CIO Connect: Going green for the environment or the colour of money?

The pressure for environmentally-friendly business is growing rapidly with the IT department under the spotlight to address the way it works. But it will be financial rather than altruistic desires that ultimately drives green modernisation.


Although some marketing-savvy organisations are recognising the reputational value of being seen to be environmentally friendly, look at the latest PR campaigns from BSkyB, M&S and Easyjet for examples, the harsh reality is that it will be cost savings that drive the move towards greener IT in wider enterprise.

With the latest reports claiming the information and communication technology (ICT) sector in the UK has a carbon footprint as big as the aviation industry, the responsibility for change in IT in business is increasingly falling on the shoulders of the CIO.

With CIO Connect representing more than 60% of CIOs in the FTSE 250, I can report that this subject is certainly on their radar. There are a number of key points being made by the membership:

  • Regulation, cost and reputational issues mean organisations must improve IT’s environmental credentials.
  • Since IT is a key contributor to climate change, CIOs also have an ethical responsibility to act.
  • Most IT organisations can make big improvements with little spend.
  • There are significant opportunities for those that rise to the challenges, including cost savings and efficiency benefits.
  • A key first step is to audit the organisation’s current energy use.

Members are typically beginning with the path of least resistance.

Energy is next in the sights

The size of the corporate energy bill and the amount of power that can be saved with IT-led initiatives are measurable benefits that the CIO and the board can recognise:

  • At 8 hours use a day, 220 days a year, it’s estimated that a PC costs £15 a year for electricity against £7 for a set-up with thin clients and servers.
  • A single server uses as much electricity as six domestic fridges and a medium-sized data centre of 1,000 servers may be responsible for 3,500 tonnes of CO2 per year.
  • Gartner estimates the global IT industry contributed 2% of global CO2 emissions last year.

Businesses with initiatives that promise to improve their organisation’s green posture, in terms of waste, energy, water and transport, are able to tap into the broader corporate social responsibility agenda of an organisation, tying them into ISO 14001 or BS 8555 Environmental Management Systems accreditation, or using them to help drive sustainability charters.

In my experience CIOs are also progressively introducing carbon accounting and energy metering, starting with some simple spreadsheets recording the current and target electrical requirements of technology kit.

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