There’s science behind green IT. Recent case studies of emerging green technologies and practices have demonstrated quantifiable results. It’s clear that green initiatives save cash.

Organizations can realize major savings just by virtualizing servers and using power-management tools and variable-speed disk drives in data centers, for example. These approaches can extend a data center’s life span at a fraction of the cost of building a new one, upwards of $1,000 a square foot.

When CIO’s shrink the carbon footprint of their data centers, improve energy efficiency, and promote recycling and telework, they directly boost the bottom line. In any economy, that’s good news for business.

The Cost of Not Going Green

Getting the business behind green IT is easier when considering the cost of not going green. As organizations ratchet up scrutiny of all IT projects, CIOs are wise to point out the consequences of inaction – both the tangible and intangible costs. A tangible cost would be a loss of revenue. An intangible cost would be the erosion of a company’s reputation by its unwillingness to invest in sustainability like competitors are doing. Fallout from such erosion includes credibility problems with key clients and difficulty in attracting and retaining the best employees.

The case for green IT rests on cost savings and operational impacts – and that includes the consequences of falling behind the times.

For the two most popular green related projects, virtualization and desktop management cost savings, reduced energy consumption is the primary driver. As companies increase their awareness and put action behind words, leading better-informed and more environmentally aware businesses, they will want to select IT providers that support environmentally sound products and services.

If IT departments lead with projects that clearly save money through reduced energy consumption, the cost of not going green becomes glaringly apparent. By Accenture’s estimates, at least two-thirds of the green initiatives IT departments can launch today would have an economic payoff. These favorable numbers help IT gain business support.

Who’s Hogging the Energy?

Some IT departments make the mistake of initiating their exploration of green IT by checking out their own vendors’ latest energy-efficient offerings. That’s a mistake, because it’s too easy to be led down a path of narrow “hardware refresh” focus. Better to take a hard look at IT’s overall power consumption and environmental footprint. That sounds like a daunting task, but new tools are hitting the market to help organizations with the process. Capabilities are now available from service integrators and niche players to identify which projects will produce the greatest impact most quickly.

The next step is to tackle the area with the most imminent promise: the data center. It’s no accident that the Environmental Protection Agency is ready to issue a stamp of approval for the most energy-efficient servers: Data centers are prime targets for the green IT agenda.

Most people don’t realize how dependent our economy has become on data centers. These hubs of computing, networking and storage equipment, and power and cooling systems deliver critical support to our economic institutions. Banking and financial services, media, manufacturing, transportation, education, health care and government all conduct billions of transactions a day through data centers.

Policymakers now recognize data centers as a branch of our national infrastructure, along with the power grid that juices them 24\7. We can make a good dent in greenhouse gas emissions just by making data centers more efficient in their power consumption and reuse of waste heat.

In 2006, data centers accounted for a whopping 1.5 percent of U.S. energy consumption, according to the EPA in its 2007 Report to Congress on Server and Data Center Energy Efficiency. The EPA forecasted that figure to jump to three percent in the next five years, at which point we’ll be dropping $7.4 billion a year to run U.S. data centers. We can cut server energy consumption by 25 percent using existing technologies and strategies, said the EPA. And further reductions would be possible using advanced technologies.

But how do the EPA’s data center energy estimates play out in the real world? To find out, the Silicon Valley Leadership Group’s corporate members conducted 17 case studies. The group selected Accenture to analyze the results, which were published this year in the Data Center Energy Resources Report .

The case studies bolster the EPA’s findings, demonstrating that enterprises can revamp existing data centers to achieve energy efficiency similar to a new, greener data center built from scratch.

Active and Passive Approaches To Energy Savings

Several Fortune 500 companies have made strides to reduce data center electricity consumption by employing active and passive approaches. Examples of active approaches include virtualization to limit server sprawl at its source: the juice-thirsty hardware and other resources companies rely upon to run their applications. By consolidating and running several servers from a single physical one, a company can cut hardware, power and cooling costs in one stroke.

HP is installing its “smart cooling” technology in data centers worldwide, notably in a large facility in Bangalore, India. Telecom giant BT –which owns Europe’s most colossal data centers –– absorbs some 0.7 percent of Britain’s total power output. BT has been able to cut power use there by more than 60 percent, with less than 18 months for investment payback.

On the passive side of energy savings, IT operations can institute policies to replace, as a matter of course, old hardware on the floor with more energy-efficient models – IT calls this “intelligent refresh.” Other passive approaches may involve partnering with facilities management to make cooling and heating systems more efficient by, for example, re-purposing waste heat or using groundwater for cooling.

Measure and Map for a Convincing Business Case

A convincing business case for green IT contains a clear roadmap to help business leaders visualize expected outcomes in terms of carbon output, cost reduction and electricity consumption. The roadmap could include examples of how, for instance, consolidation and virtualization might impact energy usage over several years (see Figure 1).

Metrics are crucial to creating a clear roadmap. Power consumption data in particular is essential to measuring the impact of virtualization.

Fortunately, new tools are on the market to facilitate accurate metrics. Accenture’s Technology Labs and several other companies offer tools to aggregate kilowatt-hour consumption of data-center machines, for example, and to predict consumption changes under varying energy-saving configurations. These tools also can draw from case study databases and detailed performance data. They can assess a wide variety of solutions, including water cooling, server virtualization, multicore processors and free cooling.

