Challenges Ahead

By Brian P. Watson  |  Posted 08-06-2008 Print Email

Challenges Ahead

Still, at least half the companies we surveyed don't have a long-term green strategy in place, according to our study and the Cutter Consortium. Harris, a $5 billion IT supplier and government contractor, has adopted some green initiatives, but doesn't have a formal strategy, says principal network architect Mark Pugh. The firm's motivation for those initiatives? First cost reductions, then customer requests.

Energy costs are a big driver for Harris. Each time a new server is purchased, the manager must document the expected power consumption level. The company is urging workers to carpool or use electric cars, which they can charge at work. Pugh and his team have also invested in virtualization, though he sees the technology as more of a cost saver than an eco-friendly move.

Despite these initiatives, Pugh sees a problem with green activism, especially for publicly traded companies. "Shareholders want us to be green, but they don't want their shares to decline," he says. "The minute your dividend drops, things change."

Wes Buxton, CIO of Seminole Energy Services, admits that his firm has not launched a comprehensive green strategy. His IT department has set plenty of eco-friendly policies--like powering down monitors, PCs and hard drives after periods of inactivity, and recycling batteries and hardware--but when it comes to his company going full-bore environmental, he sees the same obstacles as Pugh. "I honestly feel that if I stood up at a meeting and said we should do all these things to help the environment, people would say no," he says. "If there's no cost saving involved, nobody's going to do it."

IT executives and experts say that emphasis is shifting, but it won't happen all at once. Still, there is a larger driver at hand: Gartner's Mingay sees a growing public sentiment in the United States that mirrors what drove environmental legislation in Europe in the 1990s.

Clearly, federal legislation would force American businesses to go green. The best framework for new legislation, Mingay says, centers on a cap-and-trade system that would essentially require companies to buy carbon. In a low-carbon economy, companies that embrace change and experiment with different tactics will thrive, he adds. With IT at the heart of many green initiatives, CIOs have an opportunity to take the lead, as well as boost innovation within their organizations.

That hasn't happened yet, however. Respondents to our study say the CIO is a key decision-maker on green IT initiatives (42 percent) or an adviser to those leading the effort (32 percent), but less than one in 10 say the IT chief was, in fact, the person in charge.

At Harris, Pugh says the CIO has assumed the informal position of leading the green charge. For Seminole Energy Services, most existing green initiatives are spearheaded by IT executives.

Wells Fargo is one of the approximately one-third of U.S. companies with green strategies that have appointed an executive to oversee these initiatives. In Wells Fargo's case, the executive previously headed two different divisions and serves on the firm's managerial committee, reporting directly to the CEO.

That's exactly the type of leader companies need today, says Andrew Shapiro, founder and CEO of GreenOrder, a sustainability strategy and consulting firm. To be effective, Shapiro wrote on his "Leading Green" blog, the green-IT leader "needs to work with nearly every function in the company, helping them to look at their day-to-day decisions through the lens of green opportunity."

Will that new-age leader be the CIO? With so many green tactics emanating from IT, there's a good chance of that happening. The bigger question is whether the CIO has enough institutional clout to lead the charge effectively.

Click ahead to see the results of CIO Insight's Green IT study.



 

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