Canadian companies lagging in green IT practice

Imagine that when you flick on your computer to check your e-mail, you could also quickly scan your company’s energy use efficiency.

Or when setting your office lights to turn off at night you could simultaneously instruct the program to draw more power from those new solar panels installed on the roof during the power grid’s peak demand times – saving a lot of power, and a lot of money.

All this is not gee whiz fiction or years down the road.

These capabilities are likely to be reality soon thanks to the Energy Hub Management System project at the University of Waterloo, in Ont.

This research project got a further boost last week through a $1 million injection from the province through the Ontario Centres of Excellence (OCE).

Energy Hub is also one of six “clean energy projects” to receive a total of $13 million in funding.

“This was one of the best ideas we’ve seen in terms of allowing consumers to actually control their energy,” says David McFadden, chair of the OCE. “To take ownership of how they’re using their energy and to reduce their cost and consumption.”

The project isn’t the first Web-based application that can help businesses save money by reducing energy waste.

North American companies prove to be apathetic when it comes to sustainable IT practices, according to a survey.

But the Web 2.0 movement is addressing the problem as a potential energy crisis looms over the continent, say analysts.

No longer is IT something businesses simply must think of as a power-drain – now it can be a tool to help cut emissions and save on the bottom line.

Canadian companies aren’t green

Compared to the rest of the world, North American companies are lagging in their sustainable IT initiatives, according to a study released last month by London, Ont.-based InfoTech Research Group.

And Canada is no better than the U.S.

“I would fathom an educated guess that Canadian companies have fewer opportunities [than U.S. ones] to take advantage of local government and utility incentives,” says Aaron Hay, a research consultant at Info-Tech.

Respondents to the Info-Tech survey said they were concerned about the environment, but only about one-third felt their companies even had “Green IT” on their radar screen.

More than half believe their firms are unlikely to  budget for it in the next three years.

Industry observers say having separate responsibilities for each department is symptomatic of Western business culture.

But that can create a problem because the department responsible for consuming power isn’t paying the electricity bill.

“IT and facilities departments rarely, if ever, work together,” says Hay. “Getting these two parties at the same table, talking, and ultimately collaborating on how they can help each other to reduce energy consumption is absolutely paramount.”

Once a company’s eyes are opened to the energy wasting, benefits from trimming back aren’t far behind.

“Take a 1,000 PC company,” Hay says. If it can ensure computers are turned off at night and on the weekends, it will save enough to cover wages and benefits for another full-time employee.

Clicking the “Shut Down” button isn’t something most companies actively practice either. Only 37 per cent of North American companies have such a policy – paltry when compared to the 75 per cent of Asian countries that do so.

When it comes to helping companies conserve on powering their IT, many believe Web 2.0 tools have a big role to play.

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