10 steps for greening an IT department

The data center gets all the press, but there are plenty of other areas where IT professionals and users of IT services can dramatically reduce an organization's effect on the environment. Here are 10 ways to get started:

1. Reduce the amount of data kept in online storage. Online disks spin around the clock, and they need to be cooled. Disks may be full of multiple data copies or ancient files that are rarely opened. Archive historical files to off-line media for storage in the data center.

2. Consolidate IT assets into a single location for shared use. Eliminate private parts and spare equipment caches in favor of a single pool of shared assets. Look here before buying anything else to save money and reduce the amount of electronic equipment that will eventually require disposal.

3. Make use of power-saving features. Ensure that all hardware you install has the power-saver function enabled and that users are locked out of changing it.

4. Buy power-efficient and environment-friendly equipment. Require that all new equipment is compliant with Energy Star and the Restriction of Hazardous Substances Directive (RoHS) and has an 80Plus power supply. 80Plus power supplies are at least 80% efficient and thereby save electricity. RoHS certification ensures that electronic components contain minimal levels of toxic substances.

5. Use less paper. You save not only the cost of the paper, but also the cost of toner and disposal. Review reports online, and print only the pages you need. Send electronic documents for discussion to each meeting attendee, and require them to print their own copies if they attend. Where practical, order manuals on CD for online access.

6. Discourage those "document pack rats." Every office has one or more people who feel compelled to keep a paper copy of every memo and e-mail they've sent or received. This fills rows of file cabinets, drawers, suspended files and folders. Make an electronic document management system available and reduce the amount of physical storage available. This reduces paper usage and frees floor space.

7. Link the cost of resource consumption with those who consume it. When IT pays for a pool of material that everyone draws from, no one feels accountable for minimizing its cost. Among other things, green linkages show which departments are consuming laser cartridges and paper, generating equipment for disposal, or consuming the most electricity.

8. Make office recycling convenient. Establish a collection point for batteries, old cell phones, paper and spent laser or ink-jet cartridges. Work out in advance who will pick up the full containers for recycling.

9. Consider "real" needs when upgrading equipment. Not everyone needs the latest and most powerful workstation. Only upgrade systems when justified by the business need or to replace equipment that isn't energy-efficient. Consider using low-cost and energy-efficient thin clients and desktop virtualization instead of full-powered PCs.

10. Encourage others to follow your lead. Peer pressure is powerful. Promote the idea of a greener IT in conversations with co-workers. The best encouragement you can give is to lead by example.

Many consider the data center to be the most obvious place to start a green effort, but the energy and resources consumed by each individual quickly add up. Many small changes repeated by the many users of IT resources can make a huge difference in the organization's overall impact on the environment.

Webber is a senior project manager at Insight Corp. and a senior adjunct faculty member of DeVry University's Keller Graduate School of Management. He can be reached at businesstechbooks@gmail.com.

Wallace is vice president of application engineering at Result Data Consulting Ltd. He can be reached at michael.wallace@resultdata.com.

Webber and Wallace are co-authors of the upcoming Green Tech: How to Plan and Implement Sustainable IT Solutions, as well as Quality Control for Dummies and IT Policies and Procedures: Tools and Techniques That Work.

Copyright © 2009 IDG Communications, Inc.

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