The IT industry appears to be at odds with itself. On the one hand, it is embracing commercial opportunities to develop green technology and IT enablers that help to cut down carbon emissions to meet both corporate and country commitments. On the other hand, it has not yet pushed hard enough to ensure that sustainable computing strategies and concepts are integrated into business strategies.
The strategic thinking that allows for any discussion to move from an IT forum to a boardroom level is still in its early days and the signs are that most businesses are failing to grasp what green IT brings to the table for the long-term.
Discussions must take place at boardroom level where green IT is recognised as a long-term business enabler – a means to benchmark and keep the operations running at optimum level while reducing carbon emissions and realising ongoing savings.
Why green IT
Most economies today are largely service-based and heavily dependent on information and communication technologies. This reliance has emerged as information technology has made running operations easier, faster and more efficient.
Consequently, while the IT industry’s own carbon emissions are relatively low – accounting for around two per cent globally – the industry can indirectly help drive down a larger percentage of carbon emissions. Office equipment is the fastest growing energy user in the business world, consuming 15 per cent of the total electricity used in offices.
This will most likely rise to 30 per cent by the year 2020. In addition, there is an ever increasing demand on energy diverted to meet the fast spreading needs of the information-rich society with its ubiquitous use of media, the internet, computerisation and servers.
Furthermore, IT companies are already adopting sustainability practices, formulating standards and policies and putting pilot programmes in place. Many firms believe they can pass on this experience to benefit other industries, businesses and societies.
Therefore, as IT looks to its own responsibility to reduce its share of carbon emissions through ‘greener products’, it also is in a strong position to contribute enormously to the overall global drive by providing the technological solutions needed to reduce emissions across all industries and form a solid and real foundation for future low-carbon businesses and societies.
IT can empower energy users and create completely new business opportunities. In time, industrial and commercial processes would be optimised, energy production should have turned green based on renewable energy and consumption in general should have been transformed to a more sustainable path. Such a world is the ideal green IT strategy in practice – a process much wider than just the application of technology. Indeed, it becomes a culture change that transforms businesses and societies.
The SA industry pulse on green IT and carbon emissions
The SA government committed to a 34% reduction in emissions by 2020 at Copenhagen in 2009. In October 2010, it released its Green Paper on Climate change where it spelled out the actions that would require focus to help meet these commitments.Subsequent national energy planning documents indicate a move towards renewables and nuclear to reduce emissions intensity of a traditionally coal based grid.
Eskom is still constrained with its reserve margin. Punitive responses to energy consumption such as the Power Conservation Programme (PCP) continue to bubble although nothing formal has been announced in terms of implementation.What is clear however is that large energy users are starting to feel the pinch of annual increases of over 15% year on year for the foreseeable future. Energy management and conservation still continues to be an imperative and with carbon tax expected to be tabled in the next budget, even more so.
Understandably due to lack of regulations and a relatively low energy rate, most of corporate SA is still dragging its feet. Financial Directors still appear to undervalue the financial returns from investments in energy efficiency and yet energy efficiency projects deliver an average return on investment of 48 per cent – some four times the minimum level demanded by most senior finance officers.
Furthermore business investments in energy efficiency pay back within three years on average, some IT solutions like PC power management in as little as 12 months. The business case for energy efficiency is clear and compelling. Few other investments get anywhere near that rate of return.
So, if the business case stacks up, what is still holding back finance directors from signing off energy efficiency and sustainable computing projects?
Despite the push and commitments by government and business communities to sign up to environmental initiatives, there is an understandable concern that today’s tough climate could make the green agenda for these business sectors a casualty of the economic downturn. The reality is that for such companies, the move towards a greener approach is primarily driven by cost savings.
What next? The argument for greening the company
The business community is faced with strong economic measures to drive down carbon emissions. Coupled with the same argument are the reductions in ensuing costs and improvements in efficiency. Underlying the argument is the green IT approach.
It appears that while these economic initiatives ‘control’ the impact on society, as do other measures such as carbon offsetting and neutrality, on their own they are not enough to solve long term challenges on sustainability and ongoing optimisation. What is missing is the joined up thinking for a truly green strategy that is all-encompassing, the integration of green goals and initiatives in the enterprise-wide strategy. Indeed, what is missing is the commitment to benchmark progress and efficiency on an on-going basis and work towards sustainability. And this is precisely what a green IT strategy can facilitate.
Green IT strategy
A green IT strategy is more about changing an organisation’s culture than is it about changing technology or business processes. The greening of an organisation through IT is an evolving sustainable process. Its largest potential impact lies in the fact that, as an enabling technology, IT has the ability to improve efficiency in areas as diverse as electricity transmission, supply chain management, building information systems, and business processes in general.
Initially green IT focuses on making the company’s own IT greener by improving end-user working practices, creating an energy-efficient office environment and reducing energy consumption. Monitoring of utilities consumption, driving down energy, equipment and data centre costs are all quick wins that can be attributed to IT audits and assessments. The challenge, however, lies in convincing management of the need for regular auditing and benchmarking of their operations. In order to sustain these savings and efficiencies, they must integrate green IT into their business as usual and include green key performance indicators (KPIs) in the overall business KPIs.
Ongoing, as the company matures in its green IT strategy, IT becomes the enabler to green the company across the other business functions such as compliance, procurement, the supply chain, travel, acquisition, packaging, deliveries and disposals.
Deploying a green IT strategy starts to change behaviours across stakeholder groups: employees, suppliers and partners. Ultimately it enhances the organisation’s competitive position, giving it a distinct competitive advantage. What is vital is that any policies introduced are strategic and meet the overall sustainability objectives of the organisation.
The missing piece
The IT industry must align the green IT strategy with the organisation’s overall sustainability and business strategies; and it must then integrate sustainability objectives across the entire operations using IT-enabled business processes. A successful green IT strategy will change behaviours, delivering far more than the original business case.
If left only with economic measures and stand-alone IT projects, then the green IT business case will never truly stack up. Implementing piecemeal or stand-alone projects will not stand the test of time and will certainly not add up to meet financial expectations.
The challenge facing the IT industry is to move the discussion into the boardroom and introduce the concept of green IT as an enabler for long-term efficiency, sustainability and revenue generation. Only then can the industry successfully work in tandem with the business community to deliver on carbon emissions targets and sustainability through the universal adoption of green IT strategies.
Source: Adapted from The Future is Green by Martin Jackson, CEO of British Worldwide Computers.