The management of ICT resources can have an enormous environmental impact, but many CIOs could be exposing their organisations to foreseeable risks or missing out on opportunities because they are insufficiently aware of the issues, says Dene Burke, head of consultancy Protiviti's internal audit practice.
With ICT systems responsible for an estimated 2% of global carbon emissions, it is important that CIOs play their part in reducing power wastage and ensuring systems are as efficient as possible, especially through initiatives such as power management and server virtualisation. Most end-users are unaware of PC power management features, such as hibernate mode, and CIOs need to consider whether systems need to be on all the time?
One barrier to energy-efficient ICT is the separation of facilities management (electricity) and ICT procurement. Energy efficiency traditionally plays no part in ICT purchasing, but this is set to change, and companies such as Dell are starting to talk about their green credentials and product efficiency.
CIOs will increasingly be asked to look at extending traditionally short system lifecycles to reduce the need to produce and dispose of systems. CIOs must also be aware of green ICT options, such as energy- and heat-efficient servers for datacentres, virtualisation and thin-client systems, to improve the efficiency of the ICT architecture.
With a drive to provide more efficient office space using less power, CIOs will be more involved in overseeing building management systems to control the working environment, ensuring that the ideal conditions are achieved with minimum waste.
Other risk exposures include the failure to align IT practices with environmental disclosures - leading to a company making inaccurate statements about sustainability - and a CIO making decisions that might make sense from a technology perspective but which conflict with wider sustainability aims, such as locating a new datacentre in an area that increases the organisation's carbon footprint.
The sort of questions CIOs should consider when drafting policies and procedures include:
- Are they aligned with the organisation's corporate social responsibility (CSR) policies and environmental policies?
- What programmes are in place to ensure more efficient use of resources?
- How can the efficiency programmes be improved?
- What environmental reporting procedures and controls are in place?
- What efficiency targets should be in place relating to power usage?
- How effectively are end-users managing power consumption?
- Is energy efficiency a consideration in ICT procurement?
- Do we comply with existing environmental legislation or product efficiency standards?
- Are we ready for future legislation?
- Are we communicating with the supply chain and partners to improve energy efficiency collectively and share ideas?
- How do our practices compare with our competitors' and other industries'?
- Will ICT initiatives help us meet our responsibilities and goals?
CIOs need to be aware, not only of their organisation's environmental position, but also of the shifting legislative and political landscape, and ask themselves at least these three questions: Are we operating as efficiently as we could be? Can we reduce power consumption. And can we be a greener, more effective organisation?
Dene Burke is head of Protiviti's internal audit practice.
This was first published in May 2008