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Brainstorm Magazine, April 2010

Green IT may be on everyone’s lips, but it’s not yet made it onto their `To do’ lists.

 Green IT has been one of the hot topics for at least the past three years in South Africa, and several years more than that in Europe.

Yet no one seems to be doing green. Anecdotal evidence from interviewees seems to back this up. As HP country manager, Enterprise Servers, Storage and Networking, Manoj Bhoola notes: “We’re not aware of any companies that can claim and put their name behind the fact that they are fully green in their IT organisations. A lot of companies have done a lot of work but I don’t think anyone has reached the end goal.”

Some haven’t even started yet. Says Sustainable IT head Tim James: “I think it’s going to be legislation around carbon emissions that will make people start doing it. No one is going to get points for doing it when they don’t have to, but some companies have realised the marketing opportunity and cost saving potential now and will do it. Then there’s the energy aspect. This is where we see people starting to pay attention. A new electricity price hike has been announced and we’re going to see people get serious because of it, especially guys with big bills. It has be a business thing, it can’t just be an IT thing.”

That really is the point. As BCX CTO Andy Brauer states: “The problem is it’s a whole way of life and philosophy that has to become part of the value chain in order to be meaningful. It’s very difficult for emerging countries, which are largely coal-based, to have a green view. Yes, they are contributing – but is it as much as volcanoes? Or the US, which has some 200 million cars driving around every day?”

A matter of perspective

Africa as a whole contributes less than four percent of global greenhouse gas emissions*. South Africa contributes 65 percent of Africa’s* and 1.5 percent of the world’s* carbon dioxide emissions. According to Gartner**, the ICT industry is responsible for roughly two percent of global carbon dioxide emissions.

“And how responsible is IT really for carbon emissions?” Brauer asks. “In the process of making it yes, but using it? When there’s no electricity, everyone’s diesel generators kick in, which is counter-active to green, for example.”

Brauer’s point is possibly more to do with people thinking about these things versus blindly accepting what’s published by press and analysts as ‘the truth’.

Conversely, or perhaps ironically, as BT country manager Keith Matthews points out: “IT and telecoms organisations have been leading the way in showing how environmental and commercial needs can be aligned. One of the reasons this sector has led the way is that they found they can calculate their carbon impact with relative ease, since most of their emissions come from running their networks.”

Cost calculations

Driving green initiatives of late, and particularly in South Africa where power has been unreliable since early 2008, is the cost factor. Says Matthews: “In a world of high oil prices, it makes hard-nosed financial sense to reduce energy usage. Governments and pressure groups will not let companies or consumers forget their responsibility for protecting the environment, while also seeking financial gain. The winners in the next economic upturn will be those corporations that embraced sustainability as a framework to drive financial success during the downturn.

“People and companies who think sustainability is merely a fair weather exercise have been missing the point all along. When times are tough, the onus on every business is to save money, protect and build revenues and make sure core business assets are being fully utilised. Running your business in a sustainable way can be a key driver when it comes to meeting your goals – not just when times are tough, but actually because they are tough.

“Just because times are tough doesn’t mean customers have altered their behaviour,” he adds.

There’s more to going green than just reducing energy usage, however. Says Citrix country manager Nick Keene: “Recycling of ageing IT equipment, procurement from green suppliers, and so on, the entire strategy has not been embarked on totally, but selectively around the need to save money and reduce power consumption because there’s no power to be had. There’s a lot to be done and South Africa’s commitment recently (to reduce carbon emissions by 34 percent by 2020***) will start putting pressure on organisations to do so.

“The only way to achieve that is by starting to put the necessary procedures and policies in place.”

And while no one is being penalised yet, fines could be put in place faster than some organisations would like to think. “One of the biggest things that is likely to come out of the UN Climate Change Conference (when the climate treaty gets signed in Mexico at the end of year) is trade tariffs against carbon intensity of goods, i.e. a fine is likely to be added to the cost of high carbon-intensive goods. Businesses here will be penalised.”

A recently released report by the South African Institute of Chartered Accountants (SAICA) says that local climate change laws could be implemented by 2012.

And King III is already in effect. It says that: “IT governance should focus on four key areas: Strategic alignment with the business and collaborative solutions, including the focus on sustainability and the implementation of ‘green IT’ principles; Value delivery: concentrating on optimising expenditure and proving the value of IT; Risk management: addressing the safeguarding of IT assets, disaster recovery and continuity of operations; Resource management: optimising knowledge and IT infrastructure.”

Means and opportunity

Motive, means and opportunity exist for organisations to go green and make a difference to the planet. That the motive for most of them will be cost savings, or even profit, is neither here nor there, despite what some critics says. That it is done is what’s important, particularly as it becomes more expensive not to comply.

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