Green Beyond Greenbacks

By Edward Cone  |  Posted 07-11-2006

Where does doing good for its own sake end and doing good to do well begin? Businesses are supposed to make money, and many of the arguments in favor of Green IT are straightforward business propositions: Cut your power bills, avoid regulatory hassles, appeal to customers. Yet the underlying environmental issues remain important to people within companies, and to their customers—and those interests often intertwine with the business imperatives.

"Altruism and social consciousness are personal things," says Dave Douglas, vice president of Eco Responsibility at Sun Microsystems Inc. "Those are the reasons I'm in this job, and they are a priority for the Sun execs I work with, and for a lot of employees. But there is a tight link between the altruistic and the economic, and if leadership—if CIOs—can find a way to tap into that altruism, they'll find an unbelievable pool of economic benefits."

Andrea Moffat, director of corporate outreach at Ceres, the green investment and activism group, says corporate environmental consciousness involves genuine social concerns, but that a key selling point in the executive suite is being green as a growth policy. "It provides access to new products, new markets, and new customers, which contributes to growing the business and to shareholder value," she says. Analyst Adam Braunstein of the Robert Frances Group agrees. "Customers will start looking at vendors because they are socially responsible, and that will help the overall business," he says. "Just as Toyota's Prius sells Camrys and Highlanders, a green server sells an image. That banner vehicle translates over to the rest of the product line."

For CIOs who may labor far from the direct view of the customer, the message is clear: Green IT doesn't only involve energy consumption and regulatory compliance, but marketing and branding, too. And whatever non-business satisfaction it provides them as well, of course.