of 10p per kilowatt hour, the Esprimo could deliver a potential saving of £647 per year across 100 devices. Across 1,000 devices over a three-year period that is equivalent to a saving of more than £19,000.
Thanks to the reduced packaging and cost of transport - the company has also transferred its transport method from air to ships - Fujitsu-Siemens has absorbed any price differential. Craddock said the company's "green" range of PCs are no more expensive than its other systems.
These new computing platforms also incorporate system management features such as remote power cycling, which allows IT administrators to switch network-attached devices on or off. Furthermore, Microsoft's Vista also enables PCs to be rapidly powered up from the sleep state, which can reduce the energy consumed by a "woken" PC by 70%.
Another power-hungry device is the monitor, with flat screens estimated to save £36 per year per system in energy costs compared to a CRT screen.
Rick Thwaites, UK marketing manager for corporate desktop and professional workstations at Dell, says, "If the organisation has 1,000 monitors that is a huge saving, with the acquisition price of the device easily recouped over the lifecycle of the product in terms of energy savings."
Along with power savings, flatscreens offer improved resolution over CRT, and the Clearsight technology found in XP and Vista, means that it is becoming easier to read documents on-screen, removing the need for printing reams of documents.
Energy-efficient PCs also provide simple power management features, such as a switch-off monitor outlet which turns off the monitor whenever the PC is switched off. Again, this offers significant savings over the IT hardware estate and product lifecycle.
An often overlooked source of energy consumption is the power adapter, which itself typically consumes 50% of the power delivered to it.
But new equipment is not necessarily a prerequisite for cutting energy costs, with the power consumption of a PC determined by a range of features, including policies such as whether systems are switched off at night, screen size, the operating system and the correct use of power management features.
An obvious starting point for energy reduction is to ensure that all computer equipment is turned off when it is not being used. At the same time, contrary to popular opinion, screen savers do not save energy, and so screen savers should be set to "blank" or "none".
Setting policies on printer use can also reduce the wastage of consumables. "Policy issues are more relevant on the printing side. Ink cartridges can be expensive and it is almost cheaper to buy a new desktop printer, which can be as little as £50.
"We might see a move back to the print room mentality, which would reduce the number of inefficient printers on desks and prevent users from printing out 'willy nilly'," Edwards says.
Rob Bamforth, principal analyst at research firm Quocirca, says there are three areas for CIOs to consider in terms of "green IT": the manufacture and disposal of IT equipment, energy consumption of the devices, and consumables, such as paper, printer ink and cartridges.
"Small percentages soon add up across the organisation's IT estate. For devices it is about using power management and energy saving modes, while for printers, the biggest potential savings come from consumables."
Bamforth believes that the biggest savings can come from re-architecting the IT infrastructure: "For every Watt used to power a device, three more are required for cooling.
"IT needs to architect for as much consolidation of computing power, data storage and printing as possible. Move anything possible back into the shared infrastructure - for example, users that need a high horse-power PC do not necessarily need it on the desk it could be provided from within the infrastructure."
He urges CIOs to ensure that the impact of any energy-saving decisions they make is recognised and credited across the organisation.
"This is not something the IT department can do on its own. For example, the benefits of reduced power consumption, and the decreased cooling demands it might enable throughout a building, will likely fall under the remit of HR and facilities," Bamforth says.
"IT has to show that its decisions are impacting the organisation and it needs to get credit for that. For example, if energy costs are reduced because of IT's decisions, then the freed-up money should be reinvested to provide other, or newer, IT resources. There should be a positive trade-off for IT."
Although some organisations are turning to green IT to reduce energy costs, others are using it to "tick the box" for the requirements of fair and ethical business strategies. A growing number of commercial businesses, such as those listed in the FTSE For Good Index and organisations in the public sector, are keen to showcase their green credentials.
The Public and Commercial Services Union (PCS), one of the UK's largest trade unions employing more than 450 staff, is one such example. In 2005, the PCS had reached the end of a four-year leasing cycle on its desktop IT equipment, and having introduced a fair and ethical trading policy in August that year, purchased energy efficient devices from Fujitsu-Siemens, including 200 Scenic E computers and 220 Esprimo E5905 professional desktop PCs.
"We were very impressed by how relatively pain-free the whole roll-out was. We were able to agree a competitive price and, most importantly, Fujitsu-Siemens has an excellent track-record in the manufacture of green computers. This was a vital consideration for us as we have an obligation to use suppliers that have excellent environmental standards," says Gordon Paterson, director of IT at PCS.
But whether the reasons for going green are environmentally or financially motivated, it is becoming clear that the IT department cannot afford to ignore them any longer.
This was first published in February 2007