You’ve heard the all talk about green IT. But you
haven’t really had to pay attention. Chances are that being
green isn’t a big deal at your company, and anyway you’re too
busy to think about anything so abstract as your carbon
More on CIO.com
The Greening of IT
CIO’s Green IT Survey
But what happens if that changes? What if you get word that
your company has decided to decrease its environmental
impact— to “go green”—in response to increasing
pressure from stakeholders, and the threat of government
regulation. This is a top to bottom sweep, and you are on
notice: start cutting carbon emissions. What do you do?
One thing is clear: Massive efforts to reengineer corporate
practices top to bottom overnight are not likely to succeed.
Experts say you should approach becoming greener as you would
any long-term project: plan out a strategy for where you’d like
to go and then start making incremental changes that, over the
long run, will get you there. As Mark Buckley, Vice President
for Environmental Affairs at Staples, noted an interview published by EPA last year,
companies make changes to their environmental impact by
focusing on changing corporate culture rather than on
creating a “paradigm shift.”
Some things that many organizations already do—like
reducing infrastructure demands through server
virtualization—and some that are less common—such
as deploying more effective power and cooling distribution in
the datacenter—are components of an overall strategy to
reduce IT’s carbon footprint. (For more, see The Greening of IT and CIO’s Green IT Survey: Cost Cutting, Social
Responsibility Drive Environmental Moves.)
But there are three areas other than the data center where
IT can exercise environmental leadership—and get good
business results in the process.
1. Let Desktops Live Longer, and Turn Them Off at
According to market research firm IDC (a sister company to
CIO.com’s publisher), the lifetime for a PC in corporate
America is three to four years. If you can extend that
lifecycle, you’ll contribute more to the environment than you
would by ripping out your PC infrastructure to buy new
energy-efficient machines. A 2004 study by the United Nations
University showed that almost 2 tons of material, including
chemicals, water, and fossil fuels, go into building the
average desktop PC and monitor. That’s more than the weight
of the average mid-sized car, and, the study says, accounts
for most of the resources and energy consumed over the
machine’s lifecycle. Meanwhile, many PC components are
destroyed when obsolete equipment gets recycled.
Keeping older machines in service by simply extending the
lifecycle or upgrading components can save five to 20 times
more energy than by decommissioning and recycling old gear, the
United Nations University study noted.
Another important component in an environmentally-sound
desktop strategy is to turn the machines off when they aren’t
in use. This sounds like a gimme, but it isn’t, says Matt
Heinz, senior director of marketing with Verdiem, which sells PC power management
software. “Eighty percent of users end up turning the
default power management settings that ship with new PCs off
within 60 days because it gets in their way,” Heinz
Furthermore, IT departments often like to push automated
upgrades and security patches out at night or during off-peak
times. Many enterprises leave their systems on all the time to
ensure these updates take place as planned, especially with
older systems that lack robust built-in capabilities to
reliably wake up the machines remotely, or in settings or when
systems have to be accessed remotely outside a firewall.
Printing company Quad/Graphics, a Verdiem customer, runs
4,500 PCs in 12 printing locations and 14 sales offices
nationwide. The company saved nearly $72,000 in power costs in
2007 by turning off PCs when they weren’t in use, says
Quad/Graphics spokeswoman Claire Ho. “We use 1.26 million fewer
kilowatt hours from the electrical grid,” adds Ho. That’s
the equivalent, according to the EPA’s greenhouse gas equivalency
calculator, of taking 179 cars off the road.
2. Buy Equipment with Energy Efficiency in Mind
According to a recent CIO survey, most IT shops recycle.
Fifty-five percent of respondents say they use vendors’
recycling or take-back programs, or otherwise dispose of
equipment responsibly. But few organizations take energy
efficiency or manufacturing processes into account when buying
new gear—in fact, only 32 percent do so regularly. You
can, without much effort, look for energy efficient equipment
when it’s time to buy.
According to a recent report issued by the Butler Group, an
IT research firm, companies should ask vendors about the use of
toxic materials in their products, and about the recyclability
of the equipment. However, says Mark Blowers, who directs the
company’s enterprise architectures practice, it’s more
important to open communication with your vendors about the
toxics in their products rather than to mandate a particular
toxics profile. “You have to be realistic about what you
specify, and balance your environmental goals against increased
costs.” Over time, as vendors realize that customers care about
these issues, they’ll adapt their product offerings.
3. Stop Wasting Paper
The Wilderness Society, a public lands
advocacy group based in Washington, D.C., set double-sided
printing as the default on all of its printers as part of
its drive to reduce the organization’s carbon footprint.
Such a move can cut paper use in half.
The group encourages saving even more paper by urging
employees to use narrower margins on printed documents. And it
manages the power printers consume. “Printers used to be left
on all night long, and over the weekend,” says Don Barry,
executive vice president of The Wilderness Society. “Now,
printers go to sleep after 5 minutes of non-use.”
The Butler Group survey found that at companies with the
most environmentally-friendly printing practices 12 people
shared each printer and each person used only 500 pages of
paper each month. In companies with the worst practices,
printers were shared among only 3 people who each used 2,000
pages per month.
Blowers says an organization can start to reduce its print
volume by educating end users about paper use, and by adopting
a top-down push in the organization to reduce unnecessary
Other Steps to Energy Efficiency
Other steps companies are taking include videoconferencing,
to reduce the pollution caused by travel to inter-office
meetings, and telecommuting to keep staff off the roads.
As you improve one area of your operation, new opportunities
for improvement will pop up.
However, says Joe Muehlbach, corporate director of
facilities and environmental policy at Quad/Graphics, it’s
important not to lose sight of the fact that, whatever you do,
environmental changes must ultimately support the business.
“When we start looking at a project, we look for positive
impact on both the business and the environment,” he says. “If
it fails either test, the project doesn’t start.”