Why Green IT is Better IT

There’s a sweet spot where good ethics meet good business. And IT can—and should—be sitting at the nexus.

By Elana Varon
Wed, March 28, 2007

CIO — The report on global warming issued in February by the United

Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change concludes unequivocally that our planet is getting hotter. And, as we approach Earth Day April 22, the evidence that it’s all our fault is stronger than ever.

As we go about our busy lives, running our ever more powerful, ever more ubiquitous computers, we are effectively turning up the planet’s thermostat. Gartner estimates that carbon dioxide emissions related to the operation of servers and PCs account for 0.75 percent of the annual global total, and that’s before factoring in emissions generated by cooling the boxes. Add to that the emissions generated by telecommunications networks, and IT’s contribution to the atmosphere’s greenhouse gas load is “probably in excess of 2 percent,” says Simon Mingay, research vice president with Gartner, adding that that’s “a big number for what is essentially a single device.” In fact, emissions tied to that device, the computer, are comparable to the level of greenhouse gasses being produced by all the world’s airplanes as they crisscross the skies above us.

Now what are CIOs doing about that?

Green Goes Mainstream
Companies today face a panoply of environmental issues, from how much electricity they consume (produced by power plants that run on fossil fuels) to how they deal with toxic wastes. But in most enterprises the CIO has played a minimal role in decisions that affect the environment. For the most part, no one has asked them to do anything more.

But sooner rather than later, someone—your boss, a big customer or a government agency—is going to want to know what you’re doing to comply with, support or advance your company’s efforts to become more environmentally responsible. This demand will not stem merely from an altruistic desire to behave responsibly (although that’s a fine reason); rather, corporate sustainability (as being cognizant of your impact on the planet is now called) has become a cost of doing business. Global regulations that put limits on toxic chemicals and emissions now reach from the manufacturing floor into the data center.

And having an understanding of and an appreciation for one’s effect on the environment increasingly is proving to be good for the bottom line. A recent report concluded that there’s a direct correlation between good environmental practices and sound overall management. The report’s authors—Marc Orlitzky, a lecturer with the Australian Graduate School of Management, and Frank L. Schmidt and Sara L. Rynes, both professors with the University of Iowa—say good corporate citizenship can help companies build the skills and infrastructure they need to cope in turbulent times, as well as improve efficiency.

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