IT use has been calculated by Gartner to be responsible for 2 percent of worldwide greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, equivalent to the airline industry. This is said to be a bad thing. Charities like Greenpeace, Friends of the Earth (FOE), the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) are all actively campaigning to get IT GHG emissions reduced.
- Climate Savers' Computing initiative was started by Google, Intel and the WWF.
- Logicalis is helping to fund Global Action Plan's IT greening activities.
- Greenpeace publishes its quarterly electronic industry reports
On any rational view of a problem, something accounting for 2 percent of it is trivial. You concentrate on the major issues such as fossil fuel power station emissions or Indonesian forest removal through burning. Why single out the insignificant IT users?
It's easy to see how there is a natural fit in terms of loose aims between vendors of greener IT products and IT-focused green charities but does that make working with charities in this area a sensible thing to do? The charities are viewing GHG reduction as a moral issue. The vendors see it as a marketing opportunity. Are lions lying down with lambs here? And which is the lion and which the lamb anyway?
Not a moral issue
Martin Niemer of VMware said: "There is a moral reason for looking at greening the data centre, but it is in danger of being swamped by marketing and hype - if this happens, then the people who do have a potential to make a change for the better will automatically glaze over any discussion of this topic. The IT industry as a whole - vendors, customers and partners together - has to take a more honest approach to this issue."
"Any vendor has to be honest with its customers on the reasons why they should be looking at virtualisation - alongside any energy efficiency benefit, there is the prospect for saving on power, cooling and space. These are the real drivers for looking at more energy-efficient data centres, compared to the marketing that covers the topic of 'green'."
Chris James, marketing director for EMEA at Overland Storage agrees that it is not a moral issue for business: "Other than for corporate social responsibility (CSR) purposes, the need for efficiency gains and the corresponding cost reductions are the driving force behind many so-called 'green IT' initiatives. In reality, greenness is a very real by-product of efficiency and cost-reduction efforts, but it is rarely the overall objective.'
He adds: "If green IT becomes a legislative requirement the business must act upon it but, until that time, the IT department needs to think about how to support the business' needs in the most energy-efficient manner."
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On the other hand, Wick Hill director Ian Kilpatrick comes close to saying it is about morals. He doesn't feel that the 2 percent responsibility is insignificant: "I understand the view and while there is hype, and some vendors significantly over hyping thin green credentials, this is not a case of industry forcing unwanted solutions down unwilling, poorly educated consumers throats. "
"Practically if IT represents 2 percent of global carbon emissions then trimming that by 10 or 20 percent, alongside the other reductions in carbon emissions being sought through Kyoto and post -Kyoto will make a perceptible difference ... which is achievable looking at the effect of Tums, virtualisation, switching off PCs and monitors, etc, on power consumption."
"I think we're looking at a virtuous circle here - reducing waste, reducing carbon footprint and reduction in cost. This is a victimless situation where the purchaser can actually feel good about their purchase. "
Alex Rabbetts, MD of Migration Solutions, thinks: "Two percent is noise. IT's insignificant."
Justin Keeble, a senior manager in Arthur D. Little's Sustainability and Risk practice, rejects a moral green approach and thinks that: "A low carbon economy is a fantastic opportunity for innovative IT firms, and the savvy companies have recognised this. High energy costs mean more energy-efficient IT equipment offers a great opportunity for significant cost savings. It isn't a set of moral arguments driving the low carbon agenda in the IT industry. It is good business. Companies burying their heads in the sand or passing blame to other industries will risk being out of business in 5-10 years."
A cited example shows the supplier marketing successfully under a green flag: "A global financial services company has formulated an affinity programme with a major international environmental charity in the launch of a new credit card that makes a contribution to tackle climate change and offers a lower APR on travel purchases with a lower carbon footprint. Sales of the credit card in the first few months have been hugely successful as they tap into an emerging consumer segment that is very conscious of climate change issues. This partnership again is at the centre of helping the company to derive new sources of revenue through an effective and innovative partnership."
But does this show green sincerity or just an agile leap onto a green bandwagon?
