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Is IT Achieving Green?

Is IT Achieving Green?

As more and more organisations assess their impact on the planet and opt to go ‘green’, concerns are being raised as to the actual progress being made, if at all?

IT is turning greenish.

That's right. Many technology leaders shrug their shoulders at the mention of climate change in conversation, or they pass on conference panels that use the "green" terminology. But in fact, according to exclusive CIO research, they are beginning to think green. Stricter government regulations, rising energy costs and the growing awareness that sustainability is a real business concern are pushing companies to strategize how they will meet future energy demands and calls for carbon emissions data. Green IT is making inroads in the data center; CIOs are also starting to realize that's only the beginning. Fifty-four per cent of IT leaders responding to a CIO magazine survey about Green IT report that their organizations have environmental sustainability goals for information technology. In other words, they are trying to reduce IT's impact on the planet.

They are motivated almost equally by social responsibility and business benefits. Thirty-eight per cent say they're going green because it's the right thing to do; 37 per cent say doing the right thing for the planet also helps them reduce operational costs by, for example, cutting energy consumption. A handful-only 5 per cent-see sustainable IT as a competitive advantage.

For IT departments, a focus on costs-and energy costs in particular-is a logical place to start. If you pay attention to the news, you know that addressing climate change depends on rethinking energy use. Electricity is "more and more part of my overall bill that I pay as a CIO," says Patricia Lawicki, senior VP and CIO with Pacific Gas & Electric. Reducing the electric bill cuts costs and frees up funds for additional IT investments.

Few IT organizations have gone much further. Though there's plenty of media attention to calculating carbon footprints (and a few high profile companies, like Dell and British retailer Marks & Spencer, have declared their intentions to become carbon neutral), IT leaders as a rule are not grappling with the question of their-or their companies'-carbon emissions. Among 280 IT leaders surveyed, 61 per cent said they were not measuring their corporate carbon footprints right now, though 16 per cent said they were preparing to do it. Only 11 per cent of respondents said that their companies are not just conscious of their carbon output, but that IT is part of the calculation.

That is likely to change. Nations are negotiating a follow-up agreement to the Kyoto Protocol, which establishes global emissions limits. (The process began last December in Bali). Although the United States isn't a signatory to the original agreement, US officials are participating in the new talks. Meanwhile, a 2006 California law mandates a 25 per cent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2020. Regional alliances of states are also developing emissions limits. And Congress is crafting national carbon regulations; many political observers consider these inevitable. Although these regulations and proposals generally target major emitters, such as power plants, they are likely to affect other businesses through higher electricity prices.

"Unless the science behind climate change develops a more optimistic view of the problem, or progress in technology development and adoption, along with behavioral changes, unfolds more quickly than expected, enterprises should anticipate that they will be motivated and forced to make significant improvements to energy and material efficiency," warns Gartner analyst Simon Mingay in a recent report.

Andrea Moffat is director of corporate programs with Ceres, a network of investors, environmental advocates and public interest organizations. She envisions that once companies begin grappling with their overall climate impact, there will be a role for IT beyond simply greening the data center. Exactly what it will be depends on the company and its industry. Some business operations will be harder to make green than others. Citi, the global financial service company, developed a business intelligence application to manage energy usage in its office buildings; greening a supply chain isn't so straightforward. And many companies, Moffat says, still need to get a good handle on how much energy they use-an important step if organizations are to choose the environmental projects with the greatest benefit to both the Earth and the bottom line.

Whether they've been required to or have chosen to, both PG&E and Citi are working to do business in a more environmentally friendly way. In the process, they're learning how to use IT to balance the twin imperatives of running a profitable business and a greener one.

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