by Alistair Maughan

Five contractual ways for UK CIOs to promote Green IT

Mar 21, 20145 mins
IT Leadership

Recently, Pat Brans wrote a terrific article on this site about five things that UK CIOs need to do about Green IT. Pat’s article set me thinking about whether I could take this a step further and recommend specific measures that CIOs ought to be able to implement contractually across the ICT supply chain to promote and develop Green IT. [See also: Green IT, renewable energy and sustainability – Greenpeace IT chief puts pressure on AWS]

Pat argues that there are two strong reasons for CIOs to promote Green IT: saving money and improving a company’s PR. Both of these are clearly true and, although the publicity surrounding Green IT seems to have waned compared to a peak five years ago, the cost of energy continues to be a significant factor in many organisations’ budgets.

Pat recommends some highly effective steps that any organisation could take in order to reduce energy consumption and reduce its carbon footprint. Ideally, of course, organisations will make sure that Green IT is embedded as a principle across the entire business, including the supply chain. So I tried to think of the five main Green IT steps for a CIO to consider implementing across the web of commercial relationships supporting an organisation’s ICT estate.

1. Implement a set of Green IT principles.By this, I mean a set of principles, products and practices designed to mandate improvements in environmental behaviour, such as increasing the use of energy-efficient devices and renewable energy sources, promoting recycling and ensuring compliance with all applicable environmental regulations.

At one level, a set of principles is nothing unless acted upon. And, as any lawyer will tell you, asking a service provider to sign up to a set of principles may not get you much further than lip service. However, setting out as part of key ICT supply contracts a consistent basic commitment to conduct all IT operations in accordance with defined Green IT principles will help to underpin many other specific requirements.

Organisations ought, at the very least, to have an environmentally preferable purchasing policy. Service providers should be required to commit to provide services in accordance with those Green IT principles.  CIOs should engage with selected suppliers and include carbon and resource impacts within procurement criteria and processes. Where appropriate, any evaluation and selection process of competing service providers ought to take account of each service provider’s compliance with appropriate standards such as ISO14000 and the strengths of each provider’s own demonstrated sustainable development strategy.

2. Appoint a Green IT champion.Within the ICT estate, a senior person should be made responsible for implementation of Green IT and the co-ordination of all service providers Green IT policies. This position should be mirrored as a requirement within the organisational structure of key ICT service providers to make certain there is a joint customer/provider leadership team designed to champion the implementation of Green IT across the ICT estate. Make Green IT a part of the contractual governance structure. The leadership team ought to commit service providers to provide advice back to the customer around evolving best practices and international guidelines or standards that might be implemented in relation to Green IT, particularly with regard to things like data centre operations, end user computing, packaging for hardware shipments, and recycling or disposal of decommissioned hardware.

3. Energy Usage.Contracts with key ICT service providers ought to include obligations to minimise energy consumption at the system, rack and data centre level. This can be backed up with regular reporting requirements and even SLAs around energy consumption and usage ratios. Contracts can require providers to make optimal use of data centre space, server and other assets put under their stewardship and to identify opportunities for re-engineering steps that could improve the utilisation of computing resources, space and energy.

4. Focus on charging.Either directly through a service charge element or potentially indirectly through a service level monitored by service credits, some element of the charges can often be attributed to energy efficiency measures and Green IT.

In many data centre-type contracts, there is also the possibility to investigate a separate line item of charging in relation to energy consumption and to make the basis for pass-through of energy charges far more transparent than most service providers are prepared to do without being pushed.

Large organisations should already be on top of their obligations under the government’s Carbon Reduction Commitment scheme. In on-going relationships, a service provider could be required to advise its customer pro-actively of the availability of any carbon credits, and recommend cost and gain-sharing proposals which enable the customer to take advantage of carbon credits.

5. Tech refresh and recycling.As Pat noted in his original article, recycling and e-waste are key action areas. There are already legal requirements for e-waste in terms of the WEEE directive and RoHS directive. Typically, I would expect to see a service provider committed to be responsible for safe and legally compliant disposal of all supported equipment and potentially any customer-owned equipment that gets replaced as part of the services.

It’s possible to go a step further and require a provider to implement a programme of activity throughout the contract term to upgrade all IT equipment to models with a better energy rating. This can be backed up with regular reporting on progress through the governance process.

But, finally, it’s confession time. Despite advising on dozens of IT contracts every year for the past two decades, I have never seen a customer prepared to implement consistently all of the steps I’ve described.  Some may get to two or three out of five, but never the full house. Will this change? I keep thinking that it’s inevitable as energy prices rise. But it seems that organisations either need more persuading – or perhaps to be led to a better place by their main ICT service providers.