Beware of “Greenwashing”

By Ted Hein Print this article Print

Virtualization proved to be virtuous and cost-effective for the environmentally conscious Burt’s Bees. Get a breakdown of what it took to really go green with virtual storage, measuring power consumption and following ISO standards for the environment.

Beware of “Greenwashing”

A core tenet of Burt’s Bees’ commitment to social responsibility is to make sure that everything we say is 100 percent accurate, and we expect the same from the companies we work with. We vote with our capital expenditure spend, requiring our strategic vendors to fill out a sustainability checklist. I wish I could say that we’re just being paranoid on this count, but the menace of “greenwashing” (companies that claim to be following green practices, but fail to deliver when it counts) is a real problem.

For example, TerraChoice Environmental Marketing’s 2007 study of consumer products bearing environmental claims found that “greenwashing is pervasive, the consequences of which are significant.” These include consumer cynicism, unfair competition and squandered benefits of consumers’ green intentions.

The same issue exists in IT: Companies fail to disclose the kind of hidden trade-offs that can undermine the green benefits they promise. They offer no proof for their claims. They make promises that are vague, irrelevant or even demonstrably false.

Although NetApp had passed muster on technological grounds, we also had to ensure that its operations were in sync with our sustainability principles. The vendor’s ISO 14001 certification verified that it had established a sound, effective environmental policy. We saw this in practice in its data center, which was designed for airflow and cooling to minimize the environmental impact of the systems.

In addition, everything the company sells is compliant with the Reduction of Hazardous Substances Directive (RoHS) of the European Union, which restricts the use of six substances in new electrical and electronic equipment. Reassured about NetApp’s green bona fides, we proceeded with the partnership and our implementation.

We outfit our data center with NetApp storage systems to support many of our core production applications; a separate NetApp system maintains a synchronous copy of our production data as a backup. In addition to the 53 virtual machines on our three VMware servers, the NetApp cluster also supports a file share with file and print services, a Symantec backup server and our Microsoft Exchange Server environment.

Though we focused on high-level strategies like server and storage virtualization, we also realized that we could do some small, simple things that would add up to a big environmental impact. For instance, we replaced all our old desktop CRTs with LCD monitors, a decision that made sense in terms of return on investment (ROI) alone, never mind the ergonomic benefits.

We also recognize the advantages of power-management software and Energy Star ratings on new desktops. And we realize that simple wattage ratings of equipment can be misleading in terms of actual consumption. But a “Kill-a-Watt” device, available for less than $20, can measure the power consumption of virtually any piece of 110-volt equipment.

In addition, we’ve found that real-time monitoring of electricity, water and air-conditioning consumption gives our employees immediate feedback on the effects of their actions and inactions. That can be a strong motivator for more sustainable and cost-efficient behavior.

Reducing the cooling load of a data center can be as simple as aligning cooling ducts so they support the flow of cool air into the front of servers and draw hot air out the back. When servers have been taken out of commission, we use blanking panels to make sure we’re not wasting energy cooling an empty hole. We checked the SEER (Seasonal Energy Efficiency Ratio) of the air-conditioners in our data center and our offices, and upgraded from a 13-SEER to an 18-SEER system, which is among the most energy-efficient ratings currently available. It also uses an ozone-friendly coolant.

This article was originally published on 2008-11-26
Ted Hein is CIO of Burt's Bees', the N.C. based health and beauty products company.
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