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Shifting burdens

Shifting burdens

Companies concerned with the need to cut their carbon footprints are looking to their IT suppliers and data centres for help in achieving their goals.

Information technology has a huge role to play in bringing about a more sustainable world - not only in large-scale technological

solutions, but also in cutting energy use. For most companies keen to

reduce their carbon emissions, electricity output is one of the first

areas that can be pared back.

There are lots of ways to slash usage, including lights-off

strategies, but when companies do an audit, what they normally find is

that IT accounts for 40 per cent of the electricity bill.

One way to cut this is to outsource as much IT as possible, for

instance by using off-site data centres. Although this doesn't

entirely break the relationship between the company and the impact of

its energy-hungry technology, generally it is the owner of operational

control over the process who takes responsibility for the emissions.

In this way, companies essentially outsource their carbon output to

their IT supplier.

Fujitsu has just opened what it says is a state-of-the-art sustainable

data centre at Sydney's Homebush Bay. Its cooling system uses 80 per

cent less water than a conventional model and consumes up to 32 per

cent less energy.

Fujitsu invests in high-tech, low-footprint buildings to give it a

competitive advantage, knowing that its clients are looking for

sustainable strategies. But it also knows it has to pursue these

policies for its own good, to strengthen its position in the supply

chain as more organisations outsource IT.

Fujitsu Australia's head of sustainability, Alison O'Flynn, says

that even though the company is not affected by environmental

reporting legislation, such as the National Greenhouse and Energy

Reporting Act, it may be in the future.

"As thresholds go down and our business grows, we could have an

obligation to comply with the legislation in the next few years,"

O'Flynn says.

The NGER affects only 700 medium and large companies - of which 300

report for the first time this year - that either emit 125 kilotonnes

of carbon dioxide equivalent of greenhouse gases or consume or produce

500 terajoules of energy. Thresholds drop each year to involve more

companies.

O'Flynn says the move to five or six-star buildings may boost demand

for outsourced IT. She says one reason those sites get high ratings is

that they allow only a limited amount of infrastructure: companies

that move into them may find they can't take their entire IT system

with them and someone else may have to house it.

"One of the big drivers will be companies moving into more efficient

buildings and not being able to take their assets with them," O'Flynn

says. "That challenges an organisation to reduce its infrastructure or

outsource it. Offering our customers efficient data centres is a very

good outcome for us.

"They're outsourcing their footprint, but we see that as a challenge,

an opportunity to provide a different level of service. You have a

company that wants to shift its environmental burden but it wants to

do it with the right company."

That means Fujitu's footprint is set to grow as it becomes the

repository for different enterprises' IT infrastructure. For that

reason, IT providers will be looking to lessen their footprint, for

example by investing in the latest technology and buildings. In this

way, they'll be able to take responsibility for the emissions of

others, yet reduce their output as much as possible.

It's the theoretically neat result of carbon pricing: the cost and

burden moves to the site where it can best be handled. "The price of

carbon will be felt throughout the market," O'Flynn says.

So although one company may not see the value in sustainably upgrading

its data centre, for the owner of a major centre, it is worthwhile.

On the front foot

Pricing carbon in the supply chain makes IT companies put into place

many of the policies their clients are using. For example, NEC has

reduced air travel, overhauled its company car fleet, instigated a

lights-out campaign and is offsetting its emissions by planting a

forest on Kangaroo Island - at the average rate of 750 acres every

year.

General manager Tony Maddaluno says these initiatives are prompted by

NEC's global drive to be more sustainable, which is also a recognition

of what its clients want.

"It's being driven by our customers as well," he says. "There's a

competitive advantage and by moving early we could create some

momentum ahead of others."

He says the initiatives on their own could be considered small. "But

if you look at them altogether, it's a significant change in how we do

business," he says. "That's down to a cultural change internally but

it's also because of an increased consciousness, outside NEC, of

sustainability."

NEC is also looking into greening its product base; it wants to

develop products with low power consumption, virtualisation and

thin-client technology in order to enable its customers to reduce

energy use.

Fujitsu Australia has taken similar initiatives, hoping to reduce its

emissions to 1990s levels by the time 2010 comes around - an ambitious

goal as it takes on more of its clients' environmental burdens.

Fujitsu's Alison O'Flynn aims to make the company itself more

sustainable, greening every activity in its supply chain, "from our

factories, how we transport our goods and distribution centres, to how

our employees engage in the workplace and procurement".

CFO, Fairfax Business Media

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