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10 Ideas To Power Up Your Green IT Agenda

As IT teams scramble to figure out a green strategy, here are some ideas to fuel the brainstorming.

Green isn't just an emerging trend anymore. Companies such as Coca-Cola Enterprises, Ford, Nestlé, Procter & Gamble, and the U.S. Postal Service all have VPs of sustainability. It's the kind of issue a CEO just might bring up with the CIO. That, along with energy costs punching holes in profits, makes this a fight the IT team can't sit out.

Green IT efforts must look past the data center. Yes, that's the right place to start, since virtualizing and consolidating servers can lower costs and also yield green benefits such as lower power use and not having to build a new data center. But companies have bigger ambitions than that. As IT teams try to do their part, here are 10 often overlooked aspects to consider about going green.

1. Look Beyond The Data Center

Too many PCs are left on too long, a problem that IT can combat with both technology changes and awareness campaigns. Regardless of the approach, now's the right time to push efforts that reach beyond the IT department, since employees are likely to be receptive to such changes. "There's a cool factor about it, and we want to take advantage of that now," says David Buckholtz, VP of enterprise architecture and planning at Sony Pictures Entertainment, which has been laying plans for a broad green IT effort.

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More companies are looking at active power management software. Miami-Dade County Public Schools has cut the amount of time PCs are on by more than half, from 21 hours to 10.3 hours daily, estimating it will save about $2 million on energy annually by deploying active PC management from BigFix to centrally control power settings. Graeme Scott, CEO of power management software company Living Life Green, estimates that's typical--that PCs stay on more than double the amount of time they need to. Energy companies in the United Kingdom and in California even subsidize power management software in some cases. And Coca-Cola Enterprises is actively managing printer power settings.

Companies choosing software as a service do it for the cost savings. But it also can be seen as a green investment. Companies such as Microsoft and Google are spending billions of dollars building new data centers, often directly near their power sources, and along the way investing heavily in new technology and processes to make them more energy efficient than most companies could run. Microsoft's San Antonio data center, for example, has sensors measuring nearly all power consumption, uses internally developed power management software called Scry, has mass-scale virtualization, and recycles the water used in cooling. SaaS is "one of the greenest things people could do," GreenM3 consultant and founder Dave Ohara says.

Cutting travel is another way companies are going green. Monsanto CIO Mark Showers notes the company's telecommuting and work-from-home programs have grown in popularity over the past year as gas prices have risen. Harrah's Entertainment and Wachovia are among companies that have invested in telepresence, partly to cut travel costs.

2. Culture Is The Biggest Barrier To Green

No one is opposed to saving the planet in concept, but going green can be full of resistance. "It can be in some ways a politically charged endeavor," says Rich Siedzik, Bryant University's director of computer and telecom services. At Bryant, employees worried that the efficiency gains would lead to job cuts. Yet culture can work for the good, too, when something works. With the successful rollout of its new data center, Bryant is now discussing broader green initiatives, such as buying electric vehicles for maintenance staff.

Companies need to take head-on the areas where people's "self-optimizing behavior" conflicts with green goals, says GreenM3's Ohara, who blogs at "Security guys don't give a damn about energy efficiencies, but the way they run the firewall or whatever, that can be massively inefficient," he says. "Nobody ever talks about the trade-offs."

Though companies often set default PC power management settings, Living Life Green says that 70% of employees will turn the settings off. PC power management software from BigFix, Living Life Green, Verdiem, and others can lock settings in and automatically power up just before employees get to their desks in the morning.

Or, with a major awareness campaign, companies might be able to get some of those gains without a technology change. Coca-Cola has done simple things like encouraging employees to print on both sides of paper and cut duplicate printing as a way to push employees to be more green. Sony Pictures has long had a screen-saver setting on PCs, but it's starting a campaign to get people to turn off their screens if they're going to be away. That will piggyback on a larger company effort to turn off the lights. The IT team will start by working with the most influential PC users: administrative assistants. "We're going to target the admins for our on-the-ground support," Buckholtz says.

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