Green IT: Understanding its Business Value

The business case for green IT is stronger than it has ever been. Gartner says sustainability will be a Top 5 priority for 60% of executives at major Western European and North American companies by 2015.  And it’s not just a feel-good idea – practical business considerations -  not peoples’ personal beliefs about the environment – are driving corporate sustainability programs. Companies now understand that green IT saves them money and increases their value in the marketplace.

The definition of green IT

Green IT, or green computing, is manufacturing, using and disposing of PCs, servers, peripherals and other hardware in environmentally friendly ways. Green IT practices revolve around reducing energy consumption and disposing of equipment responsibly.

It’s a no-brainer to ask your users to turn off their devices when they aren’t using them, but there’s a lot more you can do to save energy:

  • Buy energy efficient products. Look for Energy Star and EPEAT ratings.
  • Encourage your employees to change their work habits by using telecommuting, teleconferencing and video conferencing technology.
  • Use power management software to manage devices across your network.
  • Change printer configurations to use less paper and ink.
  • Implement server and storage virtualization and use cloud computing services.
  • Make sure server rooms and data centers are energy efficient, that cooling systems are running at maximum efficiency and leaks are plugged.

Special handling is required to dispose of and recycle computers and other hardware. Computers and monitors contain toxic substances like dioxins, polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), cadmium, chromium, radioactive isotopes, mercury and lead that contaminate soil and water if dumped in landfills or pollute the air if incinerated. Aluminum, tin, silicon, iron, copper, gold, and plastics must be extracted from computers for reuse. There are companies that remove data from hard drives and dispose of and recycle equipment, adhering to strict regulations that protect data and the environment. PC Disposal is one example. When choosing a disposal company, evaluate:

  • how they keep data safe while in transit,
  • their process for wiping hard drives clean,
  • whether or not their methods comply with federal, state and local regulations governing privacy and e-waste, and
  • the degree to which they protect your organization from liability in the event of a data breach.

The business value of green IT

Cost savings are a major reason why green IT has momentum. Reduced spending on equipment and energy, paper and ink, tax breaks and other financial incentives make green IT a practical way for companies to save money.

Environmental regulations created to address climate change force businesses to be environmentally friendly. Consequently, new economic opportunities exist. Supplying and servicing energy efficient equipment and developing green technology are just some of the ways in which companies can grow revenue and fuel job growth in a low-carbon economy.

Investing in green IT, and telling people about it, is good PR. Polls indicate people believe global warming is a real threat and that more needs to be done to combat climate change. Companies demonstrating initiative in this area show they are responsive to investors, customers, and consumers alike.

Roadblocks to adopting green IT

Resistance to change, apathy, and competing priorities are universal problems. However, they can be overcome through education and leadership.

The data needed to make informed decisions around green IT initiatives is often fragmented and must be collected and analyzed from a holistic point of view.

Manual data collection makes it difficult to piece together a complete picture of a business’s carbon footprint.

Current trends in green IT

Here’s how some firms are tackling these issues:

Chief Sustainability Officers (CSOs) began joining the executive ranks of businesses in 2004. Since then, senior management positions responsible for leading companies toward more sustainable business practices have become common. Not only does it demonstrate a company’s commitment to sustainability, it puts someone with expertise in a position to influence others in the organization and push for change. Gwen Ruta of the Environmental Defense Fund writes, “Having a dedicated sustainability position is helping these companies bridge the gap between environmental and business management, and to reap the rewards from doing so.” On the other hand, some companies choose to make sustainability part of someone’s job or distribute responsibility among multiple positions. Either way, a person or a group must take the lead and coordinate company-wide efforts for sustainability programs to be successful.

The energy management and carbon accounting segment of the software market is booming. Reporting requirements and a need to turn disparate data into actionable information are reasons why. A 2011 survey by Forrester Research found that 8 percent of 2,700 businesses in 13 countries were using Enterprise Carbon & Energy Management (ECEM) software and another 5 percent were planning to implement it in the next 12 months.

Other trends within green IT include:

Companies are tweaking their supply chains and declining to do business with companies that do not make every effort to minimize their greenhouse gas emissions. Some ECEM software packages feature supply chain management tools.

Data centers use a massive amount of electricity and because most of that electricity is generated using fossil fuels, the negative impact of data centers on the environment is considerable. Data center managers recognize this and efforts are underway to use more renewable energy and maximize efficiency. The Green Grid is a resource for companies looking for ways to make their data centers more energy efficient.

IT departments are an integral part of any successful sustainability program because of the amount of energy IT consumes, the number of electronic devices that must be disposed of properly or recycled, and the software applications that are required to collect and analyze data to support decision-making around green IT initiatives. Although there are barriers that must be overcome, IT pros recognize the business value of green IT and are actively looking for ways to help reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

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