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Sun 13 Sep 2009 04:00 AM

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Green impact

Green IT is a popular term and one that lets companies beat their chests over how much they have reduced their carbon emissions. Nathan Statz investigates the real motivation behind the earth's corporate crusaders.

Green impact
BAMPS: Green IT is not so much about the environmental impact but rather one of lean manufacturing.
Green impact
HOONHOUT: CIOs in the region don’t actually pay their own power bills, and as such their performance is not tested on it.
Green impact
GHATTAS: Green IT comes down to how the resources are utilised and will vary between regions depending on availability.
Green impact
MEHTA: Customers do not think in terms of green, but rather in terms of if we have the necessary features.
Green impact
RADLINGER: Customers only respond to green IT when they can see they will get clear value or ROI from choosing it.

Green IT is a popular term and one that lets companies beat their chests over how much they have reduced their carbon emissions. Nathan Statz investigates the real motivation behind the earth's corporate crusaders.

More than three years have passed since Al Gore let the world know of a few less-than-convenient truths about the state of the planet. Whether you subscribe to the climate change theories of the technical winner of the USA's 2000 election or not, most people realise that we should be doing everything possible to look after the earth we live on.

Much like all good-intentioned ideas, talking about it is far easier than actively getting involved and doing something. This basic principle crosses over into the IT realm, where collectively outstretched fists are doing anything they can to tighten their grip on the elusive dollar and hold little interest in wearing green gloves while they do it.

Erwin Bamps, CEO of Gulf Craft, has a theory on being green in the IT sphere. Specifically that it is not so much about the environment, but about spending company funds wisely. He relates that IT is still seen by a lot of companies as an expense, rather than a strategic investment and this attitude trickles across to the topic of going into bat for the environment.

Being in the boat building business, Bamps relates that green IT is not so much about the environmental impact for the company, but rather one of lean manufacturing and doing everything the business can - including slimming down the IT infrastructure. Towards that end, Gulf Craft has been extending the shelf life of its existing computers in order to cut down on e-waste, as well as analysing floor plans so the company can fit as many people in as possible and cut down on air conditioning.

These types of initiatives are driven by business needs, such as the electricity costs for air conditioning - which Bamps explains is one of his biggest expenses. Moves like this have other beneficiaries - besides the bottom line - like the trees that have to breathe in less carbon emissions because the enterprise is siphoning less juice.

"Green IT for me is a bit like lean IT, it is considering how you manage and organise your IT so that you actually waste less. We're talking about e-waste in terms of the environmental impact, but also [avoiding] duplicating equipment inside and continuously upgrading your user," says Bamps.

Naturally the public relations agencies and marketing departments the world over like to dress these types of initiatives up as a nature-saving move designed to stave off the tide of tree-killing doom. It may be going too far to paint an organisation up as being an incarnation of the children's cartoon hero Captain Planet, because in reality most businesses are looking to cut costs, not take pollution down to zero.

"One of the key elements that's driving interest in green IT in the Middle East at the moment is where we can demonstrate short term savings - money talks. When they say green IT, they really mean the colour of the green US dollar rather than plants and vegetables," says John Hoonhout, managing director and technology solutions group lead at HP Middle East.

Hoonhout has been on the road for several months as part of the CIO forums run by research firm IDC, where he has been working on raising the level of awareness of how to minimise the energy consumption of IT infrastructure. He points out that from his dealings with CIOs has come the conclusion that most don't pay their own power bill - these are usually paid by someone else like the CFO - and their performance is not measured on this.

Global Green

The analysts at Gartner have released a survey which shows many organisations are pushing ahead with green IT initiatives, despite the current economic conditions. Of the 620 organisations surveyed, only 60 had no green IT projects, with 40% of those in the US claiming they were likely to launch projects in the future, along with 58% in Europe.

"As far as green IT is concerned, we anticipate continued focus on projects that improve energy efficiency and save money," said Simon Mingay, research VP at Gartner.

"Despite the apparent strength of green IT projects highlighted by the survey, for most organisations not looking to exploit the opportunities of climate change strategically, 2009 will be a gap year for green projects lacking a short-term cost-cutting and efficiency focus. Longer term, we believe environmental sustainability will remain an important business issue," he added.

Gartner also found that 22% of those surveyed had a specific capex budget for green IT. Of those, 46% in Europe anticipated spending more than 15% of their IT capital budgets on green IT projects, along with 38% in the Asia/Pacific region and 36% in the US.

