Green IT is a widely talked about subject at the moment. Organisations are undertaking numerous initiatives to address the challenge of increasing power consumption, growing carbon footprint not to mention increasing costs. An initiative that most organisations are not undertaking is embedding sustainability into processes and workflow.
Organisations can use their existing service management framework to improve the sustainability of IT, and the goods and services that they provide. This article will explore what we mean by Green IT, the current impact that IT is having on the environment, why it is so high on the CEO agenda, the initiatives that most organisations are currently driving, and how service management can help address the challenge.
What is Green IT?
There are many definitions to be found on “green IT” or “green computing”. Just do a Google search and see what you find. The majority of the definitions will talk about physical devices and their lifecycle such as the following that I pulled off the Internet.
“The study and practice of designing, manufacturing, using, and disposing of computers, servers, and associated subsystems — such as monitors, printers, storage devices, and networking and communications systems — efficiently and effectively with minimal or no impact on the environment. Green computing is the environmentally responsible use of computers and related resources. Such practices include the implementation of energy-efficient central processing units (CPUs), servers and peripherals as well as reduced resource consumption and proper disposal of electronic waste (e-waste)”.
Firstly, I don’t believe that there is such a thing as “Green IT”. I believe that the phrase itself is an oxymoron! By the nature of IT, it cannot be “green”. What IT can do is improve the way in which it operates by directly reducing the carbon footprint of the IT operation. It can become “greener” but it will never be “green”. What a “greener IT” should be driving is not only a reduction in its own carbon footprint but providing products and services to the rest of the organisation to enable it to reduce its carbon footprint. Most IT sustainability initiatives are internally focused and they need to become externally focused as well. They also tend to be operational initiatives and need to be strategic and tactical as well. IT is also well placed through its service management framework to drive a change in the behaviours of not only its own staff but also its customers and suppliers.
Therefore, if we have to use the term “Green IT”, it should be an overarching strategic, tactical and operational program of activities that not only address the carbon footprint of IT but also that of the organisation, its customers and its suppliers. IT should be driving an organisational change in behaviour towards sustainability in order to reach a state of “unconscious competency” which I will talk about later. Before that, let’s explore what the actual impact IT is having on the environmental both now and into the future.
Back in 2007, Gartner released the statistic that IT was responsible for two per cent of global CO2 emissions. This statistic has been widely used ever since. The Climate Group in the report SMART2020: Enabling the Low Carbon Economy in the Information Age (2008) supported this figure but also predicted that despite the efficient technology developments that affect the power consumption of products and services, the figure looks set to grow at six per cent per year until 2020.
Based on global carbon emissions of two per cent per year, this puts IT on a par with the aviation industry.
The carbon footprint of PCs and monitors is expected to triple by 2020 – a growth rate of five per cent per annum.
The global data centre carbon footprint is expected to triple by 2020 – a growth of seven per cent per annum.
If growth continues in line with demand, the world will be using 122 million servers in 2020 up from 18 million today.
The data centre composition will change in coming years with an increase in volume servers and virtualisation. However, despite being able to keep a somewhat loose-lid on power consumption through new generation technologies, the growth and associated heating and cooling requirements will continue to increase the impact of IT on the environment.
So why is sustainability and a concerted approach to climate-change top of the CEO agenda?
Top of CEO Agenda
In the Price Waterhouse Coopers (PWC) 13th Annual Global CEO survey they found the following:
“The recession restricted corporate investment in many areas – but climate change wasn’t one of them. Indeed, climate change raised its position on the CEO agenda despite the severity of the recession. More CEOs said they were concerned about climate change this year than last. And among the slim majority of CEOs who had climate change strategies in place before the crisis, more CEOs maintained or even increased investment in their climate strategies than reined in spending”.
- Three out of five CEOs are preparing for the impacts of climate-change initiatives such as emissions trading.
- Reputational advantage is the leading driver of responses to climate-change initiatives.
PWC 13th Annual Global CEO Survey 2010
The survey also found that the top three drivers for the CEO to respond to climate change were:
- Reputational advantage for the company among key stakeholders including employees;
- Significant new product and service opportunities for the company; and,
- Benefits from government funds or financial incentives for “green” investments.
Other industry research has shown that an organisation’s approach to Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) including sustainability strengthens brand; attracts and retains good staff; increases productivity as well as profitability and long-term viability.
