Green Means More Than Money
Energy-efficient initiatives offer businesses a rare opportunity to help themselves while also helping the world. By using green technologies, enterprises can reduce carbon emissions and simultaneously save money and burnish their corporate image. Yet, despite the obvious benefits of green programs, many organizations have not yet implemented energy-efficient IT solutions.
AFCOM, a data center association, reports that about 71 percent of the organizations it surveyed are actively engaged in green initiatives. But what about the other 29 percent? That number is large enough to cause serious environmental problems. To make matters worse, the survey reports that only 42 percent of the respondents have a formal green IT plan in place.
Clearly, in the tough economy we’ve faced for the past couple of years, it’s been difficult for many organizations to deploy any new technologies, including ones that will save them money in the long term. Even when new devices have been purchased, they often haven’t been chosen with green issues in mind, according to W. Pitt Turner, executive director of the Uptime Institute.
When I spoke with Pitt recently, he told me that when it comes to green issues, there’s a problem with business priorities. “Companies are choosing IT devices with higher capacities over ones with higher levels of efficiency,” Pitt said. “And they are not picking up all of what I call the ‘golden nuggets’ of green IT, such as simply turning off computers and servers when they’re not in use.
“This is not a technical problem; it’s a cultural one. People have to be educated about the need for energy-efficient tools and processes. And they have to be motivated to change. People’s behavior is driven by the way they are incented, so organizations need to incent their employees to take action on energy issues.”
Taking action is essential. By now, virtually all managers and executives, along with many of their employees, are aware of the need to become more energy efficient, but getting them to act on that knowledge can be a challenge.
Change management is an ongoing problem in both technology and business. Many people resist any kind of change, preferring to stick with the status quo. However, that “leave well enough alone” attitude isn’t acceptable when it comes to environmental issues, where every action has a ripple effect—one that may go around the world.
Individuals, organizations and governments have to take a stand, and they have to take it now. Conserving energy shouldn’t show up halfway down the corporate to-do list. It needs to be at—or, at least, near—the top.
The companies featured in our cover story understand this urgency and should be commended for their efforts. For example, in 2006, UPS began a widespread effort to reduce its energy consumption, and it developed benchmarks to guide its green initiative.
UPS’ motivation for going green went beyond the money to be saved—though that was substantial. Facilities engineer Joe Parrino explains it this way: “We have an obligation to the company and to the world to reduce [energy] consumption and boost efficiency.”
And UPS has a lot of company. Another green advocate is the Ford Motor Co., which has implemented an extensive program to determine the carbon impact of its IT systems, as well as the materials, parts and products it uses. The analytics software Ford uses evaluates even its plants and suppliers.
Emerson Electric is another leader in the green field. It built a $50 million global data center that is 31 percent more energy efficient than traditional data centers. The facility has already earned two awards for being environmentally responsible.
Of course, most organizations can’t afford to build a multimillion-dollar data center. But they can review their energy consumption and develop a plan to lower it. That plan could include implementing consolidation and virtualization technologies, revamping cooling systems such as hot/cold aisle configurations, deploying energy management systems, buying Energy Star-compliant hardware, doing an energy audit and monitoring power usage effectiveness.
There are many technologies and processes available to help organizations reduce their energy consumption. And, when it comes to persuading top management to support green initiatives, the money that can be saved is a very strong justification. But it shouldn’t be only about the money.