Green IT Debate set to Continue

Gene Reynolds, consultant at CC. Says green IT is a major topic being debated throughout the IT industry and this trend looks set to continue through 2008.

“While it is still something of a grey area for many organisations, it is increasing accepted as an area that needs to be addressed. There are numerous products out there which “claim to be green” but the actual environmental credentials are a little harder to quantify. This situation is not helped by the high volume of misinformation which circulates within the technology industry. In spite of this confusion, green IT is a concept which organisations will need to get to grips with sooner rather than later as business leaders are anticipating the implementation of a range of ecological targets and governmental regulations in this area.

While people often talk about green IT in ambiguous terms, communications is an area where companies can really make a difference if they are willing to change the way that they do business. Unified communications (UC) technology and applications like Voice over IP (VoIP) have been around for about 10 years now and have often been inflated by those in the industry. While much of this talk can be categorised as hype, ever increasing broadband speeds have meant that convergence of voice and data networks can produce real business benefits. These can include the reduction of internal call charges and all the advantages that a UC network can provide such as the ability to access all messages, including voicemail, via your email inbox.

Integration, and the increase in broadband speeds, has also meant that mobile working is a much more realistic option. This increased mobility is at the heart of how companies can use green IT to reduce their ecological impact. Applications like VoIP can be used to allow employees to work from anywhere that has a broadband connection. This freedom means that companies can allow many of their employees to work from home and, by encouraging remote working, companies can reduce damage to the environment in two ways. First, by locating employees away from the office an organisation can significantly reduce its energy consumption and the infrastructure required to cater for a large in-house workforce. Secondly, by allowing more mobile ways of working, companies are responsible for reducing the distances that employees and clients need to travel. UC and improved voice and video conferencing facilities are ensuring that the need to meet for face-to-face meetings is in decline. British commuters can generate hundreds of millions of tons of CO2 per year so the impact of these potential changes really cannot be underestimated.

While some organisations are attempting to adopt green IT and green practices, their best intentions are often misplaced. Conscious efforts to reduce energy usage are a step in the right direction, but this contributes only a fraction of IT’s carbon footprint. For example, companies could consider the raw materials used and the waste which is created when hardware is manufactured, as they now have the option of using recycled products. In addition, there are many carbon offsetting programmes which allow organisations to compensate for the pollution they are responsible for. While all these practices can make a difference, it is vitally important that organisations implement them in the correct way. There is no point deploying convergence technology to employee’s houses if they are unable to use it. This kind of mistake will lead to unnecessary pollution as a result of having to send IT support to individuals’ homes. Companies wanting to adopt better, greener working processes should consult with experts before implementing green IT to avoid getting it wrong and ultimately causing more harm than good.

It is in the interests of all organisations to embrace green IT sooner rather than later, as it is only a matter of time before we start to see new regulations legislating day to day business activity from a green perspective. By taking the leap to green IT now, not only will companies be prepared for compliance, but they will be seen as thought leaders and it may even save them money.

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