Traditional IT roles focus on enabling business and enhancing efficiency. But at UK-based real estate consulting and management firm Knight Frank, IT project management skills into achieving the business's strategic goal - a low-carbon emission operation.

Executives at Knight Frank joined the LOOP (Low-carbon Office Operation Program) two years ago: an award and accreditation program organized by WWF Hong Kong to recognise and promote the reduction of carbon emission in office operation among local enterprises.

Noel Yue, Knight Frank's head of IT for greater China, was a key member of the Green Team in their Hong Kong office. "The Green Team involves staff from different departments," said Yue. "But we identified that IT equipment is the major source for carbon emission and energy wastage, so we're in a position to lead many of the initiatives."

Raising visibility for IT

While IT executives don't often take a leading role in sustainability initiatives, Claus Mortensen, principle of emerging technology and services at IDC A-Pac, said they should.

"IT equipment and power usage are a major source of carbon emission and energy consumption," he said, "thus IT executives are in the frontline to bring results with minimal effort."

Sustainability initiatives are returning to the boardroom. The issue of Green IT isn't new, but concerns quickly moved from enhancing sustainability towards cost-saving.

"The topic is returning with emphasis on the CSR (corporate social responsibility) element," said Mortensen.

Carbon management through IT

At Knight Frank, the company's board decided to participate in LOOP, and Yue noted the experience in managing IT was also helpful in the process.

"We are applying IT programming projects management lifecycle into the LOOP initiative," he said. "Like any IT project, it started with identifying the issues and setting a green policy, which is a guideline for procurement and disposal of IT equipment, as well as managing printing processes - followed by measuring, prioritising and implementing actions."

Measure, prioritise, act

The team bought a power meter to measure power usage at different point of time and status of the equipment. "It's a simple power meter, which cost only a few hundred dollars," said Yue. "But it brought us insight and visibility into power consumption."

He noted the most useful finding is tremendous power wastage from IT equipment. 34% of PC power consumption was used simply by keeping them switched on overnight, and personal printers generated ten times more air pollution than multifunction copiers.

Action items were prioritised based on the amount of savings and level of impact. "Actions with maximum saving and minimal impact went first," he said. These included enabling auto-sleep mode among IT equipment and disabling monitor screensavers.

Next: actions with higher impact to the users but also significant savings. By eliminating half of the personal printers (from 60 to 30), the company was able to achieve 50% saving in power cost and maintenance cost and 90% of in-house air pollution.

To align with the green policy's procurement process, he said when making PC purchase-decisions, factors like an auto-sleep feature and power consumption index are included. This policy has allowed Knight Frank to save £40 of power cost per PC throughout its lifecycle.

Yue said that small individual savings add up across the company's Greater China operation, and the LOOP initiative helps raise awareness.

"Power wastage is very difficult to quantify," said Yue. "We hope to bring more visibility and awareness among our colleague through quantifying our power consumption."

Besides applying IT management experiences and methodology in green IT initiatives, IT's active participation of the company's strategic goal is also a "good exercise for IT executives to raise visibility across the company and involve CSR in the company's strategic plan," Mortensen added.