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Green IT and the sustainable organisation

There is now a significant weight of scientific opinion behind the argument that changes in the world’s climate are man-made and are attributable, at least in part, to increases in CO2 emissions over the last 100 years.

Green IT and the Sustainable Organisation (pdf)

NCC Guidelines
Volume 1 - Number 3

While there are still groups who believe that the environmentalist evidence is wrong, that climate change arguments are merely scaremongering or that emotional ‘feel good’ environmental proposals are made simply for political gain; increased energy costs, increasing environmental legislation and increased customer awareness means that sustainability and corporate social responsibility are now part of the business agenda.

Sustainability and corporate social responsibility

Corporate social responsibility (CSR) is not a statutory requirement. However, organisations are under increasing pressure to meet CSR expectations.

This core idea, that organisations should do more than they are statutorily required to do in terms of mitigating the potential social and environmental impacts of their operations, and in reducing their carbon footprint, is an increasingly common aspect of customer – and therefore board - thinking.

Consumer concern over climate change and socially responsible operations means that many consumers have a more positive attitude to companies with a CSR. The growth of the internet and social media means that embarrassing anti-environmental news can be captured and broadcast to millions instantly. Investors too are becoming more interested in CSR issues. ‘$1 out of every $9 under professional management in America now involves an element of socially responsible investment’. In this climate, an effective CSR strategy can help provide businesses with a competitive advantage.

CSR and Green IT

Any organisation that is serious about its CSR activity must consider its environmental impact and the way in which it will respond to the green expectations of its customers and its stakeholders. While the environmental footprint of each industry – and of each organisation within it – will depend on the exact nature of that industry (an oil company, for instance, has a very different environmental footprint than an e-commerce business), all modern organisations use information and communications technology and all organisations therefore need to make ICT a part of their CSR strategy.

There are a number of technology areas that have to be considered as part of a Green IT initiative:

  1. The data centre.
  2. Work stations/hardware.
  3. Video-conferencing/teleconferencing/tech-conferencing.
  4. Home working.
  5. Cloud computing/thin clients.
  6. Data storage volumes.

All bar the simplest greening projects will need to be treated as a business project because Green IT does involve significant business change.

A Green IT action plan should be part of a broader Green implementation strategy:

  1. The organisation’s environmental aims and objectives should be logically thought through, clearly described and endorsed at the highest possible level (ie by the board or other governing body).
  2. Someone on the board, as well as a senior executive in the organisation, should be nominated to be responsible for the governance and executive aspects of the Green IT strategy.
  3. All stakeholders in the organisation should be involved.
  4. Clarify exactly what compliance requirements have to be achieved.
  5. Measure baseline energy use and/or carbon footprint at the outset of the project and monitor Subsequent changes to establish realistic metrics.
  6. Formalise and communicate Green IT practices and progress to everyone involved.

Set aims and objectives

Clearly identify the benefits of the Green IT plan, whether this is to reduce costs, improve the brand image, add value to stakeholders/shareholders or provide a competitive edge. Identify the organisation’s most significant environmental impacts and then analyse the key actions that will reduce them; don’t pick on IT to the exclusion of the rest of the business.

Nominate someone in the organisation to be responsible for Green IT

The Green IT action plan, once adopted by the board, should continue to receive board oversight through at least one board member, who will ensure that appropriate board support is provided where necessary, and who will also keep fellow board members informed as to implementation progress.

Measure the baseline energy use levels – establish metrics

‘What gets measured, gets done.’ This basic truth of management also applies to Green IT.

Start with some baseline measurements. Analyse and measure the organisation’s current IT carbon footprint before deciding the best way of reducing it. Measure the current energy consumption and cost of energy for the data centre(s). Then identify improvement objectives first in financial terms and determine the metrics by which you will measure progress.

One of the difficulties with measurably reducing energy consumption in data centres has been that reliable figures for energy use have been hard to obtain. In addition, the team within an organisation responsible for paying the energy bills is often not the same as the team responsible for reducing energy requirements. A single executive responsible for the Green IT action plan can unwind these, and similar, problems.

Budget and resources

Achievement of the Green IT objectives will require investment of time and resources. A number of people will have to commit time and energy to the project in addition to their day job. Line management need to support this resource commitment, otherwise nothing will actually get done. A number of the earlier identified technology initiatives will require financial investment with a payback over time; accounting support may be necessary to help put together the business case for the investment. Return on Investment objectives may need to be modified to allow for some of the intangible benefits that accrue to organisations with a CSR. The direct financial benefits should be more easily identifiable.

Involve all stakeholders

Implementing Green IT is an organisation-wide issue and not one that is just limited to the IT operation. There may need to be changes to job descriptions and responsibilities. All stakeholders throughout the business need to be involved if the Green IT action plan is to succeed. In many organisations, there is still a sense that the energy efficiency of IT equipment is solely the domain of the IT department, whereas Green IT is really about organisational sustainability and therefore needs to be embraced by the entire organisation, with all users of energy taking responsibility for its costs – or just being prepared to consider homeworking, or teleconferencing.

Formalise and communicate Green IT standards

Consider deploying a management system standard for Green IT: ISO 14001 is a standard that deals specifically with minimising environmental impacts and EN 16001 is a European standard for energy efficiency. External certification of your management system against one of these standards can provide the sort of external and internal credibility that enables you to drive a Green IT strategy forward.

A communications plan (involve the corporate communications and/or marketing folk in putting this together) should be drawn up for the Green IT project in the early stages, and should deal with achieving stakeholder buy-in as an early objective.

There should be a clear link between the communications plan and the training activity; those who have a role to play in the Green IT environment may need specific training, and this training should be planned for at an early point. The communication plan can then build in those training events as way points – either for individuals or for the organisation – on the journey towards a better understanding of, and effectiveness with, Green IT.

Once the project has kicked off, communication with stakeholders and those in the business should be on a regular basis and should include regular progress reports – and progress reports should be honest about delays, where these have occurred, and about actions taken to recover a project timeline.

Green IT is most effective where all three of its dimensions are tackled simultaneously: the people, process and technology dimensions are all equally important. Where people are concerned, there needs to be the right culture, with training, awareness and incentives focused on the both the environmental and bottom-line benefits. Clear, unequivocal support from senior management helps here. Processes – from policy management through assessment, monitoring and measuring - must be designed and implemented if the organisation is to turn a Green IT initiative into part of ‘business as usual’.

Overall, IT leaders should not tackle Green IT initiatives on their own; they should ensure that there is a broader corporate strategy in place and that Green IT is one aspect of that strategy. To do otherwise is to risk the Green IT action plan being seen only as an IT initiative and not, therefore, something to which other staff members are expected to contribute. And, as we all know, being branded as ‘another IT project’ can kill user interest in the subject matter!

NCC Guidelines - Volume 1 - Number 3 : Green IT and the Sustainable Organisation (pdf)




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