"The broad area of green IT covering areas such as carbon reporting and offsetting, videoconferencing and green procurement will continue to be a key pillar of IT strategy and architecture during the next 10 years," said Rakesh Kumar, research vice president at Gartner. "This is because the political and scientific imperatives around climate change will continue to push governments, international bodies and organisations as stakeholders increase the pressure to focus on environmental sustainability."

Simple things like enabling power-saving features, turning monitors off at night and kicking printers into standby mode are easy to do but often neglected. A report from the US Environmental Protection Agency into the benefits of using Energy Star compliant devices found that a typical organisation with 1,000 computers could save approximately US $40,000 per year by switching to them.

This also translates into an overall saving of 350 tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions or the equivalent of removing 60 cars from the road. While the decision to go green in this scenario is an easy one - for the significant cost savings you can reap - it is also just as simple to dress it up as a choice being made for the benefit of the planet.

For vendors, green IT is a lucrative avenue to explore as the most power efficient, cooling-optimised, leaf-friendly technology is usually the newest and priciest model on the market. While the motivation for switching to technologies that are marketed as ‘green' is almost universally for the cost savings over the lifetime of the product, if the environment is benefiting then who is to argue when the organisation uses the opportunity to push out a press release touting its credentials as a green superhero?

Heribert Radlinger, head of datacentres at eHosting Datafort (eHDF) explains that customers only become responsive to green IT if they are getting value out of it. He claims that unless you offer clients a service at a cheaper rate or a valued return, they won't care.

"I would say that from all our customers here, to date, nobody really cares about green IT. I didn't hear that someone was requesting any information about any green initiative that we were undertaking," he claims.

Radlinger also believes that the emphasis on green IT in the Middle East is just getting started. He explains that eHDF operates in the datacentre market which only really emerged for a broader audience in the last three years, so it is very immature in many aspects and has a long way to go.

Chandan Mehta, product manager at Fujitsu Technology Solutions, shares the idea that green IT is not completely about the environment.

He believes that the customer looks at the functionality, deliverance and procurement features of a product rather than how much cooler the globe will be: "Customers do not think of the IT systems in terms of green, but more in terms of necessity or in terms of do we have limitations in our ability [to supply] power."

There is also the question of the size of the organisation, as Mehta explains that larger enterprises are more aware of power utilisation and as such will be focused on improving efficiency. "If it's a small office with 40 employees, they would not bother too much with the power consumption of the PC which they  have to use for their employees. The major banks with 6,000 employees sitting behind a telephone line in a call centre would look into things like that," adds Mehta.

For Ihab Ghattas, assistant president for the Middle East at network vendor Huawei, the problem is not so much in raising the awareness of green IT, but whether firms will do anything about it. His view is that we really need to do a better job of looking after the environment and it comes down to how the resources are utilised.

"Everybody realises that with all this development and construction going on, we really need to look into a different way of protecting the environment. Everybody is aware of it, whether they will take action now or later is debatable," says Ghattas.

"In the long run greener products are cheaper to use, it's just that the distribution of money is slightly different to what the operator is used too. They are used to spending less now and paying more on operations costs later, but with green IT it is the other way around," he adds.

John Coulston, head of marketing for the Middle East at Dell, claims that customers are actually placing more importance on green IT now than they were more than a year ago. He says that the ability to drive efficiency, more so than just a corporate social responsibility item is important and will keep it atop the agenda of a typical CEO.

"I think it is more pragmatic than just a label that is being stuck on something that is being done. If you take a look at what's happening in the Middle East, there is initiatives coming out from government that are driving organisations to be more environmentally concerned and aware," says Coulston.

The dominant force that makes businesses more interested in their profit margin than in the fate of endangered species is a natural reaction - greed - and is a human condition that is not going away any time soon. That said, it is not such a bad thing that businesses can find technology allowing them to write smaller cheques and help out the planet in the process. Enterprises may not be green for the purest of reasons, but it is beats ignoring it completely.

While this effectively makes green IT a side effect of cost-saving, the business churns out more profit, and the trees can inhale a little easier and thus everybody wins.

Fast facts

• Global ICT industry accounts for approximately 2% of worldwide carbon emissions.

• By 2010, about half of the Forbes Global 2000 companies will spend more on energy than they do on actual hardware.

• There are currently over one billion PCs throughout the globe, this is projected to balloon out to  2.25 billion by the year 2015.

Source:US EPA.

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