Energy 2.0

What Is Green IT?

Posted on: May 22, 2008

The Gartner report, “Green IT: The New Industry Shock Wave,” by analyst Simon Mingay, doesn’t provide hard data but instead offers definitions and prescriptions that might prove helpful for companies looking to create a green IT strategy.

First, the report attempts to articulate just what “green IT” means. Mingay acknowledges there is no precise definition, before continuing with the jargon-rich, “optimal use of information and communication technology (ICT) for managing the environmental sustainability of enterprise operations and the supply chain, as well as that of its products, services, and resources, throughout their life cycles.”

The report goes on to define the key words in Gartner’s definition, from “optimal” to “life cycle.” While long-winded, the details—too long to go into here—could aid executives looking to understand some of the buzzwords of the eco-friendly movement.

Finding Appropriate and Practical Actions

Gartner’s attention to detail, while helpful, can also get head-spinningly complex. The real value of the 10-page report is its list of practical tactics for greening a company’s IT program. These include the development of environmental metrics, which Gartner recommends should focus on more than measuring a corporation’s carbon footprint or making PR statements about ambitions to go carbon-neutral by a certain date, à la Google (GOOG) or Dell.

Instead, Gartner advises devising metrics to assess energy use, material selection, supply chain compliance, and staff engagement—as well as carbon footprints. The report doesn’t say what a company should do with these measurements, but the guidelines could prove helpful for those starting from scratch in terms of creating greener IT practices. And the lack of a “one-size-fit-all” prescription indicates companies should find sustainable actions that are appropriate and practical. There are also simple, take-action-now suggestions, such as purchasing devices with eco-labels including the new Energy Star 4 label.

A Broader View

The most complex, and more general, of the two recent reports, is McKinsey’s 107-page document, Reducing U.S. Greenhouse Gas Emissions: How Much at What Cost?. The report is based on two years of research and is the product of the management consulting firm’s U.S. Greenhouse Gas Abatement Mapping Initiative. The project was completed in conjunction with companies such as Shell and Honeywell (HON), as well as various nongovernmental organizations.

Whereas Gartner’s reports concentrated on green IT, the McKinsey report focuses on a broader sense of energy efficiency, to include office buildings as well as devices and products. The authors argue that implementing such energy efficiencies could offset 85% of projected energy demands by 2030. That’s considerably more impact than increasing fuel efficiency in vehicles, replacing industrial equipment and industrial processes that are not energy efficient, planting forests and improving soil, or shifting toward renewable energy sources. Citing projections from the Energy Dept., the report’s authors state that overall energy use in commercial environments is predicted to rise at 1.6% each year for the next 22 years. The energy used in offices full of PCs and power-guzzling devices is expected to grow at twice that rate.

What each of the three reports share is statistics that make it clear reducing expenses is the leading reason corporations are seeking more eco-friendly practices. Forrester’s report, for instance, states that 55% of those surveyed see reducing their energy-related operating expenses as the main reason for pursuing more sustainable IT operations—above “doing the right thing for the environment,” the top motivator for 50% of those polled. In the Gartner report the authors estimate that “potential power cost and CO2 emission reductions of 50% are available” by better managing the power usage of PCs, monitors, and printers—for instance, simply encouraging employees to turn them off.

Going Green Can Mean Dollars Saved

And the McKinsey document, helpful as a macro-view of how the U.S. can adopt more environmentally friendly practices, concludes that corporations, governments, and individuals alike can slash greenhouse emissions 50% from projected levels in 2030 by using technologies that already exist—as well as those in the pipeline. The report also says 40% of the recommended practices would save companies and organizations money too.

In other words, going green can mean dollars saved—clearly a motivating factor for the tech companies already pushing for more earth-saving IT policies, not to mention for those corporations outside the realm of tech that look at such reports to gauge how policies are evolving—and how to emulate them.

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