IT is achieving green?

As more and more organisations assess their impact on the planet and opt to go ‘green’, concerns are being raised as to the actual progress being made, if at all? Elana Varon takes a closer look.

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Many technology leaders shrug their shoulders at the mention of climate change in conversation, or they pass on conference panels that use the "green" terminology. Yet, according to exclusive CIO research, they are beginning to think green.

Stricter government regulations, rising energy costs and the growing awareness that sustainability is a real business concern, are pushing companies to strategise how they will meet future energy demands and calls for carbon emissions data. Green IT is making inroads in the data centre and CIOs are starting to realise that it's only the beginning. Fifty-four per cent of IT leaders responding to a Green IT survey in the US CIO magazine, report that their organisations have environmental sustainability goals for information technology. In other words, they are trying to reduce the negative impact of IT on the planet.

But the report indicates that these leaders are motivated almost equally by social responsibility, as they are by business benefits. While thirty-eight per cent say they're going ‘green’ because it's the right thing to do, thirty-seven per cent say doing the right thing for the planet also helps them reduce operational costs, for example by cutting energy consumption. Only five per cent see sustainable IT as a competitive advantage.

For IT departments a focus on costs, energy costs in particular, is a logical place to start. If you pay attention to the news, you know that addressing climate change relies on rethinking energy use. "As a CIO, electricity accounts for a substantial part of my bill," says Patricia Lawicki, senior vice president and CIO for utility company Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E). Reducing the electricity bill cuts costs and frees up funds for additional IT investments. Few IT organisations have gone much further.

Though there's plenty of media attention to calculating carbon footprints (and a few high profile companies, like Dell and retailer Marks Marks & Spencer have declared their intentions to become carbon neutral), IT leaders as a rule are not grappling with the question of their- or their companies- carbon emissions.

Among the 280 IT leaders surveyed, 61 per cent said that they were not measuring their corporate carbon footprints right now, though 16 per cent said that they were preparing to do it. Only 11 per cent of the respondents said that their companies are not just conscious of their carbon output, but that IT is part of the calculation.

This is likely to change. Nations are negotiating a follow-up agreement to the Kyoto Protocol, which establishes limits on global emissions. (The process began last December in Bali).

"Unless the science behind climate change develops a more optimistic view of the problem, or progress in technology development and adoption, along with behavioural changes, unfolds more quickly than expected, enterprises should anticipate that they will be motivated and forced to make significant improvements to energy and material efficiency," warns Gartner analyst, Simon Mingay.

Andrea Moffat, director of corporate programmes with Ceres, a network of investors, environmental advocates and public interest organisations, envisions that once companies begin to grapple with their impact on the climate, the role of IT will move beyond simply greening the data centre. The extent of this however, depends on the company and industry, as some business operations will find the transformation to ‘green’, more of a challenge than others. For example while global financial service company Citi, which includes Citibank, has developed a business intelligence application to manage energy use in its office buildings, greening a supply chain for instance would not be a such a straightforward process.

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