by Martin Veitch

Book review: Green IT For Sustainable Business Practice

May 23, 2010
IT LeadershipIT StrategyMobile

Green ITis a tough subject to cover, in part because it’s been used as a marketing catch-all that is designed to sell out conferences, spin up PR campaigns, create unnecessary moral panics and incite self-lacerating thoughts in the minds of those that procure computers and networks.

On the one hand, nobody can seriously dispute that wherever IT stands there is a sizeable carbon footprint. It’s only quite recently that computer makers stopped producing hardware that was only designed to deliver MIPS at an appropriate cost without any concern for electricity bills or what happens to the machines themselves after their useful life, despite it being acknowledged that they contain all sorts of toxic nasties.

It’s also only in the last five years or so that ‘bang for buck’ has given way to ‘performance per watt’ as the standard metric applied to datacentre servers. Furthermore, it’s also a relatively recent discovery that cramming very thin servers into racks will create its own problems to do with heat dissipated and additional cooling required for those systems to remain functioning.

On the other hand, you can easily build an argument that says IT is actually an inherently green sector as highly automated streams of bits and bytes are transported without – alright then, with minimal – resource to gas-guzzlers, road-hogs, filthy flights or bilging factory chimneys. And certainly a great deal of the ways we combat carbon emissions will have IT at their epicentre.

A lot of CIOs will be heartily sick of hearing the term ‘Green IT’ but that doesn’t mean that they won’t have to deal with it, whether through holistic approaches that encompass new approaches to working, offices, building management systems, supply chains, warehousing and so on, or at the very least through ensuring that datacentres are lean and mean.

This is where this new volume comes in. Published by BCS – The Chartered Institute for IT and written by seasoned IT pro Mark O’Neill, head of the green IT learning consultancy at QA and a pioneer in creating and passing green IT certification tests, Green IT For Sustainable Business Practice is a timely call to action for all those who are being drafted into the latest requirement in the office of corporate governance.

I liked the way O’Neill frames the issue:

“It is widely cited in IT circles that the ICT industry is responsible for approximately two per cent of worldwide carbon emissions, which is roughly the equivalent to the carbon emissions attributed to the aviation industry. Whilst this figure is open to interpretation and observers would question whether the current situation requires any great attention, what is indisputable is that IT is in a unique position to influence the other 98 per cent.”

Quite so and, happily, O’Neill neglects neither end of the argument, refusing to keep ‘green IT’ in the silo that is all too often its house of detention.

This is a sensible, clear-sighted guide to emerging standards, rules, business processes and best practices in a complex and ever-changing sector. It covers formulating policy, roles and responsibilities, drivers, practical advice on making it happen, improving organisation green credentials, IT’s role in the non-datacentre-centric business lifecycle and much else besides.

Considering the book’s scope it’s also mercifully concise, coming in at under 150 pages despite including useful definitions, copious notes, suggestions for further reading and a good index. The author makes good use of lists, tables and graphics and his writing style does not bow under the pressure of emerging guidance rulebooks or become strangled by coverage of the reams of red tape entangling CIOs.

This deserves to be a widely-read primer for anybody getting to grips with what the corporate carbon footprint is doing to business and technology, and is a volume worth distributing to those that consider the greening of IT as commonsense and straightforward.

In the end, it may be that the pressing need to curtail operating costs and fulfil regulatory demands will steer many organisations into working practices that are in many ways more ecologically sound without recourse to carrots and sticks, but the impacts of many complicated and subtle decisions must today be considered in the light of what they mean for the planet. Approaches to outsourcing, business travel and globalisation will need to be minutely examined and there is plenty of scope for noisy debate as to what ‘being green’ truly constitutes. But books like this is offer a start, and a sound one at that.