Environmentally Sustainable IT Definition and Solutions

Environmentally Sustainable IT topics covering definition, objectives, systems and solutions.

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What does it have to do with me?

No one seriously disputes that global warming is due to human activity. And information technology is an energy hog. Gartner estimates that power consumption by computers accounts for 2 percent of global carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions. That's roughly equal to the carbon output of the airline industry.

It can be hard to determine how much CO2 any single company's computers generate, although researchers are trying to come up with better ways to calculate this. Howard Rubin, a research associate with the MIT Center for Information Systems Research, suggests that the IT operations of computing-intensive industries like financial services and telecommunications generate more CO2 per $1 million in revenue than other industries. IT may account for about 10 percent of a company's energy consumption and 10 percent of its CO2 emissions, according to Chris Mines, senior vice president with Forrester Research.

Many companies also have to comply with regulations that restrict plant emissions or the use and disposal of toxic materials. Or they simply want to make environmentally friendly products. Just as IT improves business processes, it can improve how companies manage what goes into their products.

For example, furniture maker Herman Miller uses IT to help inform designers about the chemistry and the sustainable properties of hundreds of materials. A materials database, created using Microsoft Access, captures information on potential manufacturing materials and communicates it to the design team. "The IT function and IT support is vital to that process," says Mike McCluskey, project manager for Product Development IT.

In a CIO magazine column, Dan Esty, author of Green to Gold: When Smart Companies Use Environmental Strategy to Innovate, Create Value and Build Competitive Advantage, writes that "marrying information-age tools such as data mining and advanced modeling techniques to environmental challenges holds potential to propel some companies ahead of their competitors because they can 'see' through data where their industry is headed."

Mines of Forrester Research says that CEOs will eventually see environmental sustainability as a better way to do business, not just because it's the right thing to do, but because major stakeholders—including shareholders, nonprofit environmental organizations and customers—will demand it. Because IT is a large contributor to the greenhouse gas emission problem, it also has an opportunity to be a big part of the solution.

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