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Nick Broadbent, MD responsible for DataCore's UK MD and EMEA operations, doubts many IT companies' green motivations, saying: "If IT companies (or the Government for that matter) are really serious about going green they would have an employer charter to encourage employees to use public transport and transport sharing schemes (ideally funded by a Government that does more than just talk about being Green); they would only allow one long-haul flight per year for any employee (helped by the Government to tax aviation fuel in line with car fuel), and encourage more use of technology like Video Conferencing and avert the daily commute with effective home working provision.
For him one of the simplest ways to reduce IT power consumption is to cut hardware use (like VMware in effect): "Within the IT infrastructure the way to 'go green' AND introduce technology to give business advantage is to use and reduce the existing power and air conditioning consumption rather than add to it, allowing software to optimise their use, such as virtualisation software for servers, desktops and storage, where existing hardware platforms can be used to host the virtualisation application."
Rabbetts thinks charities and businesses come together for a reason. Commenting on Google, Intel and the WWF, h said: "Like everything there has to be an agenda." On both sides.
A role for charities
Keeble thinks charities could have a role: "Alliances with green charities or non-governmental organisations could be a good thing, but it is very dependent upon the context and rationale for the partnership."
Owen McKee, UK and Ireland country manager at Avocent, also thinks charities will have a role but not just yet: "Businesses are inundated on a daily basis with information and statistics on their environmental responsibilities. Despite this, they still do not fully understand or appreciate the importance of being green. The role of charities will definitely become more prominent, but at the moment the market isn't mature enough for them to make any real impact on business IT."
Not everyone agrees. The Climate Savers' Computing Group is being driven, willingly, by the WWF.The fund's Matthew Guyer said: "We saw it (the CSCI) as a way to work with a particular industry to move the technology to market much faster. We want to replicate what we have done in other industries and really make a difference with climate change."
Chris Gabriel is head of solutions and strategy at Logicalis, which is funding Charity Global Action Plan's (GAP) green IT activities around its Inefficient Truth report. He had his to say about the Logicalis GAP alliance: "It is an odd alliance but it's a very well drawn up alliance with GAP. It has an absolute position on what they will do and won't change it. They're not becoming any more corporate. We're not becoming less. ... They are independent. Both sides have to retain their credibility."
Why didn't Logicalis work with Greenpeace or FOE?
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"GAP struck a real note with me because they're single-minded about the things they try and do, the Environmental Champions programme, a kind of train-the-green-trainer. I thought that's all IT departments need. I think the last thing an IT department should do is bring in a green IT consultant. If I see a £100,000 green consultancy report on the IT department's desk I think I'd die. GAP is all about education. IT departments are already doing good stuff."
"Their view of the world was our view too. They kicked off thoughts in our customers; self-sufficiency; that's what GAP delivers. GAP's programme is about audit, change, re-audit. It allows lots of people to change and adapt. Once they have that methodology they can sustain themselves."
Overall he said: "I don't think they're overly campaign-oriented. They're happy to work with business, the public sector and charities. I haven't seen that practicality elsewhere."
The implication is that campaigning charities like Greenpeace and FOE are confrontational and not practical or even willing to work with business as GAP is doing.
The two percent figure mentioned at the start is trivial but, people would say, we all have to do our bit, and we can. Some might say that charities are dour puritans, wanting to curb the excesses of excessive consumption. Certainly, for charities, the green arena is a moral arena. The practical ones will calculate that they can do more by working with the grain of business, taking advantage of workers' own respect for green ideas, as well as business; need to increase efficiency.
There is a happy conjunction between this and the interests of vendors selling more power-efficient kit. Even where vendors market their products under a green flag there can still be a positive attitude towards environmental change although it can be largely masked by marketing self-interest.
We can't make the charities go away, so we might as well use their energies where we can. This means either working directly with one, as Logicalis is doing, or leveraging their energy and presence as the CSCI is doing with the WWF.
As was mentioned both sides have their agendas and, where these are aligned then a positive partnership can result. There isn't an unholy alliance here. It's more a case of 'odd couples' forming a successful relationship.