Green IT at Washington Mutual Saves Lots of Green (Money) -- and Electricity and Trees, Too

CIO Debora Horvath is leading a cross-functional effort to cut WaMu's computing costs and environmental impact. Here's how WaMu got started, takes advantage of its green-thinking employees and is already saving millions.

Like her CIO peers, Washington Mutual's Debora Horvath has that unfiltered, end-to-end view of her company's operations that all IT executives possess.

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To her credit (and perhaps as a result of her accumulated experience), Horvath is drawing on every bit of that enterprisewide visibility to help her in another critical role she plays at Washington Mutual: chairing the bank's burgeoning environmental council's efforts to cut its carbon emissions, reduce power costs and become a greener business.

While some in IT may be inclined to overlook what's happening in their own backyards, Horvath is not. For starters, she notes that 50 percent of most companies' carbon emissions are electricity related. "And data centers are electricity hogs," she says. (For more, see "Six Ways to a More Efficient Data Center.") Add to that the PCs, copiers, printers and phones, which, Horvath says, drive the lion's share of the electricity demands coming from the employee base. Basically, she reasons, IT has got everything but HVAC, lighting and other building systems under its umbrella.

"So the smarter you get about specifying and determining your standards around energy consumption," Horvath says, "the more progress you can make for the company."

These days, the hype surrounding green initiatives is also an opportunity for IT to step up and aid interested but uninformed executive peers. IT-driven environmental and sustainability initiatives can "be a way for IT leaders and organizations to gain strategic influence by acting as an enabler for improving the environmental footprint of other business operations, beyond the IT infrastructure," notes Christopher Mines, an analyst at Forrester Research, in a May 2008 "More Green Progress In Enterprise IT" report. (For more, see "Can IT Make Your Company Green?")

Deborah Horvath, CIO of Washington Mutual
Debora Horvath, CIO at Washington Mutual, uses green policies to cut costs.

"Because of the universal nature of IT infrastructure—touching every location and almost every employee," he writes, "IT has a unique capability to substitute (low-carbon) infrastructure for (carbon-intensive) processes."

Washington Mutual's Green Successes

Since taking on the chairmanship of the brand-new environmental council in 2007, Horvath and her business counterparts at Washington Mutual, or WaMu, have made significant progress. The Seattle-based consumer and small-business bank with nearly $320 billion in assets has cut its PC-related greenhouse gas emissions by 60 percent, saved millions on IT-related electricity costs on its PC fleet, and in one recently completed pilot reduced the legal department's paper consumption by 15 percent.

In the desktop computing space alone, WaMu has seen huge savings. For the environment's sake, Horvath reports that WaMu went from emitting 24.5 metric tons of CO2 down to 8.6 metric tons this year. That decrease in electricity usage is chiefly derived from energy-saving power-management software installed on 44,000 PCs, which powers them down when not in use. (Horvath declines to name the vendor, citing WaMu policy.)

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