How much emphasis should I put on green IT?

The question: I am a newly appointed IT director, and my new company makes much of its good record on corporate social responsibility, one aspect of which is the reduction in its carbon footprint. Should I be proactive on the issue of green IT, and if so, how? I want to keep green IT in a proper business perspective, and not overemphasise it. I'm not convinced it is a strategic opportunity for senior IT professionals.

The question

I am a newly appointed IT director, and my new company makes much of its good record on corporate social responsibility, one aspect of which is the reduction in its carbon footprint. Should I be proactive on the issue of green IT, and if so, how? I want to keep green IT in a proper business perspective, and not overemphasise it. I'm not convinced it is a strategic opportunity for senior IT professionals.

The solution

Lead the way towards a low-carbon economy

James Elworthy, senior manager, technology, security and risk services, Ernst & Young

Corporate social responsibility is on the strategic agenda for good reason: the issues of climate change, opportunities to enhance your company's reputation, and opportunities to reduce cost make a convincing case for action. And IT organisations are expected to play their part, both by improving their IT carbon footprint and helping businesses tackle the challenges involved.

Green IT involves applying IT to improve a company's environmental sustainability. This ranges from improving the efficiency of the IT infrastructure to driving operational efficiencies in the production of goods and services. And despite cynicism towards the apparent "greenwashing" of aspects of the IT industry, the increasingly compelling evidence of global warming points to significant changes for businesses.

As governments and global bodies set higher targets for carbon dioxide reductions, and given the lack of major progress in reducing emissions, a number of new financial and regulatory targets can be expected. In the future low-carbon economy, formal carbon footprint reduction policies and targets will be the norm, both for companies and their IT organisations.

Energy-efficiency gains in IT operations are one area where significant reductions can be made, with initiatives including reduced power consumption and cooling in datacentres. Improved architectures and server virtualisation also offer significant scope for energy reductions by using fewer IT resources for the same output.

The real opportunity for IT executives is to lead companies in the transition to a low-carbon economy. By truly understanding the corporate agenda, you can ensure IT has a leading role. See how you can set measurable targets so you can demonstrate what IT is doing for the overall green corporate objectives.

To be truly proactive, get educated. IT can offer many solutions, such as improving supply-chain efficiencies, providing management information for "carbon reporting" and regulatory compliance, and supplying improved communication systems to reduce company travel.

Green IT is more than just a strategic opportunity - it's an imperative.

Help your organisation do the "right thing"

Chris Potts, director, Dominic Barrow

A key responsibility of a company's senior IT professionals is to provide leadership on any IT-related developments that may impact the company's strategies, investments and operating results. Therefore your desire to put green IT in its proper business context is well founded.

However, it has been estimated that IT accounts for just 2% of global energy consumption. So, overall, IT may not be a huge source of reductions in emissions, although that will vary between companies. We will exploit the scope we have in IT, but the major opportunities will frequently lie elsewhere.

Your strategic opportunity is to ensure your company applies all the hard-learned lessons from investing in IT as it considers its "clean technologies" strategy.

We can assume that regulatory, financial and reputational pressures will continue to build on companies to address their carbon footprints. Meanwhile, as Al Gore said in An Inconvenient Truth, "If we do the right thing, then we're gonna create a lot of wealth."

So here are three factors to bear in mind. First, your executive colleagues will want to make the company more energy-efficient. Second, your company may be one that can create new value by doing Al Gore's "right thing". Thirdly, as more clean technologies emerge, your colleagues will want to invest in them to cut energy consumption or create new value, while avoiding the kind of frenzy we have sometimes seen with IT.

Your tactics? Make sure people have the information systems to show where the company can make the best energy savings. Keep a close eye, with everyone else, on developments in the regulatory, legal and financial regimes and on emerging clean technologies. And use everything we have learned about wisely investing in and exploiting IT to provide leadership in the selection and use of clean technologies - whether or not these are classed as "IT".

Cut power consumption in datacentres

Ben Booth, global chief technology officer, Ipsos

You are correct that there is a lot of hype about green IT at the moment, and you will not be thanked in these times of economic uncertainty for proposing ideas that add to costs or endanger the bottom line. There is one area where reducing your carbon footprint makes good business sense - in datacentres. Low-power-consumption hardware and virtualised configurations are reducing both costs and environmental impact, so if you pursue this policy, you will be cutting costs and helping the environment.

Support corporate social responsibility goals

Sharm Manwani, Henley Management College

It makes sense to take your lead from the company’s position on corporate social responsibility. Organisations have many reasons for increasing their focus on green IT. Drivers include responding to regulations, enhanced stakeholder perceptions and cost reduction. Together, these may offer a strategic business opportunity. This is a matter for the board to judge and you will want to be sensitive to the executive view on this topic.

 

There are two main streams of activity in which you may be able to contribute. The first is to explore the green IT opportunities through external benchmarking and via internal analysis of the potential benefits. The second is for you and your team to assess to what extent you can support the company's corporate social responsibility (CSR) goals.

 

You could start by evaluating the potential of environmental initiatives in the IT area. At a practical level, how much can you reduce energy requirements, perhaps by consolidating the number of computers or using new technologies? Are you in a position to support or expand home working to reduce your carbon footprint? Of course it will be important to quantify the impact of these initiatives both in environmental and cost terms.

 

A further step is to ask your team to review the current company CSR goals and progress. Perhaps you can identify specific support you can give to these, for example in the areas of product development or in reporting of strategic environmental initiatives. This will enable you to understand more clearly the appropriate level of organisational investment and commitment. You can then test your findings with senior business colleagues and perhaps the chief executive. This will help you determine where the identified opportunities fit into the overall set of priorities.

 

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