It's Not Easy Going Green

By Deborah Perelman  |  Posted 10-12-2007

ORLANDO, Fla.—Technology is no idle threat to the environment. Despite their seemingly inert appearances, PCs, servers, data centers, cell phones, LANs, WANs, printers, disk storage and IT infrastructure worldwide account for an estimated 2 percent of global CO2 emissions.

For all the current talk about the importance of "greening" IT for the common good, little is said of the long-term consequences of not improving its environmental sustainability to enterprises and technology providers.

"Failure to do so risks incurring unnecessary costs, the potential loss of competitive position, or becoming the target of unwanted attention by environmental pressure groups, the media and politicians," Gartner analyst Simon Mingay said here Oct. 9 at Gartner's IT Symposium during a session on green IT.

The good news is that, due to relative inefficiencies in technology and use behaviors, achieving substantial improvements in IT's CO2 emissions need not be particularly difficult.

Within the 2 percent of global emissions for which IT is responsible, PCs and monitors account for the biggest piece, or 39 percent of the pie. Data centers and servers are second but get the most attention.

According to a 2004 report by the Institute for Prospective Technological Studies for the European Commission, IT's environmental impact can be seen on three levels.

First-order effects are where most attention is focused today, including greenhouse gas emissions, hazardous materials and e-waste. Second-order effects—IT's ability to change business processes through e-business and transportation optimization—are less understood by most enterprises. Third-order effects are long-term changes to behaviors or economic structures and are barely conceptualized by enterprises.

"This is a real, harder challenge because of the behavioral issues that are involved in fixing the problem," said Mingay.

Few IT management teams are aware of any corporate social responsibility policies that their enterprises have, or have mapped out implications for their own activities, according to Gartner. Therefore, Gartner recommends that enterprises must first improve IT's sustainability by defining a policy and strategy for first- and second-order environmental effects.

Gartner then recommends companies measure and analyze their impact and take responsibility for the part of the electric bill that IT's power consumption drives. Addressing user behaviors is the next task because fixing the poor energy use rampant in organizations requires engaging employees in the environmental program, according to Gartner.

Sixty percent of PCs are left on around the clock, Gartner found, and up to 15 percent of all office power is consumed by technology equipment. Encouraging employees to turn off their computers or put them into standby mode when they're not in use is essential, the analyst company said.

Virtualization helps by ending overprovisioning and using power management features and management software to automate changing of the power status of equipment.

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