If a chance to save the world from climate change isn't a compelling reason to embrace environmentally sound technologies, there is one incentive large corporations can't ignore — money.
The goals of saving cash on energy costs and appealing to consumers who want to use "green" products, not to mention the need to comply with government regulations, are causing a shift of focus for vendors and IT departments.
"There is shareholder return to be gained," Pat Tiernan, vice president of corporate, environmental and social responsibility for HP, said during a panel discussion about green trends in IT at Interop Las Vegas. "Frankly, we just see it as a customer demand that we have to meet now and we know we're going to have to meet in the future."
The motivation for us really is around sustainability, from the view of having an economy 50 years from now that we can do business in
Tiernan was joined by executives from Yahoo, Google, Sun, and Intel, as well as Andrew Winston, author of the book Green to Gold: How Smart Companies use Environmental Strategy to Innovate, Create Value, and Build Competitive Advantage.
Yahoo and Google executives discussed their green goals at length. Yahoo seems to have the more aggressive environmental program, based on Wednesday's session.
Yahoo's green game plan
Yahoo recently announced a plan to become carbon-neutral by the end of this year by making its own processes more efficient and contributing to reductions in carbon emissions around the world.
Carbon neutrality can be achieved by purchasing carbon offsets, in which a company pays a separate company to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions, instead of reducing its own.
While Yahoo does buy carbon offsets, the search engine company does not intend to count those offsets toward its carbon-neutrality goal, says KC Mares, director of Yahoo data centre strategy.
Instead, Yahoo is completing projects on its own, such as one to replace stove cooktops in impoverished areas of the world with energy-efficient models.
Yahoo has made its own operations more efficient in a number of ways. The company builds its own data centres and has third parties build Yahoo computers to its own specifications. "We essentially control the entire footprint, so we can make it very efficient," Mares says. Yahoo uses virtualization to improve efficiency, asks suppliers to deliver everything in reusable packaging, and places data centres where ambient air is cool, lessening the need for air conditioning, he says.
Data centres don't need to be kept at 21 degrees Celsius anyway, as many are, he says. They can survive just fine at 29 degrees Celsius, he says. Yahoo doesn't use air conditioning to cool data centres for two-thirds of each year.
Yahoo's green computing goals were driven mostly by users, who are increasingly looking for information on how to help the environment on the Yahoo Web site.
"We're driven mostly by customer demand," Mares says.
Greening of Google
Google isn't aiming to be carbon-neutral, at least today. With the company growing 60 percent to 70 percent a year, "we can't hold our energy use flat for now", says Bill Weihl, head of Google's energy strategy.
Google has measured its entire carbon footprint, including the portions of the supply chain run by third parties, he says. The next step will be to choose products based on how much energy they use.
"The motivation for us really is around sustainability, from the view of having an economy 50 years from now that we can do business in," Weihl says.
An IT department can act as a central communication point to build cultural change within an organization, says John Hengeveld, director of the server products group at Intel.
One challenge is that "eco-projects" are rarely done strictly because of their merits, says Mark Monroe, director of sustainable computing at Sun. Opportunities to replace technologies with ones that are more efficient typically are precipitated by events having little or nothing to do with environmental strategy, he says.
"To make these eco-decisions, you have to be ready and in the right place," Monroe says.
Tips for going green
Author and consultant Winston offered IT departments a number of tips to improve efficiency, including these:
- Measure IT energy-spending separately.
- Use power-management software.
- Buy green, efficient computers, and tell vendors that you care about efficiency and use of toxic materials.
- Limit how much power and cooling you provide, to force yourself to use it more efficiently.
- Prepare for a product's end of life, and take responsibility for its disposal or recycling.
- Develop the business case for energy efficiency, looking at system and lifecycle costs.
- Buy green power.
- Set efficiency targets, then upgrade or get rid of equipment to eliminate underutilized and inefficient machines.
- Add the power bill to the CIO's budget.
Companies that don't accept the need to reduce greenhouse emissions will have to answer to a diverse set of stakeholders, including investors, rule-makers, watchdogs, consumers, and the media, Winston says. But there is money to be made by reducing energy use and developing innovative new products to meet these environmental needs. Ethernet switches, for example, increasingly are going green.
"The business community doesn't really get going unless there is a profit motive. And there is," Winston says.
"There is no choice any more. The world is going green. Companies are going green. There's no going back."