Don’t just rely on technology to cut emissions, green IT is about people too

Since 2007 the IT sector has reduced annual CO2 emissions by more than 32 million metric tons worldwide, but efforts so far have largely focused on low-hanging fruit…

Since 2007 the IT sector has reduced annual CO2 emissions by more than 32 million metric tons worldwide, according to study at the end of July by the Climate Savers Computing Initiative (CSCI). This means the industry is well on its way to meeting the CSCI's target of 54 million metric tons cut by June 2011.

The announcement of these findings rightly recognised the role of the adoption of computer power management, new efficiency standards for computing technologies, and the development, deployment and adoption of higher-efficiency computing equipment. The obvious message for the IT profession arising from this is: great work, carry on.

But I would add a word of caution. We still have another 22 million tons to go to meet the target, and a growing global IT profession. To an extent, efforts so far have focused (very effectively) on "low-hanging fruit" such as replacement of old systems that were energy-inefficient; the rest of the savings are likely to be tougher to achieve.

Practices and people

It is likely that further advances in technological efficiency will be more incremental and we must not expect that new technology will continue to do this job for us. However, there are still huge gains to be made in the way we use technology. Green IT is also about practices and people; it is about how technology is integrated and networked and managed. We must not forget the impact that training, management and best practice policies can have on a company's emissions.

The foundation of this is ensuring that IT managers have an understanding of the different technologies, assessment tools and standards.

They need to know how to implement key techniques and technologies from adjusting screen brightness settings to virtualisation. More critically, they need to understand when a technique is appropriate, and how to implement it efficiently and without compromising security or risking system loss in the event of a failure.

It is also important to understand that green IT is not just the preserve of the IT department, although it is the IT department that has to lead it. A successful green IT policy will result in everyone in the organisation using IT effectively, from willingly adopting new technologies to turning printers and monitors off when they leave the office.

Furthermore, a good IT manager, tasked with monitoring, assessing and reducing emissions, will identify ways to reduce emissions beyond the department's official remit. This should include promoting the use of video conferencing instead of travelling to meetings, encouraging people to work from home using a virtual private network (VPN), and even promoting the use of public transport among employees and energy efficient lighting in the office.

Skills for IT managers

The real skill for IT managers lies in being able to manage all these things throughout the organisation. They need to develop a formalised strategy for rolling out new systems, ensure settings are at their most efficient, and make sure everyone understands and can adhere to these policies without affecting productivity. All of this must be supported by ongoing carbon monitoring and analysis of return on investment to continually identify room for improvement.

When CompTIA began consulting the IT industry last year on the value of launching a green IT certification to assess the skills needed to effectively reduce emissions, this is exactly what we found. Companies wanted to know their staff had the technical skills and know-how to implement new technology. More importantly, they wanted to know that their managers could implement green IT policies throughout the organisation and identify new ways to drive down emissions, both through technology and behaviour.

There are many who have led the way in this area, implementing excellent policies and training staff, both IT and non-IT, to execute them. However, there are still too many relying on improving technology to do the job for them. If we are to carry on reducing emissions at the rate we have been, this has to change. We need to pull our weight to ensure emissions keep falling - and this starts with people who are trained and certified to manage this process.

Matthew Poyiadgi is European vice-president of CompTIA, which is dedicated to advancing industry growth through its educational programmes, market research, networking events, professional certifications, and public policy advocacy. For more information, visit

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