Misconceptions plague the green machine

Green IT has been given no shortage of attention in past years; among the continuing debates around climate change and sustainability, Green IT inevitably comes to the forefront as either an obstacle to overcome, or an enabler of environmental friendliness in the wider organisation.

But, according to sustainability and IT analysts, the Green message isn’t gospel yet. Most agree that businesses are eager to sign up to Green IT as part of their corporate social responsibility requirements but critics decry these measures as a “tick the box” affair.

“People are more than happy to be Green, but not at their own expense,” says IBRS analyst, James Turner, pointing to the way many organisations view Green IT as a cost-cutting exercise, not as a favour to the environment. “‘Green is good, but gold is great’ sums it up for IT departments.”

For Graeme Philipson, analyst at Connection Research, the obstacle towards a genuine move toward sustainability is not ‘Greenwashing’ but ongoing doubts about whether Green IT can help business save money.

If organisations genuinely had a strong commitment to Green energy they’d be buying green electricity from the grid.IBRS analyst, James Turner

“We survey IT managers and CIOs on a regular basis about green IT issues and the one single question we ask is ‘Do you think Green IT costs money or saves money?’ and the response is almost equally divided,” he says. “80 per cent of people say they want to do right by the planet, but when you ask them how much they want to pay to be Green, the number drops right off.

“But a lot of Green IT issues aren’t to do with investment, they are just to do with changing business practices.”

(Green IT: Thin client savings in support, not capital)

For most organisations, cost remains the largest obstacle but, according to Philipson, it shouldn’t be such a cause for concern.

The subject is close to Philipson’s heart. His latest venture in the area has been to lead author a white paper for the Australian Industry Information Association (AIIA) on the benefits of sustainability technology not just for reducing the carbon footprint of the IT industry, but Australia as a whole. After all, he says, IT makes up only 2.7 per cent of the nation’s carbon emissions.

The ICT’s Role in the Low Carbon Economy paper, a collation of previous reports on the state of the environment and Green IT, calls upon all levels of government and business to collaborate on using technology effectively to combat the “other 97.3 per cent” of carbon emissions.

The paper sets ambitious targets too, arguing for a reduction in carbon emissions of 20 per cent, or 116 megatonnes, annually until 2020. In doing so, the AIIA and Philipson believe social benefits, including boosting the economy by up to $80 billion and creating 70,000 jobs, could be achieved within the same timeframe.

That can’t happen, they say, until businesses become genuine about cutting their carbon emissions and forget the misconceptions which surround Green IT.

A legislative driver would obviously drive Green IT adoption – Philipson argues “moral persuasion” alone isn’t enough. But, while the debate over a carbon price in Canberra will likely continue for some time, action within the corporation needs to begin now.

“If organisations genuinely had a strong commitment to Green energy they’d be buying green electricity from the grid,” Turner says. “But, of course, that’s a massive sacrifice because you are paying a premium for it.”

For Ian Dunlop, a governance and sustainability advisor, the problem is not so much with IT managers – who likely don’t see their organisation’s power bills – but in the boardrooms where chairmen and directors determine the strategy of companies without paying a thought to their decisions’ effects on sustainability.

Blame games aside, for those interested the onus clearly lies with those who have access to the technology and resources capable of turning the dial down on carbon. Efficient data centres, smart power metering and effective use of building resources are all just a hint of how ICT appears ready, willing and able to take on a global challenge.

Follow James Hutchinson on Twitter: @j_hutch

Follow Computerworld Australia on Twitter: @ComputerworldAU

Copyright © 2011 IDG Communications, Inc.

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