Being "green" has become very fashionable. Along with that there's a lot more talk about behaving in ways that support our environment rather than our business-as-usual habits. But the problem with being green in practice is how much of our business as usual will we sacrifice to save ourselves?
Consider bees (I will relate this to IT, I promise). Over the last 30-odd years there has been a slow decrease in the total number of bee colonies in the US, and by last year there were about half the number of hives that existed in 1971.
While this decline could be attributed to economics, pollution and urbanization, it appears that over the last few years colonies have been disappearing faster than ever and in a mysterious manner - it looks like the social structure of bee colonies just falls apart and the colony vanishes. Thus was born the term to describe it: Colony Collapse Disorder.
Now bee population declines are not unusual. There have been many episodes of decline recorded as far back as 1896. So should we be concerned about today's decline? Absolutely, because this decline appears to be more rapid than the others and if the honeybee population declines further there will be serious large-scale consequences.
Honeybees have been estimated to be worth around $US15 billion annually to the US economy. Should the bee disappear we will see the price of many crops go through the roof. Along with that we could see thousands of noncommercial plant species die out for lack of pollination.
What is causing the problem? No one knows for certain but one theory, though it has only tentative support, is that cellular telephone signals are disrupting the colonies. Even though the evidence for mobile phones being the cause of Colony Collapse Disorder is scant, it made me wonder: If we find out that mobile phones are indeed the problem, will we stop using them?
Just think of the implications of removing mobile phones from your IT infrastructure: No more BlackBerries, no more texting, no more all sorts of services you and your company have come to rely upon.
If it is shown that mobile telephony is to blame for Colony Collapse Disorder do you think we should force the mobile carriers to shut down? Would you stop using your mobile phone?
Here lies the heart of the green problem for the IT industry: are we willing to change to save ourselves and the planet? If you subscribe to the theory that large corporations are, as a collective, psychopathic, then no matter how much you and your colleagues might want to effect change to become green, if it won't improve the bottom line it simply won't happen.
This is beautifully pointed up in the documentary "The Corporation". John Browne, the former chief executive of BP and a staunch proponent of going green, made it clear that no matter how much he wanted to steer his company in a green direction, profit motives are what ultimately set the course. This showed that once we, as a culture, decide there's no choice we'll have to make being green the profitable course.
When that happens IT will be forced to step up and implement green systems. So rather than waiting to be told how to do it you need to drive the process. If you don't, it will be the usual mad scramble to meet the goals set by the board or some layer of executives.
Consider, for example, power usage. Your data centres suck up megawatts and probably aren't very efficient. To bring in more energy-efficient gear you'll need to create a financial argument that makes capital expenditure rational in terms the corporation can understand. That way you can save the planet, save your sanity and make the corporation happy.
There are lots of other green initiatives that IT can drive with some thought and effort. Let's just hope that mobile phones aren't the cause of Colony Collapse Disorder, because switching them off could turn out to be one of the biggest business challenges we might ever face.
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