Green IT in 2009…lots of awareness, hardly any budget

The idea that IT has grown green is still largely a myth.

Technology industry leaders, analysts and environmental advocates say there are plenty of opportunities for organizations to create more Earth-friendly operations but companies are still not capitalizing on green initiatives- even the ones relatively easy to implement.

A recent survey of IT decision makers revealed that nearly half (42 per cent) of IT departments in the U.S. have no plans to launch projects in the next 12 months to reduce energy consumption or carbon emissions, and nearly three quarters reported no plans to create committees to oversee energy-saving initiatives.

In Canada, private and government organizations acknowledge many companies are lagging in green IT practices and the country still has a long way to go when it comes to recycling IT assets.

“We’re still neophytes,” says Ronald Hulse, vice-president of sales and marketing for the IT division of Samsung Electronics Canada Inc.
In was only this September when Samsung announced the roll out of recycling depots across the U.S. The company plans to do the same in Canada.

The company announced in September the roll-out of recycling depots across the United States, with plans to do the same in Canada. “We own those assets and have to take responsibility for them,” he said.

Samsung has also taken internal measures such as instructing staff not to print out their e-mails. “Which is ironic, as we sell printers,” said Hulse.

“We didn’t exactly give ourselves an A, and don’t necessarily think we’ve been a good (green) custodian up to now, We need to be green from the beginning, which will also help us sustain our competitive advantage,” he said.

While the cost going green is occasionally daunting to its bottom line, establishing best practices from the beginning has its rewards, according to John Cannon, chief information officer of the Toronto Transit Corp.

“There’s a green element from right when we’re reviewing acquisitions,” said Cannon. “For example, we put in our agreements that we can use remanufactured cartridges and that the company will take them back to be recycled.”

Asset end-of-life is covered, too, he said. The organization tends to keep machines for five years, reducing the need for refreshes every two to three years.

Canon advises that companies set green goals and concentrate on developing employee buy-in.

However, CIOs and senior IT executives lack the “green” to go green, according to a recent survey, conducted by Voltaire Inc., a Billerica, Mass-based maker of server and storage switching and software products for grid computing.

Seventy-six per cent of executives polled do not have a committed budget for a greening policy, though 90 per cent believe greening their data centres is crucial to meeting their companies’ business objectives in 2009.  

In addition, 57 per cent said going green will give their company a competitive advantage, the Voltaire study found.

Technology experts say companies that ignore green computing now are going to have to catch up if they want to stay competitive.
“The green issue is not going to go away. There’s too much at stake,” says Rakesh Kumar an analyst at Gartner Inc.

That’s not to say IT leaders don’t have their reasons for staying away from green computing. Kumar says some of them think it’s a fad. Christopher Mines an analyst at Forrester Research Inc., says others believe global warming is a crock and that there’s no need to act on the issue, or they see green as merely increasing expenses.

Many others are nervous about reworking established systems and processes. “The last thing these people want to do is take a screwdriver to IT processes that work and start re-engineering them to make them more efficient,” Mines says.

Early Adopters

Increasingly, however, IT leaders and other executives are putting aside such concerns and pushing for green IT initiatives.

When IDC surveyed 300 CEOs for its September 2008 “U.S. Green IT Survey,” 44 per cent of the respondents said that IT will play a very important role in their organizations’ efforts to reduce their environmental impact. Compare that to the 2007 survey, in which only 14 per cent of CEOs said they felt that way.

The 2008 survey also showed that energy costs were the most pressing reason for the adoption of green IT.

“We don’t see many or indeed any companies that are hesitant to explore green IT projects,” IDC analyst Vernon Turner wrote in an e-mail on this topic. “In fact, the scary thing is where to start, and it may be that reason why there is somewhat a feeling of lost souls. There has been a lot of marketing by the IT vendor community around green, and I think that CEOs and CIOs are ‘green-washed’ by it.”

To be sure, developing enterprisewide green policies is a major undertaking. On the other hand, IT departments can implement some green IT initiatives without reworking entire policies, processes and procedures — and without spending a lot of cash.

Moreover, they can sell management on these projects based not just on the initiatives’ environmental merits but on their financial rewards as well.
“A lot of stuff is going to give you a short-term payback,” Kumar says. He says that given today’s economy, CIOs should focus on green initiatives that will have paybacks well within 18 months. Projects with such quick ROI range from reducing energy demands by enabling more telecommuting and teleconferencing to consolidating data centers, he says.

“These, in our opinion, equal green IT,” Kumar says.

With so many focused on reducing energy demand, IT organizations can easily sell initiatives that reduce power consumption — a quick way to save money and become green, says Katharine Kaplan, product manager at Energy Star for Consumer Electronics and IT at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

“Power management is probably one of the easiest, low-cost ways to get big, big savings,” Kaplan says, pointing out that using power management features on desktop PCs can save $50 per computer per year. Enabling power management tools on monitors can save another $12 to $90 annually per monitor.

Becky Blalock, senior vice president and CIO at Southern Co., an Atlanta-based energy company, says her organization is implementing power management technology to ensure that its 26,000 desktops are asleep at night and during other times of inactivity. Although the numbers aren’t in yet, Blalock says she expects high savings throughout the organization.

Managing desktops is just the start, says Henry Wong, senior staff technologist in the eco-technology program office at Intel Corp. points out that better asset management is another simple step that can cut energy demand and costs. Just examine your operations to identify and turn off any device that isn’t used or needed.

Mark O’Gara, vice president of infrastructure management at Highmark Inc., a health insurance company in Pittsburgh, says he’s examining the need for any device that draws power — any fax machine, printer or copier — and figuring how to reduce its energy demands by either using power management tools or getting rid of the device.

He says he’s working with the company’s facilities department to get baseline readings so he’ll be able to measure progress.

“You can start to see what energy we use, find opportunities to reduce power costs through capital improvements,” O’Gara says.

Another quick way to introduce green benefits that have financial paybacks is through refresh initiatives and procurement policies, says Michelle Erickson, initiative director of the sustainable IT program in global operations and technology at Citigroup Inc.in New York.

For example, Citi is looking at implementing thin clients, which, because they have lower power needs, save money and reduce the company’s carbon footprint.

Erickson also recommends setting procurement policies that specify that new equipment must be Energy Star-complaint, thereby ensuring that the company is getting more energy-efficient computers. And with new Energy Star standards rolling out in 2009, the policy will apply to servers too.

Similar strategies can be employed in the data centre, Wong says. Look at the machines you have, and consolidate where you can to maximize the use of each server — but make sure that you can still meet the needs of your business units.

“We did this at Intel and had a $3 million cost avoidance,” Wong says. The dollar savings came from not having to build a new physical structure and pay for that new building’s ongoing maintenance. As for the green benefits, there’s less demand for power and new equipment.

“You can see another building that doesn’t have to exist anymore. And it’s the HVAC system, the people, the maintenance area — it’s not just IT. That’s a really big to-do,” Wong adds.

But even organizations that aren’t ready for those kinds of projects can simply start by controlling the temperature, Wong says.

Although it will be necessary to monitor the humidity when doing so, most companies can raise the temperature at least a few degrees and start lowering their air conditioning demands. And don’t forget about using that natural air for cooling.

It might not be the biggest step, but it’s a start.

With files from Briony Smith, Computerworld Canada

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