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Citi Goes Beyond Data Centers

Citigroup approaches sustainable technology as it would a CRM project - the more holistic and cross functional the better. "In 2007-2008, green IT was thought by many people to mean reducing data center power consumption," says Michelle Erickson, the bank's sustainable technology director. "We prefer the term 'sustainable IT' as we have a larger vision than just cutting power usage."

In September 2007, Citi launched a global sustainable IT initiative, based on a formal framework encompassing power management, paper substitution, travel substitution, and sustainable supply chain. The program is one of several initiatives designed to reduce Citi's own environmental footprint-including constructing sustainable office buildings-to which Citi allocated a ten-year budget of $10 billion in 2007. It's part of a goal to reduce absolute greenhouse gas emissions globally by 10 percent by 2011 from 2005 levels.

"We wanted to reduce the environmental footprint of our technology services, and then use technology to cut Citi's overall footprint," says Erickson, whose title is initiative director, sustainability and research in Citi's Global Operations and Technology group.

Erickson says the human factor is crucial to success in sustainable IT. "Behavioral and cultural change is the key to 80 percent of what needs to get done in our sustainability initiative."

Citi's desktop standardization initiative (DSI) has proven a good entre to employee engagement. DSI involves upgrading every Citi employee's computer worldwide to a standardized, energy efficient desktop by the end of 2010. There are over 300,000 PCs and laptops in use worldwide at Citi. DSI also includes optimization of the back-end infrastructure, resulting in a less complex technical environment.

All PCs installed as part of DSI have to be US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Energy Star-rated, and every server has to be 85 percent PSU (power supply unit) energy-efficient. Power management, including centralized sleep settings and centralized automatic wake-up for software updates or virus scans, is core to DSI. Between August 2009 and January 2010, Citibank North America replaced all the computer hardware at 1,000 branches in 15 US states as part of DSI.

Other employee-centered efforts have focused on the ubiquitous Blackberry, and the email deluge it enables. "Lighten the Load" encourages staff to delete unnecessary emails. Citi also helps staff to recycle their old Blackberrys and cellphones through its Wireless Drop-off campaign, which was launched in 2007 in New York and last year was extended across the US and into China and the UK. This year, money raised from the campaign will be used to set up an educational fund for the children of Citi staff killed in the Haiti earthquake. The bank also only works with electronic equipment disposal vendors which have a zero landfill policy. "Environmentally-friendly recycling of old hardware is very important," says Rodney Nelsestuen, Senior Research Director, Cross-Industry Research at TowerGroup. "If a bank has an IT recycling program in place, this shows it's really serious about green IT. It's not just doing PR and pretending to be a good corporate citizen."

Impressive Results

DSI is expected to result in a net three percent reduction in Citi's global greenhouse gas emissions, says Amy Lepenske, director of global desktop standardization. Half will come from efficiencies gained in hardware, with the rest coming from operational enhancements that use the new desktop infrastructure.

And though its sustainable IT strategy isn't just about data centers, the bank has made significant progress there. Citi consolidated from 52 data centers worldwide in 2005 to 24 at the end of 2010. It currently has 14 strategic data centers across the globe, three of which are US Green Building Council LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certified. In 2009, the bank saw its first ever net reduction in data center power consumption of two percent. According to Citi, for every two watts of energy saved by technology in its data centers, there is at least one watt in support infrastructure saved on the facilities side.

On the construction side, Citi opened a LEED Platinum-certified data center in Frankfurt, Germany in June 2008. It has also received LEED Gold certification for new data centers in Georgetown, Texas and in Singapore. Compared to one of Citi's previously constructed data centers, the Georgetown site uses 800 kilowatts less power for the same footprint, for a 30 percent reduction in energy costs, Erickson says.

The institution's also embracing virtualization, migrating low-utilization physical servers onto virtual host servers achieving an average virtual/physical sever ratio of 12:1. This has allowed Citi to save 73 percent in server power and cooling requirements, and avoid more than 300 tons of annual CO2 emissions.

A Model for the Whole Market

If you wanted to design a green IT program for a major bank, then Citi's strategy is what you would come up with," says Simon Mingay, a Gartner research vp specializing in environmentally-sustainable IT.

Bart Stanco, an executive partner in Gartner's Executive Programs who focuses on green IT, says Citi has got into sustainability to a much greater depth than other banks. "Citi has even gone down to the supply chain level to verify how its hardware is manufactured, how it is packed and shipped, and how it is disposed of."

Howard Rubin, CEO of New York-based Rubin Worldwide, a technology economics consultancy for clients including Citi, says the bank "takes the academic theory about green IT, builds its own models, and then makes them work. But it's not just about technology, Citi has also made good investments in the people needed to drive its sustainability strategy."

This article can also be found at AmericanBanker.com.

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