Green IT, Really


by Samuel Greengard

Let's face it, a couple of years ago it wasn't the least bit fashionable to be a tree hugger in the corporate world. Unless you were Patagonia, Seventh Generation or some other granola-chomping entity with an image inextricably linked to environmentalism, the idea of choosing green over profits seemed patently absurd.

Sure, if you could save a few dollars by going green it made sense. But green for the sake of green? That was a laughapalooza of epic proportions. Any C-level executive would tell you it was...A. Really. Dumb. Idea.

Fast forward to 2010. A massive spike in energy prices, a recession that has made frugal fashionable, and a shift in public sentiment to embrace a greener lifestyle has convinced more than a few companies to rethink things. Not surprisingly, IT departments are at the center of this greenswell.

Sure, it's possible to trim costs by adopting a more energy efficient business and computing infrastructure. There's nothing wrong with this. An organization can benefit immensely by constructing greener buildings, building better data centers, and deploying energy efficient PC's and servers. Green technology has matured and ideas that seemed fringe a couple of years ago are now entering the mainstream.

Yet there's more going on here. As Stephen Singh, a consultant in PwC's CIO Advisory Practice puts it: "Corporate social responsibility has moved beyond one and done. Organizations, and IT departments, are recognizing that shareholders and customers judge them based on their environmental performance. The entire situation has been transposed."

The bottom line? Green for PR's sake alone is dead. Customers and shareholders see through it like a wet bikini on a Sports Illustrated swimsuit model. Sure, there's nothing wrong with publicizing what a company is doing to save energy and reduce its carbon footprint, but it better have green at heart.

In fact, the list of companies going green is expanding quickly. Hewlett-Packard, Nike, Dell, Starbucks, Tesco, Intel, Johnson & Johnson and others are redefining the concept in a major way. Many others are following suit and looking for ways to lock down cost savings while showcasing their environmental awareness. For a 2009 report card click here.

The upshot? IT executives need to ponder every opportunity and dismiss nothing. Green roofs? Check. Rainwater cooling systems for data centers? Check. Wind farms and solar panels? Check. Smart lighting systems? Check. And don't forget blade servers, virtualization and whatever else can eek out additional energy savings. Here's a sample of what Google is doing.

But remember this too: it's not just about direct cost savings and ROI. It's also about public image. Organizations that don't understand the value of this intangible asset are likely to wind up breathing the fumes of other companies passing them by. Worse, these dinosaurs probably won't have a clue how they got left behind.

Whoever thought that corporate social responsibility and green could become bed buddies with IT and the corporate world? Interesting times create interesting situations. Embrace the concept!