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How to Launch a Green Computing Initiative That Really Makes a Difference

A growing number of IT organizations are deploying green computing initiatives. Here's how to ensure sure that your project will actually meet its goals.

Green computing initiatives are now widely viewed as the way IT can contribute to building a cleaner and healthier global environment.

Green initiatives don't usually differ significantly from other business initiatives, says Sheila Patel, vice president, sustainability and business technology, North America, at Capgemini Invent, a unit of business advisory firm Capgemini. “They must start with a vision or definition of a desired future state, which in the sustainability space takes the form of commitments to reducing the environmental impacts of doing business.”

Start With Baselines

Patel suggests launching a green computing initiative with a deep analysis of the organization’s current IT infrastructure and practices. If conducted with sufficient structure and rigor -- spanning across processes, practices, and infrastructural lifetimes -- this baselining activity should uncover the hotspots disproportionately contributing to the enterprise’s computational footprint. “These hotspots become the targets for future action,” she says.

The next step should be assessing and identifying the most important issues. “Recognize that issues material to your enterprise and employees may be different,” cautions Corie Pierce, vice president, external communications, and sustainability at NTT Data Services. “For example, organizations may prioritize reducing risk related to climate change, while their employees may be more concerned about safe working conditions,” she explains. “With this understanding, you can identify near- and long-term objectives for your green computing initiative and how to measure and report them to your stakeholders to gain buy-in and support.”

Enterprises that have already created an environmental, social, and governance (ESG) program, may wish to review their existing goals to determine how IT can best support them with a green initiative. “If your organization does not have a program in place, you can begin by thinking about how and where IT can initiate a program to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, reduce waste, and recycle,” says Kathy Rudy, chief data and analytics officer with global technology research and advisory firm ISG.

Measuring Waste

Power consumption, refrigerants, and e-waste are the areas targeted most frequently by IT green initiatives. An important first step is measuring the baseline. “There are numerous software tools and templates available to define the areas to measure,” Rudy says. With a data center, for example, it's necessary to determine the amount of energy required to cool the center, as well as the type of energy that's supplying the power, such as coal, gas, nuclear, wind, solar, or a combination of several sources. “If you're working with a supplier to provide data center services, ask it for an overview of the emissions produced to support your organization,” she advises.

IT leaders should also consider how they handle e-waste disposal to determine if they need to create a policy or modify an existing one. “The inventory should also extend to devices used in offices and their power consumption,” Rudy notes.

After completing the research and gaining an understanding of the enterprise's current environment, the organization is prepared to define its targets and build action plans designed to implement change. Be careful, however. “Stating that you're going to reduce GHG emissions by 50% in 'x' number of years, or that you're going to reduce e-waste by 'x' percent without knowing the baseline, might lead to creating unattainable goals,” Rudy warns.

Building Support for Green Computing

The best way to gain management support for a green computing initiative is by defining the program's potential benefits, such as meeting current and future government mandates, enhancing the enterprise's reputation, improving the organization's internal culture, and attracting new business. “In most instances, a green IT program will not directly reduce costs, so unless an organization has a top-down mandate for green IT, the benefits must be clearly spelled out and agreed upon,” Rudy says.

Patel states that IT leaders can bolster their case for pursuing a green computing initiative by providing management with quantitative models of the business value provided by such a project. Leaders can also point to the real-world evidence of market trends favoring organizations with high ESG ratings, and Western government trends toward enacting stricter environmental regulations. “Our experience has shown that the pushing and pulling factors of sustainability initiatives can open the door to management support, which is solidified over time by the continuous value provided by a successful sustainability initiative,” she says.

Create Partnerships

As they develop their green computing plans, enterprises should also consider the environmental impact created by outsourcing IT and business services to third-party providers. “It's becoming increasingly common for enterprises to insist that their providers meet certain GHG-reduction requirements and are committed to further reducing their impact on the environment,” Rudy explains. “It’s a mistake to believe that shifting the burden to others somehow eliminates the impact your organization has on the environment.”

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