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We think green, we think data!

green IT

Green IT is without doubt firmly cemented to private and public sector transformation agendas as we collectively adopt a corporate social responsibility mantra to make us more sustainable.

ICT is estimated to be directly responsible for almost 2% of global CO2 emissions and this is approximately equivalent to the emissions of the aviation industry. Most of this results from the manufacture, distribution and power consumption of desktops, servers, mobile phones and IT air conditioning systems. Disposal of ICT has hit an all time high of around half-a-million desktops, 22,000 servers and over 1.5 million cell phones a day. The scale of the challenge to green IT operations is unquestionable.

We think green, we think data!

However, barriers to adoption of more sustainable IT are still prevalent and focus around the amount of disparate ‘green’ measures used to qualify what is green or not. Plus, the fact that many products are not even measured for their sustainability credentials. The final hole in the sustainability panacea is that IT buyers are then struggling to get hold of manufacturer information that qualifies whether a product is in line with current green transformation strategies.

In a survey by research firm Forrester, only 15% of IT professionals surveyed said they have a high level of awareness of IT vendors’ green initiatives and solutions.

Now is the time for movement towards consolidated procurement mechanisms that adopt new ways of working and proactively provide buyers with the product data they need for a more green-aware buying decision.

Public and private sector leaders must galvanise an approach that sees IT buyers calling for more information, not just on the product itself but the depth and breadth of the supply chain through which the product has passed.

If buyers are looking for something that is truly ‘green’ then there’s no point in buying what proposes to be the very latest, low-power, carbon footprint-reducing technology, if the materials and components that make up the product are full of lead and are non-recyclable.

Here lies our first issue. Technology vendors are investing heavily in green initiatives such as energy-efficient servers, PCs, data centre power and cooling solutions, cleaner manufacturing, and device recycling programmes. But not enough incentive is being provided for manufacturers to undertake the costly and timely due diligence required to achieve the various official green ‘labels’ in the global market.

Furthermore, these labels are mainly US based and offer little standardisation in their approach. So, buyers don’t understand the various measures and rarely have time to digest swathes of rationale to then compare like-for-like products that have two different independent measures.

As an example, let’s consider some of the current industry measures. Blue Angel is quite a lot stricter than EPEAT, but a number of optional EPEAT criteria are required for Blue Angel. There are further requirements of Blue Angel not covered by EPEAT. The UK Government’s Quick Wins assessment has some additions not covered by either Blue Angel or EPEAT. Each measure is hugely granular in its detail and each measure inconsistently looks at credentials like documentation on recycled paper, chlorine-free packaging, halogen-free cables, energy consumption, etc.

However, whilst all these awards are credible in their own right, none of them consider the lifecycle of the product or the impact of the supply chain through which a product is delivered. This is becoming increasingly critical in assessing a product’s overall sustainability and application within globally responsible business.

In ongoing IT trend research by Probrand Ltd across nearly 150,000 IT products from 110 manufacturers covering 22 different product categories, only 22% were found to have any official environmental standard measure. Consider the impact of that for IT procurers looking to green their IT estate.

Of the 22% that had official green credentials, 42% were represented by desktops and servers, 36% notebooks, 17% monitors and 10% printers. These stats do not reflect well in comparison to regular purchase items demanded by business.

In terms of the average number of measures against each category, desktops and servers alongside monitors were found to carry two or more measures to qualify their green credentials, whilst notebooks carried only one or more. All other categories fell below that level. Again, how does this help the buyer?

Collaborative content portals like reveal the growing commitment to the green agenda from within the IT industry, with leading companies such as IBM, Hewlett-Packard, Brother and Fujitsu hungry to communicate new and sustainable developments in their product lines. But the industry has its hands tied with knowing which myriad of costly assessments they should apply to products.

In a nutshell, buyers simply do not have the sustainability information they need to easily digest what is green or not, as nearly 80% of products on the market have had no ‘green’ assessment that can be provided to buyers. Of those that have, the information is hard to digest and compare for an informed purchasing decision.

Drivers for environmental initiatives are regulatory pressure and cost. The point is business wants to reduce cost at every turn, but unless government introduces incentives to support a drive by manufacturers to conduct the due diligence on products required by IT buyers, will we achieve CO2 reductions of 32% by 2020?

If manufacturers could provide more assessed products to market that buyers can acknowledge and understand as being ‘green’, then this will help drive green IT through to implementation in business.

Here lies the next great challenge – communicating the information or data associated with up to half-a-million line items, considering product price, stock and specifications, as well as green-related data, all aggregated and standardised into one simple buyers’ tool. Surely this is a sustainable purchasing panacea, both in terms of the sustainable manner in which it delivers accurate data electronically but also in bringing together a standardised acknowledgement of what is green or not.

Buyers also need to look inwardly at how they obtain information and whether their procurement process is meeting the challenges of what is fast becoming a very complex purchasing decision. Interestingly, Forrester has found that only a quarter of IT buyers have written green criteria into their purchasing processes. Yet in other industry research amongst 3,000 IT managers, the majority saw green initiatives as benefiting the bottom line: 66% said ‘going green’ would cut costs.

More efficient procurement practices that gather critical buying-decision data are a key element in saving money and proliferating the green movement, particularly when it comes to deeper levels of supply chain information required for making a more holistic buying decision for green IT.

Now is the time to adopt Charles Leadbeater’s ‘We Think’ principles and apply them to data collaboration, sharing information on products from cradle-to-grave, shortening the communication distance between IT manufacturer and end user to nurture joined-up approaches to working. This means a more consolidated and lean procurement effort across the sustainability participation ‘highway’ that is the internet.

On the basis that ideas take life when they are shared, web-based technology has already been born that tackles the provision of standardised green IT data. If business and government leaders come together to seed easier manufacturer assessments of what is green IT, then the shoots of sustainable IT will truly grow faster than ever before.

Buyers will finally be able to make quick informed buying decisions focused on more sustainable products through best price. Green purchases made faster and at better prices will permeate leaner and more sustainable business operations. Finally, we will galvanise a business culture that helps us reduce global ICT emissions in the long run.

The author

Gary Price is a business analyst at value added reseller Probrand Ltd. He works closely with manufacturers to ascertain key market and product movements in a variety of sectors and verticals from a commercial standpoint. Gary supports the business and vendors in getting the right information and products to customers.

ITAdviser 67 Autumn 2011



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