WellPoint Inc.

When WellPoint Inc. buys a server from Dell Inc., it voluntarily pays the vendor an extra $40. When it buys an ink-jet printer, it happily ponies up another buck over the purchase price.

The health benefits company was a founding partner in Dell's "Plant a Forest for Me" program, in which Dell and volunteering customers pay conservation groups to plant trees to offset the carbon emissions produced by powering computer devices.

Mark Boxer, president and CEO of WellPoint's operations, technology and government services business unit, says there are "three legs to the stool" of the company's green initiatives. First are "continuous small improvements, like increasing recycling, moving toward green paper and the like." Second are big, one-time initiatives such as replacing the firm's enterprise data center, a multiyear effort that was completed in 2003. Third are special partnerships, like WellPoint's linkup with IBM to implement best practices and technologies such as server consolidations.

Boxer says savings from these efforts can be difficult to compute, but the company cut expenses $13,000 a month by moving its California data center to Richmond, Va., and upgrading it to more efficient gear.

Several years ago, WellPoint became sharply focused on becoming more efficient, especially on reducing administrative costs, and that was the initial emphasis in its conservation efforts, Boxer says. As a result, the company has reduced IT spending per staffer by 5% in each of the past three years. But with the drive for overall efficiency came a "social mission" and a "desire to be a better citizen," he says.

Dave McDonald, vice president of infrastructure support services, cites a push to substitute videoconferencing for travel as a successful green IT initiative. He says employees will spend 25,000 hours at videoconferencing this year, avoiding 4,500 tons of carbon dioxide emissions from cars and planes.

McDonald says WellPoint eliminated 900 older, inefficient computers through server consolidations and replaced most of its old CRTs with more energy-efficient LCD monitors. He says the company is now evaluating new high-efficiency cooling technology from IBM for several data centers. Also, WellPoint is looking at more environmentally friendly alternatives to tape for data storage.

Of videoconferencing, McDonald says, "People here were kind of scared of it. They didn't know if it was hard to do or how it worked. But once they used it, it was an easy sell."

Indeed, some resistance to green initiatives is to be expected, Boxer says. "A lot of the improvements are about removing entitlements," he says. "Does everyone need a printer in their office? Does everyone need to travel to meetings? Moving away from these mind-sets requires very senior sponsorship."

Frank Gens, an analyst at IDC in Framingham, Mass., says IT must have support from the business units to overcome user resistance. "It's hard for IT to drive that kind of cultural change on its own," he says. "That's a losing hand for the CIO."

"Go after the quick wins first," Boxer advises. "There are immediate opportunities that don't require a big capital investment. Also, look outside your four walls. We don't have the market cornered on best practices."

Next: No. 9 Ryder System Inc.


Copyright © 2008 IDG Communications, Inc.

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