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.

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"We then went deeper into finding out just how many of those customers would actually be more prone to buy products or do more business with a company that had green products and a green agenda," Horvath says. "We found that most of them are not looking for companies that are not 'green washing' but actually have it embedded in their company."

How to Get Green Going

Green was not always top of the mind and well-thought-out in the executive ranks at WaMu.

When Horvath "stepped up" to chair the committee in early 2007, as she puts it, she was hoping to "get us better organized around being green, because we already had a lot employees with a lot of good ideas incorporating it on their jobs," Horvath recalls. "But we weren't well-organized around it. We weren't reporting on it. We didn't know our baseline of our carbon emission. We didn't have metrics or measurements around reducing our carbon emissions. And we didn't have strategies or visions for what we were going to do, relative to green."

Her self-imposed agenda was to "build a framework that could not only increase our velocity of change relative to environmental concerns," she says, "but to increase the overall awareness of customers, employees and other vendors and stakeholders. That's what I set out to do."

Forrester's Mines recommends that companies just starting out should create a comprehensive document or action plan "that details the goals, priorities and activities that the company will undertake." (For more on this, see "Can You Build a Carbon-Efficient Supply Chain?") According to Forrester's survey results, 45 percent of respondents said they are either implementing or creating such a green IT plan.

In just over a year, Horvath and the team on the environmental council have realized many successes. To other CIOs and IT staffers, she offers three points of advice for getting started.

1. Be inclusive. "The best way to approach this is not with the traditional approach," Horvath says. That would be, "let's create an organization and put a few full-time dedicated people in it. And it's their responsibility to be environmentally friendly and the rest of the us are all off the hook."

WaMu purposefully structured the green initiatives as something that every employee could participate in. "It could be part and parcel of all their jobs," she says.

2. Tap into employees' ideas and passion. Horvath says that one of the smartest things her group did at the outset was opening up an online discussion board on the intranet where WaMu's 50,000 employees could offer up green-related ideas. Launched in 2007 and called Go Green, Horvath notes that WaMu also used the site as an opportunity to increase awareness to all of their employees on the overall topic, important issues and corporate possibilities.

WaMu then ran a contest that awarded environmentally friendly prizes for the top three personal-related and top three work-related green ideas. The ideas are still flowing strong today. "There were more ideas than you could implement in a year, and I don't' think we could turn [Go Green] off if we wanted to," Horvath says. "For CIOs who say, 'I don't know where to start,' that is great place to start."

3. Think green when making IT purchases. To reduce electricity costs and, ultimately, carbon emissions, IT executives need to examine their utility bills, Horvath points out. In addition, there are statistics and from PC manufacturers on the electrical usage of their equipment.

"When you go to make an equipment decision, either for PC and especially for storage devices because some consume very high energy," Horvath notes, "you should be asking your vendors what are the electricity requirements of the equipment and comparing them across the board with others."

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Copyright © 2008 IDG Communications, Inc.

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