The link between green IT and business is awkward. Computers are not eco-friendly, yet many companies cannot run without an IT system. At the same time, businesses have a duty to the environment, and green issues matter to their customers. So, if a company ignores green IT, it risks damaging its name and its profits.
Green IT therefore appears on the business agenda, but development progress is slow. So what’s the problem?
With any answer, there’s a danger of oversimplifying, but it’s possible to highlight three main concerns with current IT.
High power needs.
Use of hazardous materials.
Disposal of equipment.
High electrical power consumption directly affects the environment. Some governments recognise this and promote IT energy efficiency. America’s Energy Star initiative is one example; another is Sweden’s TCO Certification scheme. Most programmes, however, are voluntary. This is hardly surprising because low power computers cannot cope with complex business tasks (or, indeed, the needs of home computer game enthusiasts).
More positively, there’s increasing control of the dangerous materials used in IT equipment. The regulations now in place include the European Union’s health and safety and waste control directives; introduced from 1st July 2006. These ban, among other things, the use of polluting flame retardants and heavy metals.
This leaves the safe disposal of IT hardware. Europe and many US States expect manufacturers to be involved in recycling old equipment. This helps keep hardware from landfill rubbish sites – at least for a while.
But from a business viewpoint, these concerns and partial answers are not impressive. How can companies encourage green IT if all they can do at best is to recycle?
There is light at the end of the tunnel, and it’s an energy efficient light: A number of new IT firms, have seen this question as an opportunity. Their business mission is clear: to develop the technologies and strategies that reduce an IT system’s power needs.
More established firms are also becoming aware of the problem. IBM, Nokia, Pitney Bowes and Sony, for example, have come together to create the Eco-Patent Commons. Under this agreement, they have agreed to share any new ideas for more energy-efficient IT.
However, if businesses are to take green IT seriously, they need more options. In the past, some marketing firms have promoted dubious green benefits of certain IT technologies. This approach is no longer acceptable. Businesses must have valid facts and figures about green improvements to show shareholders and customers.
A report published earlier this year provides some guidance. The Butler Group’s Sustainable IT provision: meeting the challenge of corporate, social, and environmental responsibility makes two points (among others).
The first is that companies must confront their IT manufacturers. They must ask them how they are making systems greener. Almost certainly, the IT industry will listen: Del, Google and Sun, for instance, are just three major firms now developing eco-friendly products.
The second point from the report highlights a specific goal.
“[using proper green IT principles]…companies can achieve something like 10 – 20% savings.”
This is just what businesses want to hear: Green IT can save them money! So what actions can businesses take?
Use software that needs simpler processors (and therefore less energy).
Replace underused servers with smaller (and thus more energy efficient) models.
Improve fresh-air cooling of equipment (rather than using fans).
Stop wasting ink and paper.
Clearly, these suggestions are not the complete solution. Businesses aren’t going to turn IT green overnight, but they can start making a difference now.
And finally, there is the easiest way of all to become more eco-friendly:-
Switch off your computer when it’s not in use!