Cisco Systems plans to use the enterprise data network as a kind of electricity meter. Cisco gathers data on power consumption and operating temperature from server and storage equipment vendors. This helps to manage data center energy consumption and to allocate and bill for departmental electricity costs.

With good metrics in place, IT managers can present hypothetical situations, such as, what would happen if energy prices were to rise a percentage point? Or, what if solar power were to become available? A clear roadmap for a data center strategy includes before-and-after snapshots of these types of variables and their impacts on the bottom line.

Getting to Work on Less

Green work practices are a potentially major sphere of influence for CIOs and their leadership teams. Enabling employees to work remotely by providing thin client and Web-based business services and fostering a telework culture extends the green IT strategy from merely a technology solution to an enterprise-wide transformation.

To map out a strategy for green work practices, IT first should assess its myriad influences on how people work. Its influences are far and wide. Remote-access technology, personal communications tools and collaboration are continuously reshaping how we use energy and how we work, travel and live. Working with Fortune 500 companies over many years, I’ve observed that the growth and function of workplace environments, procurement methodologies and supply chains are all within IT’s sphere of influence.

The next step for an IT organization in strategizing for green work practices is to study how changes could reduce energy consumption and waste. IT must objectively weigh the risks and rewards (data security issues for mobile devices, for instance) and prioritize the practices that will yield the highest energy savings at lowest risk.

The economy is pushing U.S. airlines to think more about sustainability, for instance, and telework plays a role. At JetBlue Airways, the call-center staff is highly motivated and unusually productive, in part because Web-based systems let employees work from home and control their work hours. The systems match staff to call demand, ensuring that JetBlue always has the right level of staffing.

In addition to promoting telework, IT departments can reinforce policies encouraging employees to conserve energy. Actions like turning off computers after use rather than leaving them on standby, recycling waste and printing documents only as necessary can go a long way toward reducing the carbon footprint of an organization. Working with facilities managers, IT departments can install energy-efficient office equipment. Examples include double-sided printers to save on consumables such as paper and toner, and timers for office lights and equipment so they consume less energy when not in use.

The possibilities for organizational change are numerous. Postponing desktop replacement can make a big difference. The energy used to manufacture an average PC equals four-fifths of that computer’s energy consumption over its lifetime. Internet protocol links for all communications - including VoIP to replace traditional phone landlines - can cut production, installation and duplication of office cabling.

IT executives in service industries are ideal candidates to lead a commitment to responsible disposal of office equipment. That’s because their servers, PCs, routers, storage systems and other hardware make up the bulk of capital expenditures. IT departments can organize recycling of nonfunctional or obsolete equipment, or find new homes for outdated gear.

Another way to make a difference is to “buy green.” CIOs can require that all hardware purchases be accredited through ENERGY STAR or similar programs. Favor suppliers that are proactive about reducing, reusing or recycling their packaging. Rate suppliers on their record for running their businesses in environmentally acceptable ways and put them on the preferred list. Only a quarter of companies have written green criteria into purchasing processes, according to IT analyst firm Forrester Research, so there’s much room for improvement.

CIOs in industries that produce and distribute goods can achieve environmental benefits by focusing on energy efficiency throughout the procurement lifecycle, from acquisition to usage and, ultimately, to disposal. IT departments can collaborate with their companies’ supply chain and logistics experts. They can pinpoint processes and tools that engender “smart logistics” - maximizing freight payloads, consolidating shipments, improving supply chain visibility to minimize distances shipped and evaluating the carbon footprints of transportation options. Results will be maximized by taking a holistic view all along the supply chain and into suppliers’ and customers’ operations.

By participating in community activities, CIOs also can contribute to the company image as a responsible corporate citizen. Activities can include recycling IT assets to local charities or helping small businesses in the neighborhood do so. A communications campaign in collaboration with regional government, encouraging the public to turn off PCs and unplug various mobile phone and related chargers from the wall when not in use, can bring the company’s corporate citizenship to the public eye. Other communications ideas include sharing green IT triumphs and perspectives through articles and Web content. IT operations can share successes with customers, suppliers, investors, analysts and the media – all of whom take a keen interest in the environmental performance of companies these days.

Gaining a Global Perspective

European companies have several incentives in place for green IT – including government regulation, social pressure and operational concerns. On May 13, 2008, the European Commission issued a document focused on the role IT can play in tackling climate change issues. It covers the need to reduce IT’s carbon footprint and examines how IT can be used to develop energy efficiency technology – paving the way for cooperation among member states.

The EC’s Code of Conduct for Data Centres states “there are efficiency gains … still to be realized without prohibitive initial costs, and that lowers the total cost of ownership.” The EC calls for organizations to voluntarily comply with guidelines for energy-efficient IT capacity and heating and cooling systems. IT can reduce the 2 percent of its global carbon dioxide emissions, the EC says. While not laying out a mandate, the EC is allocating resources to help IT tackle some high-carbon areas.

The U.S. is less far along than Europe in proscribing change. But as one of the country’s biggest fuel guzzlers, IT is in a unique position to lead big business toward sustainability. First, IT needs to curb its own energy appetite – if only to keep up with the rising demand for its services that’s outpacing efficiency gains and to save cash. Then, IT leaders can lead by example, inspiring American businesses and organizations to embrace a greener future.

 

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