Michelle Erickson

Citigroup's green IT director talks about carbon footprints, a $50 billion commitment to addressing global climate change and her role as an environmental ambassador.

How did Citigroup's green IT initiative begin? I began working on this in April or May [of 2007. Former Citigroup CIO] Marv Adams had a strong commitment [and] asked me to look into this. I ended up speaking to people from around the bank and got the program approved by the leadership council in September 2007. The bank has committed $50 billion toward sustainable efforts over the next 10 years. We also have a plan to reduce our own greenhouse gas [emissions] by 10% by the year 2011. And we're operating from a 2005 base.

One of our strengths is our global approach, to see the big picture and see the points of interconnectedness to make sure everyone is talking.

Is it difficult to get people throughout Citigroup to communicate with one another on its green IT initiatives? a lot of what we think of as green IT initiatives were already in place, either as a strategic initiative or as an energy-reducing initiative. Those include server virtualization and storage virtualization efforts.

Our program overall has a framework of how IT can reduce its own carbon footprint. We have five areas of focus. The first four are power management, travel substitution, sustainable supply chain and paper substitutions. The fifth is employee education and engagement. Ours is not an ad hoc program. It's a holistic approach -- how the bank's operations are affecting the environment.

We began tracking our virtualization efforts in January 2007. Ten percent of Citi's North American [IT] environment is virtualized. Teams have captured a 73% reduction in energy consumption, which translates to 56 metric tons of CO2 per week or roughly 300 tons per year that we're not emitting. Citi has realized approximately $1 million in annual savings in the North American environment alone through virtualization.

Do you have a staff? There are many initiatives in place that weren't [originally] labeled as green. Those [staffers] are the individuals who are working on our green initiatives. At the end of the day, it's every employee.

We have a leadership committee representing all of the businesses, including risk management and shared services. I chair that committee, and there are 10 of us. That committee reports into senior leadership. We're making sure our senior leadership is engaged and aware of what we're working on, and that does make a difference. We're reaching down into every business.

What are some of the key initiatives you've been involved with recently? We've got a lot going on. On the power management side, where virtualization falls, we have a legacy decommissioning initiative going on in our data centers. They're working very closely with vendors to achieve new efficiencies and reduce our energy consumption. All products certified for our data centers have an 85% efficiency rating. Thin clients offer significant savings. These devices consume anywhere from 6 to 50 watts [each], versus 100 to 150 watts for a typical desktop computer. They also emit less heat, and this results in a reduction in air conditioning costs. We have a goal of having 50% of our global desktop environment populated by thin-client machines by 2010.

For those standard PCs still out in our system, we're working on power management. That will result in significant savings as well.

PC power management is a partnership between our IT and facilities management groups. IT will pay for it, but the facilities group that pays the electric bill will realize the benefits. We really want to have an accurate understanding of what the savings will be -- both CO2 and cost savings.

What are the biggest challenges you face in your role? Every [business unit] has its own vocabulary. Words can be interpreted differently by each organization. I work as a translator helping everyone to understand what each organization is trying to achieve and how they're trying to achieve it and helping them to take the steps to do so.

What are some examples of Citigroup's accomplishments thus far? We're working to reduce the number of global data centers from 52 in 2006 to 24 in 2010. We had 37 at the end of 2007.

Our overall energy consumption fell from 6.735 [megawatt-hours] per occupant in 2006 to 6.551 in 2007. That was achieved, partly, through the issuance of energy best practices throughout the company.

We just launched a mobile-device drive. We're taking it national, with 52 locations across North America. It allows employees to donate mobile devices, including Citigroup BlackBerries, for recycling. We have a scrubbing event where we scrub all the data off the BlackBerries and other Citi devices. A third-party vendor scrubs all the devices, including personal devices.

The proceeds from the mobile devices donated are used to support victims of domestic violence. It's the perfect example of how, when you're responsible for your assets and they're disposed of properly, it's good for the environment and for the communities we work in.

It's a really exciting initiative, and one that people wouldn't necessarily associate with green IT. We did it just in the New York area last year, where we donated 3,500 BlackBerries and mobile phones.

What's the best part of your job? It's that I am doing something that matters, that I believe in. I'm doing good, and I'm doing it in a company that has the reach and the influence to get something done. You can actually see real results, and for me, that's the best thing.

Interview by Thomas Hoffman, a freelance writer in Warwick, N.Y. (tom.hoffman24@gmail.com)

This version of the story originally appeared in Computerworld's print edition.

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Copyright © 2009 IDG Communications, Inc.

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