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Rather than just jumping on the environmental bandwagon, CIOs should lead the way and address fundamental issues.

Green was definitely the colour of choice in 2007 and we can expect 2008 to be even greener, driven primarily by increased concerns about climate change as well as the clear opportunity to save money and avoid cost through increased energy efficiency. Given the media coverage of this subject, it's not surprising that some of us are beginning to feel a slight sense of "green fatigue". A major contributing factor to this disillusionment is the "greenwashing" (selective disclosure of the positive, and often superficial, environmental aspect of the enterprise or its products and services) that is starting to dominate the industry. The marketing departments of technology and service providers are touting whatever products they have as green. Although some of this is genuine, or at least well-intended, much of the hype is a cynical attempt to jump on the bandwagon without actually addressing fundamental issues. Unfortunately, this situation will get worse before it gets better.

Despite this scepticism, I don't believe that green IT will be a passing fashion. Few enterprises, and even fewer IT management teams, have truly grasped the scale and speed of the shock wave that is likely to hit them. Unless the science behind climate change develops a more optimistic view of the problem, or progress in technology development and adoption, along with behavioural changes, unfolds more quickly than expected, enterprises should anticipate that they will be motivated and forced to make significant improvements to energy and material efficiency in their business operations. That pressure will come down from policymakers and senior executives and up from customers and employees.

Green IT is not just something for the data centre manager. The green IT programme must engage everyone in the IT organisation and the supply chain.

Here are a few actions that the CIO can use to lead the way:

Action one: Define an environ-mental policy and strategy

IT organisations must define an environmental policy and develop a strategy that addresses what needs to be done to reduce the environmental impact of the IT infrastructure and operations (first-order effects). The strategy should also outline ways IT can reduce the environmental impact of the enterprise's operations, products and services, and supply chain (second-order effects).

Action two: Green the staff

Poor energy consumption habits account for a lot of electricity usage, in the workplace and in the data centre. Fixing that requires engaging employees in a broad-based environmental programme. Most enterprises that launched environmental initiatives have a positive response from the staff. In addition to creating a green-friendly work environment, employers can develop reward schemes for employees who commute by walking, biking, car-pooling, or using public transportation. Some employers are even providing financial assistance for the purchase of hybrid or electric cars.

Action three: Ensure green printers and printing

Paper manufacturing and printing are energy-intensive processes. The typical office worker prints 1000 pages a month.

So the big issue in most enterprises is the volume of printing. With 178 million printers, copiers and multifunction devices shipped in 2007, most enterprises simply have far too many physical devices. Consolidation of printers can be a very valuable technique to promote less printing.

Action four: Challenge the technology providers' products

Technology providers should be questioned about the environmental performance of their products throughout the product life cycle. Ask how the product has been designed for recycling and how much recycled content it includes. Look for product longevity, including upgradeability and modularity. Negotiate for reduced packaging and manuals and request reduced physical shipments. Ask the vendor to collect and recycle the packaging.

Action five: Look at the technology providers' own environmental programmes

Most enterprises are not in a position to conduct a thorough assessment of the environmental performance of their technology or service providers. However, there are some areas to focus on that can tell you the most about the providers' actual commitment to the environmental values they espouse. Read the technology or service providers' sustainability report looking at the transparency and level of detail provided.

Look for an environmental assessment of the vendor's operations, products, services and supply chain.

The IT industry and IT organisations must understand the changing sociopolitical views of climate change and take immediate action to ensure that they are part of the solution, not the problem. Environmental sustainability is the key long-term challenge for IT. Hopefully we will meet the challenge."

Mary Ann Maxwell is group vice-president, executive programmes, Gartner.

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Tags climate changeGreen ICT

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