- 93 per cent of CEOs believe that sustainability issues will be critical to the future success of their business.
- 72 per cent of CEOs cite “brand, trust and reputation” as one of the top three factors driving them to take action on sustainability issues. Revenue growth and cost reduction is second with 44 per cent.
- 96 per cent of CEOs believe that sustainability issues should be fully integrated into the strategy and operations of a company (up from 72 per cent in 2007).
Accenture: A New Era of Sustainability – UN Global Compact-Accenture Study 2010
As the biggest contributor to the organisation’s CO2 emissions, the CEO will be looking to the CIO and IT to lead the way in reduction of environmental impact. Therefore the pressure is on IT now more than ever.
Add to these drivers, standards such as ISO 14001; pending legislation and regulation; and increasing competition and the pressure increases even more.
Current IT initiatives
There are many initiatives that IT is undertaking to address the challenge of increasing power consumption and CO2 emissions.
Included in these is virtualisation, cloud computing, data centre consolidation, application reduction, data de-duplication, server and PC refresh; mobile computing; power management; print management; and redeployment, reuse and recycling.
IT is focusing on technology to reduce the technology impact on the environment. All this is fine but it is a reaction to the growing carbon footprint rather than a proactive approach, which embeds sustainability into process and workflow thus changing behaviours and enabling the required activities to become an “unconscious competency”.
In his book “Green IT In Practice”, Gary Hird describes this like learning to drive. A new young driver starts out as a learner, unaware that they really don’t know how to drive properly. There is then the realisation that there are road rules and “mirror-signal-manoeuvre” actions that need to be learnt properly through the gradual steady improvement in ability that practice and mentoring brings, through to a stage where good driving is second nature. The driver follows a path from unconscious incompetence, to conscious incompetence to conscious competence to unconscious competence.
It is the latter state that we need to bring IT into so that sustainability is embedded into everything that we do and becomes business-as-usual. This is where Service Management comes into play.
But before I discuss that in detail, let me give a couple of examples where good sustainability initiatives have been executed but (a) they should not have been needed in the first place and (b) without sustainability embedded into process they will have to be undertaken again – unnecessarily. Sun Microsystems undertook large data consolidation efforts over a two-year period and in 2009 recognised that despite those efforts, there was more than could be done and initiated a project called “Bring Out Your Dead” (inspired by the Monty Python’s Holy Grail film). This project was an effort to hunt down and remove orphaned and unused hardware at the company.
In just three months, at four of their major campuses they pulled out 440+ pallets of equipment, 6199 devices in all with 4100 of them being servers. The best was yet to come. In their words: “the icing on the cake was that 64 per cent of the equipment we pulled was still powered on! It was just sitting there burning energy”. The picture below shows 50 per cent of the equipment that was removed which filled one of Sun’s warehouses.
This was like pulling 6000 cars off the road. A great win in terms of sustainability never mind the associated cost savings from the removal of equipment powered on but doing nothing. But why did it get to this and how do you stop it happening again?
It is a given that reorganisations, mergers and acquisitions can lead to additional hardware assets (and software as we will see in the next example) that are not needed. However, with some level of Change Management, Service Asset and Configuration Management and Release & Deployment Management processes, this should be kept to a minimum. Doing a spring clean on the data centre is one thing but letting it get to a state where a major cull is needed is something else. The second example is from Intel. In the white paper Building a Long-term Strategy for IT Sustainability (April 2009), Intel stated that since 2007 they had reduced the number of applications in the environment by almost 37 per cent, making steady progress towards the goal of 50%. Intel expected that retiring applications would result in a net present value of more than USD 50 million.
As mentioned before, it is recognised that reorganisations, mergers and acquisitions can lead to additional applications that are not needed (or can be retired over time) but with some level of Service Portfolio Management, Service Catalogue Management and Change Management in place the extent of application duplication or redundancy should be minimal.
Imagine the CEO and CFO having a conversation today with the CIO and congratulating him/her on the outcomes of these sorts of projects. Imagine the conversation two years later if the same project had to be undertaken again! The conversation would be very different. Hard questions would be asked about why the situation was allowed to repeat itself.
Karen Ferris is a director at Macanta Consulting and the creator of eco-ITSM – enabling organisations to use their service management framework to increase the sustainability. More information is available at www.eco-itsm.com.au.
Read Part 2 - Service management to the rescue!.