Whether you think that global warming is down to Sunspot activity (that's the big yellow thing in the sky, not the server maker) or that your actions don't matter because China is building 500 new coal-fired power stations, is today, irrelevant. That's because having a carbon plan will soon be top priority for every CIO in the world. And it had better be sustainable.
Lord Adair Turner, chair of the UK pensions committee and a vice chairman of Merrill Lynch Europe, told the recent GreenCorp conference in London: "The danger is that we are all going to get greenwashed. It all sounds quite daunting. Can we make a 60-80 percent cut in our carbon emissions before China and India get going? Do we have the technology to do it without adversely changing our lifestyles? We can make companies more energy efficient but only if energy saving becomes a focus of management attention. We can achieve radical emission cuts only if business takes action. But we simply don't know which technology will work. And we have to operate within a policy context which will demand we use more renewable energy when we've been used to operating with extraordinarily cheap fossil fuel."
What we can expect is mandatory reporting of carbon footprints through regulations such as the proposed Climate Change Bill.
IT over here
Has the IT industry been slow to address the implications of climate change? Submissions to the Carbon Disclosure Project, an investor focused report, revealed that IT companies take widely differing views on climate change. So while Microsoft said that it was worried about melting glaciers in Washington State, Intel said it's carbon emissions would most likely rise by between 25 and 50 percent by 2015.
Duncan Scott is CIO at global real estate advisor DTZ. He says: "There is a nervousness in the market, because IT is increasingly being seen as a polluter and this nervousness stretches right across the industry. There is also the whole greenwash issue. The marketing guys in IT are not stupid, at the moment it's all rhetoric, that's why they are so nervous about empirical commitment, because there's no way to objectively measure against their claims. All you can do at this stage when looking at new solutions is to put green issues on the agenda; say they are part of it and not negotiable. People are struggling to define the things that are relevant, like whole of life energy consumption. They are finding it difficult to envisage what datacenters will look like in the future. For now carbon off set is being factored into the deal and anything we buy."
The reality is that the IT industry is neither far behind nor ahead of any other sector. Currently companies don't want to be compared with each other and in any particular industry there are one or two leaders. Everyone else is vying to define a message that won't over expose him or her to accusations of hypocrisy.
That said, Paul Dickinson, who is chair of the Carbon Disclosure Project, says the IT industry is missing a trick if it doesn't take a lead in shifting to more energy efficient business practices. He believes it is odd that vendors haven't made more of a noise about the network and digital economies that we are moving to.
But at a business level Scott says that while there isn't a huge amount of pressure on him at the moment, he predicts that that will change radically within the next twelve months. "I don't get an electricity bill. What I think will happen next is that I will get to own responsibility for the footprint I produce and that means I will have to take responsibility for what screens are left on, or what processors are running. I think that I should have a bill that puts all of it in one box. Then I can go to my suppliers, such as Dell, and say help me cut costs. Most of this is a win-win situation so suppliers need to address it," says Scott.
Charlotte Grezo is director of corporate responsibility at Vodafone. For her, the pressures are to find ways to use less energy in what is an energy intensive business. "We expect energy costs to go up and most of our energy use is in our networks. Mobile telecoms is equipment intensive and we have to work to ensure that the next generation is more energy efficient." What everyone is struggling with is finding a meaningful metric or standard against which to measure the carbon impact of IT equipment.
The Power Usage Effectiveness Metric and the Datacentre Efficiency Metric are useful tools for measuring how your datacenter stacks up in terms of power consumption. Rory Sullivan is head of investor responsibility at Insight Investment, part of HBOS. He believes there is a long way to go.
"Currently corporate disclosure is inadequate and no one is really saying how climate change is affecting their business. Responses are piecemeal and too many are applying the fig leaf of carbon neutrality. But you can't discount the future." While some sectors are crying out to government for a policy lead and longterm strategy on climate change, there is an inevitable negative reaction if it is seen to raise costs and affect competitiveness. Witness the reactions of both the IOD and the British Chambers of Commerce, that, while broadly welcoming the draft Climate Change Bill, both raised concerns about competitiveness.
While engaging with your suppliers may prove challenging, changing the habits of your staff may prove more so. Changing business habits are difficult and more often than not resisted by middle management. One such area is that of video conferencing and web casting. Most employees have a jaundiced view of video conferencing based on experiences from ten years ago. Many, one suspects, also like travelling by plane despite the obvious wear and tear affects. "We've grown used to world where cheap dirty energy was abundant," said Turner. And we've based our behavior on these foundations. Whether it is changing your dress code or shifting your datacenter, now that CIOs are faced with threats to energy assurance and demands for policy driven energy cuts the heat, is indeed, on.
Case Study: DTZ
DTZ advises companies on their office investments and says its clients are starting to ask about the green factors associated with the buildings it brokers. Sustainability is a key priority for DTZ, and as such it has experts from different areas of the business advising on these issues.
DTZ says its business is to advise other firms on how to create and maintain sustainable buildings and so must ensure that they are sustainable themselves, from their IT systems to their own buildings.
Internally, CIO Duncan Scott says his firm is undergoing a number of programs, which have allowed it to address some of the IT-related climate issues:
- Deployment of video conferencing to lower travel by 20 percent, Selection of PC global standard -- power consumption factored in plus 'one for one' tree replacement
- Plan to reduce printers by 30 percent over next year
- Pushing for more flexible working -- reduction in travel and associated carbon generation and air-conditioned office space
- Evaluation of server-farm hosting options
- Suppliers green credentials factored in
- Rewriting IT usage policy to include 'switch-off' requirements (may include remote auto switch-off)
- The bottom line is that DTZ is targeting IT as a means to becoming more sustainable that will lead to both energy and therefore monetary savings, which in turn will lead to continued reinvestment in this area
- IT solutions to sustainability, for example, reinvesting money saved through energy efficiency measures in video conferencing solutions and office policies relating to IT equipment
- Environmental building performance
- How this is measured and recommendations for energy savings
- Sustainable building performance -- of particular interest in light of the introduction of display performance certificates in businesses.
What Industry analysts say
Gartner says it believes the climatesaverscomputing.org initiative will contribute to reductions in IT power consumption and carbon dioxide emissions.
Intel and Google claim that if the targeted 90 percent efficiency for power supplies is achieved, greenhouse gas emissions will fall by 54 million tons by 2010 and energy costs by more than $5.5 billion. It says the initiative will spur good progress on reducing motherboard power consumption, but that improvements in power supply efficiency would have happened anyway. A significant part of the initiative centers on education and awareness, the effectiveness of which will be hard to measure.
Gartner predicts more initiatives as the industry strives to go 'green'. To be effective, the industry will need to coordinate these green initiatives. It believes the underlying reason some of the vendors are supporting the initiative is that it gives the impression they are being proactive in tackling climate change, thus increasing their green credentials. An advantage of supporting this kind of initiative for these vendors is that it distracts attention away from some of their existing environmental challenges.
- Consider the good advice from the Climate Savers Computing Initiative, but question the IT vendors and service providers supporting it about what they themselves are doing to reduce energy consumption;
- Look for equipment that meets the suggested criteria. Energy star or the Electronic Product Environmental Assessment Tool (EPEAT); and
- Make best use of available power management tools.
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