Slow-Growing Green

Old notion: Green computing is expensive and low-yield. New order: Green offers easy ways to save cash.

Could saving the Earth -- and your company's bottom line -- be as simple as using fresh air to cool your data center?

It's not quite that simple, but it can be one step toward those goals, because companies that use natural air to cool their facilities are seeing big benefits on both the environmental and financial fronts. In fact, IT leaders, analysts and environmental advocates say there are plenty of opportunities for tech organizations to create more Earth-friendly operations that cut energy needs and slash a company's carbon footprint while saving money, too. (Read about Computerworld's Top 12 Green-IT Companies.)

But many organizations still aren't capitalizing on such initiatives -- even the ones that are relatively easy and inexpensive to implement.

IT executives who responded to Computerworld's annual Forecast survey seem to echo that reluctance. Nearly half (42%) said their IT departments 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.

Yet experts say organizations 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% 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% 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.

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