Greening the recession

In a time of recession, the last thing companies might want to consider is the environment. But with social corporate responsibility and public image being more important than ever before, attitudes are changing towards taking green initiatives such as reducing carbon footprint.

When it comes to the environment, the IT industry is no saint. In fact, it alone contributes to the same amount – about two per cent worldwide – of greenhouse gas emissions as the airline industry, according to IBM. However, because the IT industry doesn’t have the same visibility in the public eye as the airline industry, this is often overlooked.

With money and image on the line, green IT is becoming more and more an attractive option as companies look to cut costs during hard times and maintain a good face in the public eye.

So what’s driving the move towards green IT? Jean-François Barsoum, senior managing consultant and practice leader for green and innovation strategies at IBM Canada, says one of the strongest motivators for companies to go green is image.

“You could say that you’re powering your ATMs with wind power,” said Barsoum. “It makes a nice message in the press.” Beyond making some headlines, perhaps the most compelling reason at the moment for companies to go green is cost savings. As Jean-Paul Desmarais, Enterprise Marketing Manager, Imaging and Printing Group (IPG), HP Canada points out, companies are interested in reducing the footprint of their IT infrastructure because it serves a dual purpose. “It helps to build the company’s sustainability efforts,” said Desmarais adding, “It will save them money at a time where all savings are needed.”

In fact cost savings are among the top reasons why companies are switching to green IT as a recent global study, including Canada, by IBM found. IBM surveyed more than 1,000 information technology executives at companies with between 100 and 1,000 employees across industries and in a dozen countries including Brazil, Canada, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, India, Japan, Norway, Sweden, the United Kingdom and the United States. 

The study, which was conducted by Info-Tech Research Group, showed most mid-size organizations have initiatives underway to reduce the environmental impact of their information technology. The results revealed that amid a tough economy, mid-sized businesses worldwide are coming to the realization that addressing environmental concerns can affect their bottom line.

The survey also revealed that driving the move towards green IT is the success rate with 65 per cent of cases meeting or exceeding organizations’ initial goals for green IT initiatives. Out of the green IT projects being implemented, the most popular are storage consolidation, remote conferencing and telecommuting projects. All of these initiatives are said to generate immediate cost reduction and simultaneously help reduce environmental footprint.

 

Another way companies are looking to become greener is by turning to Software-as-a-Service or SaaS networks for energy-saving initiatives and to achieve a greener return on investment through increased volume and breadth of sales. One solution provider that is helping companies do just that is Santa Clara, Calif.-based Jamcracker.

Steve Crawford, vice-president of marketing at Jamcracker, like IBM and HP also said that economic and environmental factors are key drivers in companies making the switch to green IT. Similar to other green IT initiatives, implementing a SaaS solution is also a way to become a greener company, Crawford said.

“SaaS-based application efficiencies are akin to those attributable to any other central utility such as greater utilization of resources and centralized management,” said Crawford.

Compared with other projects, SaaS has essentially no start-up costs, Crawford added. “There’s no need to purchase a software license, hardware, or hire or train specialized resources.”

As a Web software aggregator, Jamcracker pools on-demand services, enabling businesses to have a single point of sourcing for dozens of SaaS-based applications, as Crawford describes it. “SaaS is inherently a ‘greener’ way to power IT needs than on-premise servers, software, personnel, floor space and cooling,” he said.

There are also other ways that companies can cut back on their greenhouse emissions as HP Canada’s Desmarais points out. He said there are solutions that companies can do today with their existing hardware that have no cost to them and can save them money immediately. “Companies can use a universal print driver to set the default printing state to be duplex as the standard,” said Desmarais. “That will reduce the amount of pages printed, saving energy consumption and waste.”HP Canada has come up with a list of ways companies can cut back by printing more green in the workplace. Some of its suggestions include knowing your company’s carbon footprint. Because there are numerous ways to measure this depending on who you talk to, HP has its own online carbon footprint calculator for printing that covers 3,000 HP and non-HP machines around the world.

Other methods of tracking carbon footprint include tools from the World Business Council for Sustainable Development as well as the ISO 14065 standard.

HP Canada’s list also suggests that businesses resize their print and image feet to cut down on energy costs by using its HP Web Jetadmin, buy and use recycled paper and encourage users to print double sided.

With cutting costs and becoming more environmentally friendly at the top of the heap for reasons to go green, how green are companies really.

The Info-Tech Research Group study conducted for IBM showed that there are several categories of companies when it comes to exactly how green they are. About a quarter of the companies surveyed fall into the green advocates category, which are defined as those who integrate environmental considerations into all areas of their business, including IT. This group is followed by smart Spenders, which are willing to spend money up front if long-term cost reduction is achievable; green observers, which do not have specific environmental goals and need management support for green initiatives; and green seekers, which want to reduce environmental impact but are unsure of where to start and how to quantify results.

That’s where the channel comes in.

As IBM’s Barsoum said partners are in a very good position to understand the customers’ needs – something that is key in implementing green IT solutions. Because many of the partners are close to the users already, they are in this position, Barsoum explained.“The partners understand the operations of the company and what can and can’t change,” he said. “That closeness is what we really need the partners to bring to the table.”

To help its partners take green initiatives to its customers, IBM has launched a new program called “Ready for IBM Energy & Environment”. The technical validation program is designed to help partners validate, market and sell green solutions based on their proven ability to reduce environmental impact based on real-world use. The program is open to 100,000 IBM Business partners and is said to help them design and build hardware, software or services solutions based around IBM technology with proven sustainability benefits.

Likewise, HP Canada’s Desmarais said customers need help from experts, including partners, to help them achieve their environmental goals. “The opportunity for the channel is to become efficiency experts and consult with their clients on the best way to manage and upgrade their infrastructure for efficiency,” he said.

While customers are finally catching on to the idea of green IT and embracing it in many ways, IBM’s Barsoum warns that like many other areas of IT, if you don’t keep up you’ll get left behind. With lower energy prices these days, Barsoum said businesses can easily forget the pains of high energy prices now. He, however, said they should keep in mind that if they explore alternative energy sources like tidal and wave power now that it could keep them afloat in the future when the commodities market does eventually rebound with the rest of the economy.

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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